CHEF JERRY TRAUNFELD is not easily moved.
He and his husband, Stephen Hudson, lived in their Ravenna bungalow for 25 years, through Traunfeld’s days as The Herbfarm’s culinary wizard and later as chef/owner of his own place, Poppy, on Capitol Hill.
It was then that Traunfeld thought a house closer to work would be nice. Something not so dark. But it would have to be special. Really special.
“We’d been looking for a long time,” Traunfeld says, standing on the stage of a dining room in the stark-white International-style home he and Hudson bought on North Capitol Hill almost three years ago. And it is special.
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The home, known as the Nichols House, was designed by Paul Thiry (known as the father of architectural modernism in the Pacific Northwest) in 1937 for forward-thinking Percival and Loyola Nichols. After the couple, but before the James Beard award-winning chef, it belonged to opera singer Mary Curtis Verna when the soprano took refuge in Seattle after the Metropolitan Opera moved to Lincoln Center. (She became head of the Voice Department at the University of Washington’s School of Music in 1969.)
But life took its toll on the 3,000-square-foot stalwart stucco structure. The couple found it languishing on the market, used and broken. A rotted wood gutter was funneling water under the exterior. More. “The windows are steel-framed, but a lot of them were broken, rusty,” says Traunfeld, who was undaunted, having been raised in a modern home. “We replaced the oil furnace. There was a fuse box. The floors were covered in wall-to-wall white plush.”
His hand rests on one of six brown leather dining-room chairs surrounding a round table, bronze-hued and mirrored. It fits perfectly in the round dining room with lighthouse-like windows, views from the Seattle Yacht Club to the I-5 bridge.
“There was some old furniture in the house when we bought it,” Traunfeld says. “We sold the table and chairs, and then realized they were made for this room. We had to buy them back.”
Dining set returned and the house shored up, it was time to tackle the most important room in the entire home: the kitchen.
Architect Jeff Pelletier designed (and Ainslie-Davis Construction built) for chef a kitchen open and clean (stainless shelving, Caesarstone counter, Carrara marble subway wall tiles), modern and homey (easy-on-the-feet Marmoleum floors, a dining nook lined with bookshelves). A room Traunfeld calls “the kitchen I’ve always wanted; practical, pretty and modern.
“I wanted it to look clean, but I hate kitchens where everything is put away. I wanted my tools handy.” And there are the knives, oils, a juicer on a shelf next to the Thermidor. (“High range BTUs. We like to do a lot of wok cooking.”) Next to the range, a bar sink. “I hate having to walk to a sink. It’s also my pot-filler.” Across the way, a Wolf steam oven. “I love that! It steams and has convection. It’s my favorite appliance ever.”
The front yard of their parklike property holds a vegetable garden, the sunniest spot on the lot. Peas, tomatoes, beans, lettuce, zucchini, strawberries. Steps from garden to kitchen.
Traunfeld now lives just blocks from work. But it was a journey here and back that began a long time ago.
“I got here in 1977,” says the cook who as a kid followed Julia Child the way other boys followed baseball. “My first restaurant job was at the Canterbury (on 15th Avenue East), believe it or not. I made nachos with canned chili.”
A long time ago.
Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.