"I've only bought one piece of art my whole married life," says Susan Winn, although she lives in a house distinguished by a parade...
“I’VE ONLY BOUGHT one piece of art my whole married life,” says Susan Winn, although she lives in a house distinguished by a parade of paintings and artful objects. Her husband, Larry, an art publisher dealing in originals, limited editions and posters, brings home what he loves best. The elegant cream, taupe, black and white color scheme of their 1930s classic house high on Queen Anne Hill serves as stylish backdrop for an ever-evolving collection of work by Larry’s favorite artists.
Add the sparkle of silver, glass ornaments and mirrors, and the warmth of red poinsettias in terra-cotta pots and you have the makings of a classy Christmas. Susan may not get the chance to buy art for the walls, but over the years she’s assembled a collection of ornaments for the tree. “I collect little things, especially angels,” she says. “They talk to me.”
Among the widely spreading branches of a ceiling-high, cut-from-the-woods noble fir, angels from gingham to glossy dangle along with translucent balls and sparkly glass icicles. If illustrated for a children’s Christmas story, most houses at holiday time would be portrayed as woolly bear cubs decked out in plaid flannel or roly-poly Mrs. Santas in aprons. The Winn house would surely be drawn as a sleek gazelle with a gossamer ribbon wound ’round its slim neck.
The Winns moved to their house on Queen Anne from an ultra-contemporary Leschi condominium, and before that the couple lived in a Mediterranean-style house they built in Windermere. The old house on Queen Anne is a departure in style, but it had been quite thoroughly remodeled before they bought it. They needed only to add awnings, bookshelves and a new closet in the master bedroom. “Larry still moans and groans that it isn’t modern enough and doesn’t have enough wall space,” says Susan. Walking up steep stairs to the home’s entrance and turning to a panorama of downtown Seattle as glittering and expansive as the famous view from Queen Anne’s Kerry Park would convince anyone of the house’s charm, regardless of the wall space.
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The Winns’ largely monochromatic color scheme effectively shows off the city lights as well as their Christmas décor. The restrained palette of ebony, wheat and ecru is enlivened by a zebra-print ottoman and a faun-colored sofa. “We got into some color in New York,” is how Susan describes a shopping excursion that included the purchase of the nearly-but-not-quite-yellow couch. The fireplace and mantel, with their layers of interest, vie for focal point with the spectacular view. The brightly burning fire is reflected in the pale marble hearth and surround, while over the mantel hangs a moody painting by North Carolina artist T.L. Lange. The mantel itself is cheerily topped off with holiday fabric, little trees and beribboned cranberry-colored candles.
Black leather Ralph Lauren slipper chairs across from the fireplace look soft as the darkest of rain clouds, an effect enhanced by the deeply black baby grand piano in front of the window. Wooden floors stained dark as midnight show off touches of red and orange in artwork and the poinsettias Susan has strategically clustered in the entry, bedrooms, bathrooms and wherever she can find a horizontal surface. A framed floor-to-ceiling mirror leans against the wall in the dining room, its reflection drawing the view of the city right into the room as it doubles the interior spots of color and sparkle of lights.
The dining room, right across the front hall from the Christmas tree, is glamorously decked out in black, white and silver. Its snowy leather chairs have silhouettes as sleek and stylish as a high-fashion model — you can almost imagine these silver-trimmed chairs strutting down the catwalk. Carrie Hayden of Great Jones (an interiors shop on Second Avenue in Seattle) consulted on the interiors, and it was she who tracked down the vintage chairs. Susan pairs them with a round table draped in bold black-and-white-striped Sunbrella, a durable fabric created for outdoor use. This is a family with visiting grandchildren. During the month of December, the graphic effect of the stripes is enhanced by a shallow black bowl filled with shiny silver balls and a tall red vase holding fluffy white amaryllis. For Christmas dinner, Susan adds a festive note by layering a red satin tablecloth
over the stripes.
While there’s nothing traditional about the Winns’ interiors, like most family homes the Christmas tree is the extravagant centerpiece of holiday embellishment. Susan’s collections of angels and red and white ornaments glow from the fragrant branches, and the starburst topper, crafted by glass artist James Minson, sizzles sparks of transparent energy. Whirligigs in red and white stripes look as if they might twirl off the tree at any moment and dazzle off into outer space.
Susan bought dozens of drippy, luminous glass icicles from Smith and Hawken. “The icicles really finish the tree,” she says of her elaborate creation that manages to successfully compete with the Christmas bedecked Space Needle looming right outside the window.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Barry Wong is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.