Retrofitting a grand 1928 house with up-to-the-moment green technology is no small matter. Yet architect Steve Romein, working closely with Jim Dow of Schuchart/Dow construction, wasn't daunted.

Share story
































Retrofitting a grand 1928 house with up-to-the-moment green technology is no small matter. Yet architect Steve Romein, working closely with Jim Dow of Schuchart/Dow construction, wasn’t daunted at the prospect of designing a footprint-reducing remodel of his family’s 6,300-square-foot home.

The challenges were many. The Federal-style old house had single-pane leaded windows throughout. It sits on a steep Seattle hillside — the only access a narrow, winding lane. Then there’s the swimming pool built halfway down the slope, designed along with its pool house by noted Seattle architect Roland Terry in the 1950s. Between Steve and his wife, Ty, they have six teenage and young-adult children. Can you imagine the pre-solar hot-water bills?

“Green systems don’t need to be out there in the open,” says Romein, who took care to retain the home’s classic character while integrating green features into the renovation. His own architectural practice is mostly space planning, which is no doubt why he felt comfortable moving walls, adding windows and tinkering with most rooms in the house. Romein added bookshelves, brought light into the interiors and generally made the stately old house more comfortable. He chose a warm wall-color palette of sage green, taupe, deep yellows and reds, and worked with interior designer Virginia Stamey to select furniture and carpets.

Some of the trickiest technology involved the swimming pool. The couple, aghast at the cost in dollars and energy to heat a pool in our less-than-hot summers, told the kids the pool would have to be filled in. You can guess how well that went over.

Romein and Dow put their heads together to figure out how to use the sun to heat the pool, a difficult proposition due to the distance between the solar panels on the roof of the three-story house and the swimming pool 50 feet down the slope. The solar panels collect energy all year ’round and store it in vacuum tubes to heat the pool during the summer.

“People think it’s too cloudy and rainy in the Northwest for solar power, but the reality is we can harvest the sun here,” says Dow. His assertion is proven by the pool’s lusciously warm swimming water from May through September.

Remodeling green fits neatly with the ethic expressed by the couple’s new all-electric car, and their choice to use salt rather than chlorine in the pool, which reduces chemical use and evaporation. Yet livability as well as energy-efficiency drove the remodel. All the single-pane windows were replaced with double panes, the leaded glass preserved on the inside. The home is less drafty, as well as less expensive to heat. The kitchen, as in so many 1920s houses, was small, enclosed and cut off from views of the lake. Both cupboards and counters were unworkably shallow.

Romein captured new space by relocating a powder room, and opened the kitchen to the family room and big front windows. Now a spacious center island and deeper cabinets make the kitchen more usable; a new window and white cabinets brighten it up. The countertop is made of Richlite, a paper product with a matte finish like soapstone; the cabinets are formaldehyde-free; and the wooden floor has a water-based finish.

Green features aside, what’s it like to plan a remodel for your own family?

“As an architect, I’m just an option machine,” says Romein. “If I really like something I bring it up three times before I give up.”

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Her e-mail address is valeaston@comcast.net.