To paint or party, celebrate or recover, Nancy Weintraub's big, old house with contemporary touches by Lead Pencil Studio invites it all.

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“WHEN I would travel I’d get a housesitter, and I always told them, ‘I hope you’re going to have people over while you’re here. You need to use this house as it wants to be used. It has good energy.’ “

Who does this?

Nancy Weintraub, that’s who.

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“I want all the furniture to be portable. We’ve had big, big parties here: big dance parties. I love to have people over. I cook. It’s second nature to me.”

Lots of people tell me that. But you know it’s true when Weintraub says it. As the former co-owner of the dearly departed Still Life Café in Fremont, she can cook. Hosting is second nature to her. And it’s hard to take notes while failing to resist bowls of blueberries and strawberries and nuts and chocolate.

Weintraub has been ensconced in her big, old (1905) Four Square on north Capitol Hill since she and her husband bought it in 1978 for $87,000.

“It was a disaster,” she says. “It was such an ugly, decrepit house. It was a rooming house. People had been living in the basement. The house was carved up into little pieces.”

Not for long. Weintraub got right to work.

“You know what we did for $20,000? We rewired, replumbed, opened the kitchen, which was three rooms. We laid tile. We were scrappy.”

Now, at 67, her husband passed on and sons grown, Weintraub remains wonderfully ever so. Ask about a date or a price, and she whips out a heavy black binder and flips right to the receipt.

“We’ve been through a lot here,” she says, meaning the house and herself. “We’ve had weddings here. Friends who are getting a divorce stay on the third floor.”

Remodels came piecemeal. The kitchen is on its second makeover; stainless-steel sinks soldered seamlessly into the steel counter. Garage doors (front and back) slide horizontally, great for the catering truck.

Everywhere there is art, on the walls, the walls themselves. Weintraub worked at Traver/Sutton Gallery before opening Still Life. Her son, Adam, is a photographer; son Josh, a painter. Overhead, at the entrance and over her bed, are ceilings shimmering in silver leaf by Cathy Conner of Studio C.

Weintraub was careful not to strip the house of its history while adding her signature. Downstairs she restored and expanded oak flooring inlaid with mahogany. Leaded windows throughout were restored and refitted.

The living-room fireplace got the treatment nine years ago. Weintraub had called Lead Pencil Studio for a color consult. Spying the ugly living-room fireplace, they told her, “You have to take this out.” Their idea: a sueded-gray stucco wall behind a fat, blackened-steel fireplace, rounded to make it strong and soft. The result seduces.

“How can you not touch it?” Weintraub says, giving it a rub.

Upstairs? She went for it. And the result is a masterwork of contemporary-organic remodeling by Lead Pencil’s Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo, built by S.R. Company, Inc.

“It works when you look up,” Weintraub says, pointing from the fireplace to the blackened-steel-and-walnut stairs across the way. “Here’s the steel, and there’s the steel.”

The climb leads to walnut floors, doors and cabinetry; marble bathroom counters; Venetian-plaster walls; iridescent Ann Sacks tiles.

“I wouldn’t hire an architect and watch over them,” Weintraub says. “I hired them and let them go.

“Everywhere you look there are surprises in my house. This is my refuge. People are always welcome here.”

Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.

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