by Lawrence Kreisman photographed by Benjamin Benschneider STORYBOOK HOUSES — quaint, medieval-like English cottages with stucco walls...
Storybook houses — quaint, medieval-like English cottages with stucco walls, pseudo-thatched roofs and rolled eaves — were popularized in the 1920s by silent-film stage sets. They were also the choice of designers looking for building ideas grounded in centuries-old tradition for new streetcar neighborhoods trying to keep up with rapid population growth.
While a number of designers in Vancouver, B.C., and in Portland showed a particular interest in this type of house, Seattle has very few. One of the best local examples, designed by Gardner Gwinn in 1922 for Howell and Pearl Tatum, is in the Mount Baker neighborhood, and it has recently been renovated by a couple who fell under the spell of its innate charms.
Nick Agoff and Jean-François Godbout purchased the property early in 2005, attracted to it largely by the bent-shingle roof forms. Despite its visual interest, the last round of cedar-shingle work had not held up well. But the couple found no one in the Seattle area who would take on the project. Agoff ended up calling Historic Seattle, which pointed him to the Architectural Heritage Center in Portland.
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Their luck turned when they spoke with Portlander Charlie Remington, general manager for Quality Plus Roofing. The company took on this ultimate custom job, and the finished product is a work of art.
While the roof presented a major challenge, the altered interiors also needed attention. Built in 1922, the home had changed hands twice before, once in 1926 and then in 1968. The previous owner opened up the entrance-hall ceiling to the roof. She eventually turned the main and basement floors into a Montessori school. Godbout recalls, “When we bought the house, there were three kitchens, one on the main floor and two in the basement. There were eight toilets and 11 sinks.” The main floor also had four classrooms (now the entrance hall, dining room, media room and living room) and an office (now sunroom).
Agoff and Godbout applied a light touch to original materials, such as the leaded-glass windows, doors, wood and tile, while doing a lot of selective removal and updating the interior spaces. Most notably, the toilets and kitchens installed for the school were removed and the stairs to the upper floor moved from the southwest corner of the home to the front entry.
They also removed closets and doors to create a more generous main-floor bathroom and a wet bar adjoining the living room. In his forays to salvage houses, Godbout bought paneling from Earthwise that came from a demolished Seattle church. It lines the back hall, TV room (formerly a bedroom) and the upstairs hall. Faced with a shortage for the second-floor project, Godbout made panels himself to match.
The Kirkland firm of Gelotte-Hommas was hired for two major upgrades: a courtyard and an expansion of the master bedroom. Over the years, an above-ground pool and spa had been installed in the side courtyard with access from the living room through a new doorway. They removed the pool and spa and added a driveway, making the door a back entry. However, the new entrance lacked interest and shelter from the elements because it had not been part of the original house. The architect designed a new entry using the vocabulary of the shingled eaves of the home.
The master bedroom, tucked into the attic, had very few useful areas with its low ceiling. The new design expanded the room and elevated the ceiling to bring in both light and a view of Lake Washington. The addition allowed for French doors and a patio. As Godbout so aptly put it when the work was finished, “The home is finally happy again.”
Lawrence Kreisman is program director of Historic Seattle and author of “The Arts and Crafts Movement in the Pacific Northwest.” Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.