A car cruising down a quiet neighborhood street on Queen Anne slowed down in front of Richard Knowles’ house recently. The driver rolled down the window and leaned out: “Suuuper excited …!”
Knowles was in front of his now-famous house installing a miniature Bates Motel. The Bates Motel, of course, is the setting of the classic horror film “Psycho” and an eponymous 2013 prequel that ran on A&E for five seasons. Knowles’ version is done all in a black-and-white theme, made with sheets of plywood, insulation foam and lots of gray paint. He spent the better part of a recent Sunday putting it up, and everyone walking by told him, “I can’t wait to see it.”
Last winter, Knowles built a scaled-down Rosebud Motel, from the hit TV show “Schitt’s Creek,” and decked it out for the winter holidays. His story went viral, and the show even gave Knowles a shout-out on its official Instagram account. Knowles estimates at least a thousand people came to his house every day in December, everyone masked and politely distanced and getting a huge kick out of it.
“It just brought so much joy to everybody,” Knowles said. “I had the best Christmas ever. Everyone else’s worst, my best one.”
Some visitors left candles or flowers or handwritten letters about how much they loved his mini Rosebud Motel. (Knowles tacked the letters up on the wall in the back of his workshop.) He did avoid coming out of his house sometimes, because people would start clapping. Knowles is planning on some renovations for his Rosebud Motel later this year — bigger and even better — but he’s keeping it a surprise.
The Bates Motel will stay up until the weekend after Halloween. The Rosebud Motel will go up after Thanksgiving and remain until mid-January. To see them for yourself, go to 10th Avenue West in Queen Anne, where it meets West Bothwell Street.
Last year was Knowles’ first year building the Rosebud Motel, but he’s been doing the Bates Motel since 2016, with more and more elaborate props every year. His original inspiration? He had three leftover pieces of foam on his hands, and since Halloween was coming up …
“I just thought about the Bates Motel. What iconic thing goes with Halloween? ‘Psycho,’” said Knowles, 48, who recently started a new job dealing cards at a casino. “People love it and I just keep doing it.”
The first year, the Bates Motel was just a roof, doors and window frames hung on his retaining wall. Last year, he switched to a black-and-white theme in homage to the 1960 thriller’s palette.
“Everything’s brand new this year,” Knowles said. “I redid everything. I just wanted it more realistic looking.”
There’s a new painted plywood wall. Knowles found kiddie chairs at Goodwill and spray-painted them gray. He turned a breadbox (another Goodwill find) into an ice machine. And he’s not done. “There will be so much more coming out, little by little, over the month,” he said.
Knowles studied Alfred Hitchcock’s Bates Motel to get everything just right. One difference is that in the film, the doorway to the office turns, whereas his doorway is straight on because there isn’t enough overhang from the roof.
The detail is meticulous. The windows have tiny shades in them. The doorknobs are shaped like little cat heads. Knowles raked white rocks over the dirt to cover up the brown. Every individual leaf is painted and wired down.
“I get real crazy about the brown leaves that fall,” Knowles said, “because that ruins the effect.” He uses the blower to fend off errant autumn leaves, no easy feat living on a tree-lined street.
How much time has he spent building the Bates Motel?
“Oh my God. A lot of hours,” Knowles said. “At least … a lot.”