All those historic touches might be set in stone, but still there were plenty of opportunities for beautiful creativity.

Share story

ONE OF MONTLAKE’S original developers, Spanish-American War Capt. John E. Boyer, commissioned himself one magnificently distinctive home to set the tone for his nascent neighborhood. Designed by architect E.W. Sankey and built in 1908, the visionary venture, heavy on local stone, tended toward “lodge” before “lodge” was a trend.

For her part, so the story goes, Mrs. John E. Boyer commissioned herself to supervise the placing of every single one of those heavy local stones.

Eric and Susan, who bought the enduringly impressive Boyer Lambert House in 1999, were considerably less hands-on during its latest transformation.

“We moved from the Bay Area and knew we wanted an older house with good bones,” Susan says. “I’m a big fan of old buildings and protecting them.”

She’s not alone. The Boyer Lambert House became a legitimate Seattle Landmark in 1983.

“This house is an incredible piece of history,” says architect and project manager Kit Kollmeyer, who worked with the team at Robert Edson Swain Architecture + Design. “The challenges with working with a Landmark — energy-efficiency, sound transmission — it’s a fine balance.”

Over the past 12 years, Kollmeyer says, the firm has completed several modernizing renovations here. Some were a breeze, or at least as breezy as a home project gets: The backyard guesthouse, built in 1960, posed no restrictions at all. Same with the kitchen and landscape.

But try changing history, and … well. There’s a reason “Hot Tub Time Machine” resonated so profoundly.

Even an earlier “little renovation” of the Landmark-protected garage (converting it to a workout space) took “multiple hearings for a little bump-out,” Susan says.

This time, more work led to bigger challenges. This time, the transformation team gracefully updated the entry hall, dining room and separately Landmarked living room, and gutted and reconfigured the entire 1,200-square-foot upper floor (which had been, let’s say, choppily remodeled pre-Eric and Susan).

“The master suite and fancy bathroom — marble, like a fancy hotel bathroom — were incredibly beautiful, but space was not allocated well,” Susan says. “One of the nicest views had been in my closet. It wasn’t very functional. We are fond of each other, but we each want our own space.”

Space after space opened and brightened, creating, basically, one super-space master suite of four separate rooms — Eric and Susan’s breathtaking bedroom (now with his-and-hers bathrooms), Susan’s office, a guest room and Eric’s music room — and that wasn’t even the most challenging part.

“Upstairs, the biggest piece was the (bedroom) windows,” says Susan: How do you make historic leaded-glass, single-pane windows energy-efficient when you can’t replace them?

One solution: Hire Kollmeyer. He developed a precedent-setting method for preserving the stunning original panes in a high-performance window system.

“Working with a local glass company, we designed an insulated glass unit that holds the historic leaded pane between two new panes,” he says (basically, a triple-pane history sandwich that protects while it preserves). “As far as I can tell, no one else in Seattle has done these.”

Adds Susan: “They look very, very old and are triple-pane. The Landmark folks were delighted.”

Susan and her husband, early Amazon employees who’ve gone on to political and government work, had the same reaction when they first laid eyes on their future home.

“We’d been looking a long time, even before online searches, so we’d get the real-estate listings in the paper,” she says. “We saw a feature on a house and thought it was amazing and beautiful. I was sitting in bed and held it out and said, ‘This is the perfect house’ — and in fact, it was this house. When we drove up, I started hyperventilating like I do when I fall in love: the Adirondack style, the pieces; for a city house, it felt like it could breathe. It captured our hearts.”

Still, she says, there was a bit of OMG hesitation: “Can people like us have a house like this? We made a pact: If we live this well, we’ll raise as much money as we paid for it. And now we have an annual garden party for Lambda Legal and do political and arts fundraisers.”

Gazing up from that lush, private-parklike garden toward the long, elegant horizontal lines of the Boyer Lambert House, Kollmeyer says, “You can see how they used every stone. One reason it was Landmarked is because all the details are original to 1908.”

Even now, on the updated historic home that retains her name, Mrs. Boyer’s meticulous stone approach endures.

“The exterior skin can’t be changed,” says Kollmeyer. “When the fireplace was upgraded for earthquake stability, we took off every stone and numbered it, put steel in and put them back.”