ROBIN LAYTON'S contemporary, barn-inspired house in North Bend hosts specimens...
ROBIN LAYTON’S contemporary, barn-inspired house in North Bend hosts specimens of other decades, other lives, other economies, all set in a new, domestic context: Old stable doors from Bainbridge Island’s Kiana Lodge now open from Layton’s living room onto her wrap-around porch; and the pointed-glass panes of a Gothic Revival window that once witnessed hundreds of church sermons now filters light in an upstairs bath.
Layton’s house offers many examples of her passion for collecting and, along the way, teaches us how artifacts, as symbols of history, experience a conversion and become décor. Here, the medium for that conversion is the familiar stylistic language of Martha Stewart and Pottery Barn. For instance, Layton takes her wonderful Americana and old furniture — pieces that Pottery Barn tries to mimic — and arranges them in a Pottery Barn-catalog way. The effect feels culturally familiar while making exotic the rural American life of the early 20th century.
As a stylist pursuing her own vision, Layton has negotiated antiques from flea markets and shops, barns and businesses in Washington, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and her native Virginia, placing them like jewels within the setting of her three-story home. Her mantra: If you like it, buy it, and find a place for it later.
Robin Layton’s interior pieces offer disparate interpretations of the relationship between artifacts and décor as her salvaged objects re-enact, quote and parody their original functions. Layton arranges authentic, nostalgic pieces using the conventions of today’s mass-consumer influences, from Martha Stewart to Pottery Barn. The resulting tension creates an exciting juxtaposition that hovers between historically eclectic and kitschy. Examples:
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• Large wooden beams that once held up a New York barn today form a truss supporting Layton’s roof;
• Mullioned casement windows from Captain Sam’s in Seattle now front built-in bathroom shelves;
• Arrowheads found on her property now rest as specimens in a homemade curio cabinet whose glass front once was a farmhouse window.
Testament to that resourceful moxie, Layton hired an architect for her home’s floor plan only, persuaded her neighbors to circumvent a design covenant to allow her to cap her home with a red metal — not shake or shingled — roof, and told her builder how salvaged pieces would be integrated into the design.
“I overheard my builder say that he didn’t think I knew what I was doing,” Layton admits. Apparently, she did.
Today, Layton’s dining-room walls are inlaid with mottled-glass, transom-like windows from a 19th-century Seattle bank-teller’s cage. Reclaimed wood from a barn in New York covers her floors, and 100-year-old tobacco sticks — once used to pierce, hang and dry tobacco leaves — serve as staircase balusters. Layton paid 50 cents apiece for 500 sticks, and cut them to railing height.
The business card of the tobacco sticks’ former owner is crammed into a well-worn notebook that holds decorating ideas and magazine clippings along with a dealer’s frayed business card of a source who calls her collect if he has anything of interest.
Also in the book is her pencil sketch of kitchen cabinets that Amish craftsmen referenced to create them. The Shaker-style cabinets flank an aproned sink, a Viking stove and a chic, glass-doored mini-fridge storing wine. The look demonstrates the mix of contemporary accoutrements and historical allusion evident throughout her home.
“I wanted a house that was me,” Layton says. “And I knew I would have to create it.”
With several antiques in storage, Layton rented after moving to Seattle in 1995 from Ohio, where she was an award-winning photojournalist. But she wanted to live in a place that felt like the Northwest. So after an eight-month search, she bought a 3 1/3-acre lot in North Bend for $95,000 in 1996, and served as maestro for the design and construction of her cedar-sided home, completed in 1999 for $595,000. The home’s view to Mount Si — and the numerous elk that traverse her land — is spectacular. And Layton’s combination of guts and Southern unpretentiousness made it happen.
“What everybody makes fun of me for is my attitude. They say, ‘How do you do it?’ You know what? If I do two things, I pick up the phone, and I walk out the door. That’s it,” Layton says. “You have to get over your fear and just do what you want to do.”
Rosemarie Buchanan writes about architecture from her home in Redmond. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.