THIS STORY is for Richard.
“I learned so much from him. I learned through his eyes,” says Cassandra Carothers, sitting at the dining table in her apartment the color of toast, high in the downtown Seattle sky at Horizon House.
Landscape architect Richard Carothers was Cassandra’s husband of 35 years. He died not even two months before this conversation. But his wife could think of no better way to honor him than to talk about their life together, here at the nonprofit retirement community and before.
Cassandra and Richard Carothers spent their honeymoon in Mexico, a place they could not forget. Back in Seattle, their life was one of fine design and good art. Early on, Cassandra had her eye on prominent architect Gene Zema’s “Stephens House” in the Montlake neighborhood.
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“I always said, if it comes on the market, let’s buy it.”
Half a dozen years in, however, Cassandra developed a hearty case of seasonal affective disorder. (And later, Richard developed Parkinson’s disease.) “It’s remarkable how many people can slug it through,” Cassandra says of SAD.
The couple left the Zema for a Magnolia home of two-story windows designed by another respected Northwest architect, Ralph Anderson. The big windows, however, “just let in more gray.”
They thought again of Mexico (the light, the vibrant and saturated colors, the culture) and settled, for the next 10 years, on sunny Tucson. “We lived in an adobe house there,” Cassandra says.
Everywhere and in each home there was art. Paintings, baskets, ceramics, sculpture, fabrics. “Art became a second family. And it behaves,” she says, a smile in her eyes.
Richard presented Cassandra with a massive Alden Mason painting from the artist’s Burpee series for their wedding. A sculpture of a jockey wrapped in cigar bands by Jim Jones came from their time in Tucson. There’s also a Morris Graves charcoal, a sleeping duck. “Art never seems to present itself when you can afford it,” she says philosophically.
When Richard’s condition worsened, Cassandra came north, saw the 1,100-square-foot Horizon House apartment and decided in one day that this is where they should live.
“I always look for a wall for the Alden,” she says. “That’s the denominator.” She removed the white carpeting and black marble for deep cherry-wood floors and paint the color of a suntan. Richard lived elsewhere in the building in supported living. Cassandra has been here a little more than four years now.
“To live in a community of people with similar circumstances is to be cared for,” she says. “I find it so comforting.”
Cassandra has one more move in mind. A slightly larger Western-view apartment in Horizon House with room not only for all of the art, but also to seat guests for real conversation. “When I worked in commercial real estate I had that view. It’s a part of me,” she says.
“I think what we’re always looking for is the creative outlet, and when we’re done we move on.”
Cassandra will pack up the Alden and the Morris Graves and all the rest of it, and take the life she shared with her dear Richard with her. “This is the perfect place when you’ve had a major life loss,” she says of her vertical neighborhood. “There are so many friends here who say, ‘Let me know what I can do.’ But there’s a period when you have to be alone.
“I like living with things that both soothe me and inspire the soul. The moral to the story is, be open to surprise.”
Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.