After losing her husband, Deborah Terry-Hays focused on fixing up their house after a flood. “My life had to go down to the studs, just like the house,” she says. “Keep the frame, but add new. The structure is still the same.”

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RENOVATIONS ARE MESSY. As is life. No great earthshaking revelation there, of course — until the foundation wobbles under house and home, one right after the other, and suddenly shiny-new tiles and lights and surfaces aren’t just pretty design elements; they’re rebuilding blocks.

Deborah Terry-Hays and her late husband remodeled a previous home together, and people told them that was a good test of a relationship. This latest remodel, she says, “wasn’t that stressful. One: It’s only me making decisions, and two: The worst thing that could happen in my life had already happened — losing my partner. This one was inconvenient, but not stressful.”  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Deborah Terry-Hays and her late husband remodeled a previous home together, and people told them that was a good test of a relationship. This latest remodel, she says, “wasn’t that stressful. One: It’s only me making decisions, and two: The worst thing that could happen in my life had already happened — losing my partner. This one was inconvenient, but not stressful.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Deborah Terry-Hays and her husband, Roy Hays, were downsizing and strategizing when they made a four-level Leschi house their home in 1992. Their three kids were growing up and moving out, and the nature-nestled “treehouse in the city” presented 2,500 square feet of pure potential.

“We had lived in a ranch house in Normandy Park,” Terry-Hays says. “This was wide open with lots of possibilities for later in life.” Two decades later, talk turned to the possibility of retirement — and maybe even moving.

But in April 2014, her husband of 42 years passed away.

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“Suddenly I was left with the house, deciding what to do,” Terry-Hays says.

The house itself forced the decision just months later, when the entire basement and garage flooded. Contractors traced the problem to the roof, where a “huge leak” had been sending water down the inside of exterior walls into the basement, likely for years.

“When they fixed it, I thought I’d either have to move or fix up the living spaces until it was ready to sell,” says Terry-Hays, senior director of organizational development with Sound Generations and a part-time Social Work instructor at the University of Washington.

She decided to update a couple of key needy areas: the itty-bitty kitchen and the outdated master bath. Folks at Ainslie-Davis Construction, who had fixed the leak, connected her with Kelly Lyons and Lauren Hockema of K&L Interiors.

“We were just going to touch up,” says Lyons — repaint the cabinets, add new counters and a backsplash — “but when we realized doing new cabinets wouldn’t be much more, the project quickly grew.”

So did the kitchen.

“It was a single-man kind of kitchen,” Terry-Hays says: so narrow that if she bent over, she’d hit the other side. So tight that if she opened the oven door, she couldn’t stand in front of it. So awkward that cooking was inconveniently, uncomfortably unworkable.

Lyons and Hockema “relocated pretty much everything,” removed one wall and lowered another, installed new cabinets (along with new cabinet panels on the dishwasher and refrigerator) and added frosted-glass textured tiles that shimmer like glossy black bricks. At one windowed end, a new built-in storage bench and pendant light transformed a so-what shelved nook into Terry-Hays’ new favorite hangout (and maybe once, when the sunlight hit it just so, a perfect catlike nap spot).

Before the renovation, the main staircase (at bottom) was way too wide, and the kitchen was way too narrow. Now it’s intuitive, functional and gleaming, with new and refinished white oak flooring from Apple Hardwood and Construction, PentalQuartz countertops by Architectural Stone Werkes, Statements Tile backsplash, Visual Comfort peninsula lighting and K&L Interiors custom cabinetry by Woodway Woodworks & Cabinet.  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Before the renovation, the main staircase (at bottom) was way too wide, and the kitchen was way too narrow. Now it’s intuitive, functional and gleaming, with new and refinished white oak flooring from Apple Hardwood and Construction, PentalQuartz countertops by Architectural Stone Werkes, Statements Tile backsplash, Visual Comfort peninsula lighting and K&L Interiors custom cabinetry by Woodway Woodworks & Cabinet. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

The other original renovation target, the top-level master bathroom, ended up “basically gutted,” Lyons says. Heated Moroccan tiles stepped in for old, cold lavender ones under a new free-floating vanity/sink/faucet, window, shower, shower fixtures, custom mirror and lights.

Newness spread throughout the home, with updated flooring, paint, window treatments and lighting; a new entry door and side windows; narrowed stairs; a refaced fireplace; and new furniture for the kitchen nook and living room. (The master bedroom is on its way to a brighter, airier future.) Overall, from updated subtle purples to Asian influences, Lyons says, the effect is warmth, softness, comfort, practicality and simplicity — or, in other words, the pleasingly eclectic style of Terry-Hays.

With four brothers and two sons (and just one daughter), Terry-Hays says, “I’ve always been adapting to boy stuff, and this is the first space that has enough feminine balance” — though Roy Hays’ outdoorsy, no-nonsense presence remains strong.

The first time she saw her all-new master bathroom, Terry-Hays says, she thought, “It’s beautiful but familiar. I hadn’t lived in beauty that had a feminine twist for a long time.” Ann Sacks tiles (Eastern Promise, handcrafted in Morocco, on the floor, and ceramic Grid in the shower) were installed by Precision Stone; the rift white oak vanity, designed by K&L Interiors with custom finish, is by Woodway Woodworks & Cabinet.  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
The first time she saw her all-new master bathroom, Terry-Hays says, she thought, “It’s beautiful but familiar. I hadn’t lived in beauty that had a feminine twist for a long time.” Ann Sacks tiles (Eastern Promise, handcrafted in Morocco, on the floor, and ceramic Grid in the shower) were installed by Precision Stone; the rift white oak vanity, designed by K&L Interiors with custom finish, is by Woodway Woodworks & Cabinet. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

“There’s so much about the house that was my late husband’s,” Terry-Hays says: a chest his grandfather brought back from China, artwork and décor from their travels to Asia and Europe.

“At first I thought I couldn’t completely let it go,” she says. “But this process has been part of the grieving/healing that I’m doing.

“My life had to go down to the studs, just like the house: Keep the frame, but add new. The structure is still the same. Stuff still reminds me of him, but it’s letting me move on. I’ll probably stay in this home longer than I anticipated.”