How’s this for an eccentric aesthetic program? “He wanted a Game of Thrones type of feel, but more modern,” James Fung says of the owner of a Seattle home on which he worked as project designer alongside interior designer Nancy Burfiend. “Not quite medieval, but with strong stone and ironwork—nothing too light or delicate.” Although the owner was enamored of the show’s 11th– to 13th-century European production values, he also envisioned a home with French Rococo, Moorish Revival and Art Deco elements—and wanted to integrate other imagery into the mix in a nod to his Pacific Northwest roots. Ultimately, says Burfiend, “he was looking for a bold design language and asked for statement rooms for entertaining while keeping comfort in mind.”
Fortunately, the house, originally designed by Castanes Architects, offered classical architectural details that “aided in reinforcing our design concept,” notes Burfiend. Chiefly, the residence came ready-made with a spectacular groin-vaulted ceiling worthy of a medieval castle, along with columns and a symmetrical layout. A few adjustments did have to be made in order to create “a very clean, simple jumping-off point,” says Fung. All of the casework received new paint, and in the dining room, the duo redesigned the existing buffets, taking them in a Deco direction with stepped fronts, marble tops and black paint.
This move created the backdrop against which the designers could freely blend rustic finishes with finer ones. In the former camp are, among others, a floor made of distressed truck decking in the subterranean whiskey lounge and a family room replace made of rusticated black granite framed in ebonized reclaimed Douglas fir. In the latter camp, elements include gold-leaf ceilings— “He wanted gold leaf with a particular amount of shine to it,” remembers Burfiend—and Venetian plaster walls in several rooms.
The client was exceptionally clear and confident, Fung and Burfiend recall. In fact, a trip he took to Louisiana early in the process oriented the designers in a very specific direction. “He wanted things to have a story behind them,” explains Fung. Adds Burfiend: “It created a sense of authenticity to the overall furniture presence within the home.” The client began making the rounds of the New Orleans antiques shops and sending the team pictures of lighting, which helped the designers develop the scheme. A gold-and-bronze Empire chandelier ended up in the entry under the vaulted ceiling, while two 19th-century French wrought-iron lanterns now hang above the dining room table. A circa-1900 French Gothic-style chandelier helps illuminate the family room. More “story” came in the form of an ornate late-19th-century American piano purchased from a private dealer.
Some contemporary furnishings also nod discreetly to the Middle Ages vibe. A zinc-topped game table with nailhead trim in the family room is flanked by leather chairs with barley twist stretchers and more nailhead trim. Lions—a favorite motif of the owner and a common symbol of heraldry in the high medieval period—stand at the home’s entry. The lion theme is also incorporated on the brass details of the bar in the whiskey lounge and on the door knockers that access it.
Deco influences give all this potential heaviness some ballast. Fung and Bur end surrounded the dining table, for instance, with chairs reminiscent of the French 1930s and covered them in green leather to lighten up the feel of the room. The master bedroom’s stylish nook, sporting gold-leaf wallcovering, an embossed-leather-and-lacquer cabinet and gold-framed armchairs, could easily have graced a project by renowned French Deco designer Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann. “It was tricky to get all this to work and not have one piece overwhelm the others,” admits Burfiend.
Also tricky was a lot of the craftsmanship that was involved, says general contractor Edward Winzenried. “All that gold-leafing required scaffolding,” he explains. “The craftspeople were in the house for almost a month to hand-apply all those 8-inch squares of gold leaf, then seal the ceilings,” he says. Winzenried also revamped the family room fireplace. “Our masonry subcontractor had to climb inside the replace structure and install big steel beams to make sure it could hold the weight of all that granite,” Winzenried says, adding that it also took three weeks to lay the marble floor in the master bathroom. “The major construction happened with the owner living on the site, so sequencing had to be very prioritized.”
In the end, though not quite the life-and-death struggle depicted in Game of Thrones, where warring factions vie for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms, the project still required tremendous skill in order to balance the competing aesthetic impulses that could have derailed the design. “It’s ornate, and there’s so much going on,” concludes Burfiend, “but it’s not overbearing.”
—Jorge S. Arango