Visiting an expansive 1911 Bellingham Tudor Revival house, Liana Herron and Scott Jones were delighted to see that more than a century later, the floors were still dead level, the white-oak paneling pristine and the Art Nouveau light fixtures all fully intact. Although the couple wasn’t seeking such a large home for their family, they couldn’t get it out of their minds. “We weren’t looking for a house, the house found us,” Scott recalls. To place a fresh stamp on the interiors while preserving the abode’s historic elegance, they enlisted designer Lisa Staton. “They discovered this gem in its rough state,” says Staton, noting of her mission, “The poetry lies in being very respectful with any permanent architectural changes and then layering more playful modern moments in the furnishings that can easily be changed over time.”
Liana and Scott were smitten with the home’s original details, such as its elaborate trim and paneling, mullioned pocket doors and the tilework on its four fireplaces. The couple nonetheless desired a comfy, casual vibe. “We wanted our friends to feel like you could kick back and put your feet up and enjoy the conversation,” says Liana. “We wanted to envision what an old home could be without doilies or period pieces.” Reaching that goal, however, would be more than two years in the making.
Staton, a Boston native who is at ease restoring old houses, was part of a team that included architect Greg Robinson and general contractor Tony Moceri, all of whom shared the same reverence for the 1911 abode. “The house structure was in really good shape. The bones of it were incredible, with absurdly long and straight lumber,” says Moceri. The general contractor and project manager Kenny Nichol oversaw the delicate business of reviving the home, designed by F. Stanley Piper, a British-born architect who worked in Bellingham in the early 20th century. Preserving the ornamental details made it tricky for the team to replace the home’s “lifelines”–the wiring, plumbing and radiant-heating tubes. “It took a lot of cardboard, a lot of moving blankets, and painter’s tape and plastic,” Nichol says about preserving the original oak floors, walls and casework; the stairway and paneling; and the vintage wallpaper that Staton wanted to keep. “Not only were we trying to install, replace and repair, we also had to protect,” Nichol says. And in spots where cutting through paneling or trim was required, they had it replicated and put back in place. If the molding “knives” used to cut those original shapes weren’t available, Moceri says, they had new ones made for the job. “It was nothing short of heart surgery,” Staton says.
The kitchen and breakfast room, meanwhile, got a thorough renovation, though the original brick of a former chimney and delicately patterned wallpaper in the breakfast room keep the space grounded in its history. To further blend old and new, an interior transom window was made to match the existing leaded glass details in the windows, and the library’s millwork was replicated as trim on the new kitchen cabinetry. “It’s the old-house loveliness, character and craftsmanship that we wanted to maintain,” says Staton. Outside, Robinson designed a replacement for a side porch and master-suite balcony, whose supports had rotted. “I kept the original configuration and improved upon the construction, materials and details,” says the architect, noting that he replaced failing brick columns with new concrete-and-brick columns and added new timber posts and beams above. “Piper did a few tricks on the outside to make it look like a heavy-timbered house. So, we rebuilt it with heavy timbers.”
Staton took her time finding the right furnishings and color scheme to complement the interior architecture. “If you’ve got a really good furniture plan, you can snag things as you see them,” she explains, pointing to the antique English dining table bought at a Seattle consignment store and the hand-carved 1920s foyer table she came across at an antiques gallery. But to lighten the mood, she also shopped more typical sources for contemporary pieces, like the upholstered seating in the dining room and the platform bed with a wicker headboard set against the elaborately embroidered vintage wallpaper in the master bedroom. “It allows a freshness and an airiness and an openness that doesn’t make the home look old fashioned,” she says. For her palette, she turned to the grays and blues of Bellingham Bay just outside the rear windows. “That’s a natural foil for all that honey-colored paneling,” the designer says. Likewise, she added dashes of black and white in each room “to give a little bit of crispness and a little bit of relief from the heavier, darker elements of the home.”
As just the third owners in 108 years, Liana and Scott see themselves as part of their home’s legacy. “We put it in a place so it will remain standing for the next 100 years,” Liana says. “We’re stewards of this home. We both take that very seriously.”