SEATTLE — Mike and Kyong Swope did a bit of moving around before they settled contentedly into their distinguished historical home in Denny-Blaine.
So did their distinguished historical home in Denny-Blaine.
The Swopes raised daughters Alyssa and Natalie in a 5,000-square-foot home in Bellevue. After both girls went to college, Kyong says, “We empty-nested and downsized” into a 1,400-square-foot condo in downtown Seattle.
“We thought we were going to love the city life,” Mike says. “But it was a huge adjustment just getting rid of stuff. Kyong liked to garden, so I convinced her she could have a P-patch, and restaurants. In Bellevue, you have to get in a car. But she was like, ‘I can’t do this.’ “
Nope. She could not. “It was such a small space,” Kyong says. “The first condo I couldn’t really stand. We moved to 1,600 square feet and thought it would help me if I moved to bigger square footage. It didn’t. I missed gardening a lot.”
Ta-ta, city-condo lifestyle. Howdy there, historical fixer-upper.
“We thought, ‘We’ll find a place we can make our own,’ “ Mike says. “We didn’t want a new home. Since I was a kid, I worked with my dad remodeling homes. ... Let’s do that again — we now know what we want: an older home, Craftsman style; we just wanted to find something unique. I didn’t even know about Denny-Blaine. 1/8When I saw this house3/8 I thought, ‘Oh. That needs a lot of work.’”
Another necessity: architect Eric Gedney.
Built in 1903, even before the platting of the Denny-Blaine neighborhood, the classic, stately home Gedney calls a grande dame was “pretty much a saltbox structure originally,” he says. Rooms were closed off. The tiny kitchen was tucked away in a corner. Most of the claustrophobic basement “was crawl space: rickety old stairs with a decrepit furnace.”
Originally, Mike says, “We thought, ‘Let’s clean it up, redo the kitchen and call it good.’ It turned out to be a bigger ordeal. There were issues with the foundation. Then we thought we’d make the center of the basement deeper — dig down. It started like that.”
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And then it continued, all the way up and into two disproportionate yards: “There was a very, very tiny backyard,” Gedney says. “The front was huge but not used.”
Mike recalls: “We were sitting and talking about what to do. Eric said, ‘Here’s a crazy idea: Why don’t we move the house 5 feet?’ “
“Crazy” as in “crazy-good,” it turns out.
“When there’s a new foundation, you’re going to lift the house, anyway,” says Gedney. “We did have plenty of space. ... We made the decision to make a full basement. Once (a house is) up in the air, it doesn’t matter where you put it back down.”
And that settled that.
Once the house settled on its sturdy new foundation, 5 feet farther into the front yard, things opened up considerably — but not totally.
“The general design concept was to make the spaces feel more like contemporary spaces but not have a completely ‘open concept,’” Mike said. “... There is a bit of wall separating the spaces: kitchen and dining, dining and foyer, dining and living room. That’s by design. We did not want to open everything. But also, we did not want to do a restoration. We wanted the spaces to feel bigger, like a house of today, but at the same time retain enough of the visual cues of the original so that it isn’t clear if the house is old or new.”
Gedney completely, seamlessly refurbished all the spaces, creating literal and visual connections, and adding a wing for the new family room and garage below it (“We buried the garage in order to keep it in the context and scale of the neighborhood,” he says). The entry stairs stretched out. The living room, once sporting a whole-wall brick fireplace, evolved into an airy dining room with a wall of giant windows. The kitchen relocated and expanded. A corner bedroom upstairs transformed into a stunning master bathroom. The new, deeper basement now has space aplenty for a media room, a gym, a bedroom and a bathroom. And outside, the expanded backyard is lined with generous planters Mike made for Kyong’s garden beds.
Other elements are not new, but newly used. A diamond-shaped window from an upstairs closet moved to the front of the home. An old patio door guards the wine cellar tucked under the new basement stairs. And original, one-of-a-kind windows — all more than 100 years old, all solid wood, some restrung — stayed right where they’ve always been, refreshed.
“Those windows took a lot of effort putting them back together and painting them,” Gedney says.
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Inside and out, upstairs and down, from the bigger backyard to the smaller one in front, the Swopes’ new old home is both thoughtfully traditional and coolly contemporary.
“The reason we bought this, with the windows and everything, we wanted to do something with it that keeps with the neighborhood but feels like a modern living space,” says Mike.
“The essence of the house is very important,” Kyong adds. “When we were almost done with the house, a lot of neighbors said, ‘Thank you for keeping the essence of the house the way it was instead of demolishing and building a new, high structure for a view of Lake Washington.”
Says Gedney: “That’s one of the best compliments I can get as an architect.”