The process might have ended at the beginning had the couple been strongly attached to their things. But they were ready to part with them.

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LESLIE PHINNEY and Karl Bischoff live in a charming three-bedroom, three-bath English-style brick cottage in Madrona. It is one of a number of such middle-class houses built in the late 1920s in Seattle neighborhoods as the population grew and people moved from the central city to enjoy the relative quiet and views of Lake Washington and the Cascade Mountains.

The couple moved here 14 years ago from a Montlake Colonial Revival house they furnished with antiques and 1920s and ’30s mahogany pieces that fit the style. While they enjoyed the house, there was a drawback: highway traffic. So like those before them, Phinney and Bischoff sought a quieter location with a view. They found them in Madrona. And as most people do, they moved into their new house with family heirlooms and furniture that suited their earlier home.

Over the years, the couple undertook some upgrades, including a kitchen remodel and an east-facing deck expansion. And while they love old houses — their office, Phinney Bischoff: Brand Creative Digital, is in a 1904 Classic Box on Capitol Hill — they also were enamored with Midcentury and started to look for a house in that style. The search always brought them back to Madrona. So they decided to stay put with the caveat that they’d make a dramatic improvement.

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Leslie says, “Even though we are designers we are not interior designers, we are brand designers. We wanted to have someone come in to help us re-envision it.” A client of theirs at the Seattle Design Center connected them with Steven Hensel, whose award-winning firm, Hensel Design Studios ( has successfully tackled a substantial number of residential projects. For Leslie and Karl, it was a perfect fit. “He respects and loves the old bones, but likes to do something modern though not overly modern.”

The process might have ended at the beginning had the couple been strongly attached to their things. But they were ready to part with them. “It was quite freeing. I highly recommend it,” says Karl. “We sold almost everything using Craigslist and ‘for sale’ signs in the neighborhood.” They kept a few pieces — carpets that inspired room-color palettes like the soft, buttery tone in the living and dining rooms; the dining table; some chairs; an artist-made clock; and a few pieces of Colonial Revival furniture that belonged to Leslie’s mother (now in the guest bedroom).

The couple were committed to having someone with an independent, disciplined eye identify what could be reused and where, what needed to go, and what new furnishings would be assets.

Leslie remembers, “Steven made a presentation and had prepared vignettes for different areas. He showed us options, asked for our feedback and looked for other things that would fit what we had in mind.”

The whole process took up to six months. Many pieces were custom ordered so the couple didn’t see them ahead of time. “We came in after being gone for several weeks for the install, and Steven gave us a tour … We were experiencing what our clients must experience when being introduced to their new brand.”

As they show off the results, Leslie and Karl are clearly delighted with the way new paint and some new furniture, fabrics, rehung art and hand-painted wall treatments have re-envisioned and freshened their home.

Lawrence Kreisman is program director of Historic Seattle. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.

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