WRITTEN BY LAWRENCE KREISMAN
PHOTOGRAPHED BY MIKE SIEGEL
A Family, A History Honored
A much-used Victorian is remade for the 21st century
Kim Munizza, friend and interior-design consultant, helped Andrea select furniture and fabrics from the Seattle Design Center. The goal was to respect the Victorian roots of the house while introducing Japanese simplicity.
THE CHARMING VICTORIAN homes that once climbed the hillsides of Queen Anne have all but disappeared. Alterations have made even the survivors hardly recognizable. But one of these 1890-era homes is still visible, thanks to a remodel that acknowledges its original charms while accommodating 21st-century lifestyles.
The house survives largely because a family that bought the building almost 40 years ago didn't want to part with it. Nelson Nakata's family moved to Seattle in 1967 from Hawaii. He was raised in this home before the family moved again, to Mercer Island.
The top-floor gable with decorative shingle and the window with classical surround are original to the ca.-1890 house. Nelson Nakata’s grandfather, a landscape gardener, was responsible for planting some of the trees.
His father originally bought the property intending to raze it for an apartment building, but discovered a zoning restriction. So, he decided to live in it instead. "When he went to remodel the house," Nakata remembers, "he didn't use insulation because in Hawaii, no one thought about insulation." Consequently, the family's warm memories of time they shared are mixed with those of cold, windy winters — of never being warm regardless of how high the thermostat was pushed.
After moving, the family rented out the house. But when it became hard to care for and his father talked of selling, his mother refused. The house held all her memories of the children growing up, and the grounds were filled with the planting decisions of her father, a landscape gardener.
During Nakata's college years at Seattle University, the house became a dormitory for him and several roommates, but somehow survived the parties and physical abuse. The living room was where Nakata first met Andrea, his wife-to-be.
The new family room is a comfortable gathering space for conversation and media-watching only steps from the spacious kitchen clad with cherry cabinets.
"It probably would have been cheaper to raze it and rebuild," he acknowledges. But the couple instead made repairs and remodeled as their family grew. Initially, they focused on the second-floor bedrooms, an attic loft with office space for Andrea and a basement office for Nelson. Finally, they were ready to face the main floor.
The late-19th-century house originally had high ceilings, a formal front parlor with a windowed bay, a rear parlor and a formal dining room separated by pocket doors from the parlors. But the two parlors had been combined into one large living room. The front wrap-around porch had been enclosed, creating an unfortunate entry foyer; the stair hall was cramped, and the small kitchen had been unmemorably remodeled. The couple had used what may have been the original breakfast room as their family room, but it really didn't suit their needs.
One of the few remaining original features of the first floor is the carved newel post. Nelson remembers he and his siblings swinging off the pedestal cap.
They had architect Jerry Chihara help figure out a way to make the first floor work better. Without enlarging the house substantially, the architect proposed redistributing space so the entrance hall was better integrated with the public rooms. The original exterior bearing walls along two sides were removed and supported anew by two major beams. The main floor was blessed with ceilings more than 10 feet high, leaving room to create coffered ceilings in the living room to conceal the new beams.
A new dining room and a study for the children were carved from the rear parlor. Colonnades between the entrance, living and dining rooms acknowledge the formality of these spaces. The rearrangement of space also freed up the formal dining room for combining with the kitchen and breakfast/family room into one open family room/kitchen.
Exterior alterations were completed with an eye toward compatibility with the surviving original features. Inside, new wainscot designs were derived from the original trim in the stair hall. New door trim matches original door trim.
The remodel "fits our lifestyle and the way we entertain," Andrea says. "We have big families. We . . . can accommodate everyone in the family for Christmas and birthdays."
But she also remembers that her children were less impressed by the transformation of their enormous living-room play area. "We learned something from our kids. We moved out during the remodel. When we moved back and asked them if they liked the new house, they said, 'We liked the old house better.' "
Andrea requested a space akin to the traditional Japanese tokonoma. This space at the entrance usually displayed a hanging scroll. Theirs displays the Nakata family crest, or mon.
Of course they've adjusted nicely to their new old home. But they carry the memory of the ramshackle old house with them — and they are well on their way to claiming this as the homestead that may well be passed on to the next generation.
Lawrence Kreisman is program director of Historic Seattle. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.
The elements of change
Architect: Jerry Chihara (of Chihara Architect) served six years on the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board, so he appreciates historic architecture. He also specializes in custom residential new construction and remodel design, so he understood the Nakata family's dilemma: How to adapt a formal old house to an informal, modern lifestyle and do it with the tranquil simplicity that underlies the Japanese aesthetic. Helping get the job done were:
Interior Design Consultant: Kim Munizza, who used clean lines and a neutral palette to create a harmonious interior consistent with the Japanese aesthetic.
Contractor: O'Connell Construction Co., which tackled the task of reconfiguring the main floor, finishing the job in March 2003.