If you ask Jennifer Leatherman Wong about an object in her recently redesigned Seattle home, she’s likely to tell you a fascinating story—a natural reaction for an author of historical fiction. Take, for instance, the oversize 19th-century portrait of a woman hanging in the living room. “We’re pretending it’s my great-grandmother,” Jennifer muses, noting that she has similar tales for many of the pieces that fill the dwelling she shares with her husband, Tracy. The sum of these imagined histories is a residence that’s imbued with a personal and soulful spirit.
When the Wongs set out to renovate their 1940s house, which is positioned on a lushly landscaped lot in the Broadmoor neighborhood, they had just two goals: enlarge their galley kitchen and fix an awkward layout in their children’s bedrooms (you had to walk through one to reach the other). But once they started down the road of reenvisioning the home with the help of husband-and-wife architects Anne and John Adams, the couple ended up wanting a full renovation. The expanded plan had two new objectives: “I wanted it to be enchanting and also livable,” Jennifer says.
Luckily, the house has good bones to start with, but a 1950s addition had created a cumbersome configuration. “It was really about reworking what was there to make it function better,” says Anne, who tapped project designer Fisnik Zherka from her office to assist. The expanded scope of work included an update to the primary suite and splurging on some interior details, like the de Gournay wallpaper Jennifer had long admired, and custom closets for the fashion-loving couple.
The Wongs also became more intentional with the stories their interiors told. “Tracy and I have taken the kids around the world,” Jennifer says. “We wanted the home to reflect our travels and heritage.” In the primary bedroom, the couple tasked Anne with designing the space around an enormous 19th-century screen from Japan, a nod to Tracy’s family. At the center of the house, the couple commissioned a custom stair railing, whose Art Nouveau-inspired design references the home’s original era but is also a playful nod to Tracy’s alma mater, University of Oregon (the swooping lines resemble the wings of the Ducks’ logo).
The Wongs didn’t want to dramatically change the exterior or the ground-level floor plan. “We asked ourselves how we could honor the original home yet do what was needed to bring it into the 21st century,” Tracy says. Downstairs, Anne’s solution was to bump out and reconfigure the kitchen, shrink the dining room and widen the doorways between rooms, in some instances replacing swinging doors with pocket models, to improve the flow and sight lines. “It’s in the subtlety of inches: One inch here or there makes or breaks these rooms because you’re trying to work within existing spaces,” says general contractor Billy Stauffer, recalling how they refined measurements after demolition.
While the home grew by just 200 square feet, it was a down-to-the-studs renovation with many technical challenges. In order to open the kitchen up to the dining room and create an uninterrupted view to the fireplace, Stauffer and his team had to shore up the house from the basement below. Upstairs, the puzzle was even more complicated. To open the floor plan, it was necessary to remove the home’s original chimney and replace it with a slender exhaust for the new gas fireplace, which meant temporarily taking off the roof.
When the renovation was complete, Anne worked to give the rooms an eclectic and collected-over-time look, sourcing furnishings, rugs and a plethora of vintage and antique items. She found willing partners in the Wongs, who were eager to weave in such finds. “I love the mystery and enchantment of old things,” Jennifer notes.
Each area in the finished house has a distinct personality. The dining room suggests joyful intrigue with its dark ceiling, hummingbird wallpaper and coral chandelier; the bedroom is like a sanctuary with its serene palette and Japanese aesthetic; and Jennifer’s office is an imaginative retreat overlooking the garden, with two panels of hand-painted wallpaper to extend the view. “As you move from room to room, they all sing together,” Jennifer says. “Pulling off this world traveler look is difficult. Anne made sure that there is a beautiful flow.”
That’s not to say this home’s story has concluded, in fact the spaces are ready to welcome new additions. “One of the best things about a collected look is there’s always room for more,” Anne says.