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Northwest Living
Over Time, Transformation
A scruffy house gets brighter and works better
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The Lawrences added built-in bookcases and Ellsworth Storey French doors to divide the dining area from the living room. Unifying details, including glass doorknobs and brass hinges, are repeated throughout the house.
Architects at home
TOM AND RHODA Lawrence bought their first house in 1985. The circa-1922 two-bedroom, one-bath house on Seattle's Phinney Ridge was scuffed from its years as a rental, and only two electrical outlets worked. But the house was affordable and mostly original, which was ideal for the budding architects, fresh out of married-student housing at the University of Washington.

Their intention was to make over the tiny kitchen within several months. With their burgeoning careers, that didn't happen. As time allowed, Tom did fix the more urgent problems such as rewiring, and over the years they upgraded most of the house. Still, they came to long for more space.

When the roof needed replacing, they decided to build up. Trading design sketches back and forth, they planned around their mutual desire for a larger, brighter bedroom and a more efficient kitchen.

"We didn't want to make the upstairs too dramatic," Rhoda says. The couple thought a modest addition would keep scale with nearby houses.
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The Lawrences chose commercial-thickness cork floors for the kitchen. Custom cabinets, made to match the original design, are by Warmington & North Co. Black soapstone counters are inset with a stepped-down granite work space under a window. Two deep, single sinks ease congestion during food preparation.

Architects Tom and Rhoda Lawrence are avid bicyclists who ride solo as well as tandem. They also balance their professional skills to accommodate the needs of their individual firms as well as their goals as a couple.
Essentially, they jettisoned the old roof and framed a small house on top of the existing structure. In 2001, they hired a contractor and crew and began melding new to old. They quickly saw that when a new thing was made plumb, the rest looked out of whack. "The house had either settled or was built that way," Tom says. They learned the language of the house. They adapted.

Downstairs, to eliminate sagging in the living room, carpenters simply cut out the old ceiling and exposed the low attic and an existing soffit to gain about 8 inches in ceiling height after Sheetrock was added.

They doubled the usefulness of the kitchen by removing a breakfast nook and reconfiguring the work space. For instance, deep sinks flank a food-preparation area so cooks stay out of each other's way. Cabinets were fabricated to match the original design, and the refrigerator is disguised behind cabinetry near a new back door.

The most spirited discussion, Rhoda recalls, centered on where to place the stairs to the upper level. They wanted a landing roughly in the middle of the addition, but hoped not to sacrifice space to an open staircase in one of the ground-floor 8-by-10-foot bedrooms. The solution was to design somewhat narrow oak stairs that stack over the basement staircase; access is through a pocket door off the kitchen.

Though its transformation was years in coming, the house is now a two-story, 2,200-square-foot, four-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath affair. It has been beautified and made practical through top-quality materials and appliances, and wise use of space. For example, a laundry room was tucked into an alcove off the landing upstairs, where washer and dryer are allotted their precise margins. A folding table flips out of the way for access to a water heater/radiant-heat boiler, which warms the upper floor. A half bath and Tom's new study were framed so built-in wardrobes can slide right in, flush with the walls.

The new master bedroom is private and bright, offering a view of Puget Sound for good measure. A roomy bathroom a few paces away has the atmosphere of an upscale spa, yet is spare and easy to clean. At the top of the stairs a small library offers a fine spot to relax on a rainy afternoon.

"Sometimes, people seem to do too many things," Tom says. "What we did upstairs is simple. It's very pleasant, all of it. Nothing flashy, but we did use good materials and it's nicely crafted."

Tom's firm, Lawrence Architects in Seattle, primarily designs single-family homes, remodels as well as new. Rhoda, a principal in BOLA Architecture + Planning, specializes in preservation and restoration-related work for institutions and other community entities.
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The Lawrences' Phinney Ridge house is quietly elegant, its new second story in keeping with the style of the neighborhood. The garage doors were built years ago, shortly after the Lawrences moved in, and set the tone for work that would follow.
Perhaps remodeling a house in increments was not ideal, but the slow progress fit the pace of their lives. "That's not how I'd advise my clients to proceed, but that's what worked for us," Tom says.

"We did our day job, and then came and did this night job," Rhoda explains.

Long before they added on, but after the rewiring and plumbing and so forth, they repaired the back porch and added a deck in 1988. Also in the late '80s, they poured a new concrete top for the old Model-A-size street-level garage.

In the '90s, Tom expanded the downstairs bathroom. He laid out ceramic floor tiles in the dining room to establish his pattern, then poured a self-leveling cement product in the bathroom to have a good base to work with. To gain privacy from a neighbor, he moved a window and cleverly fit a folding mirror over the lower glass.

Next, he pulled up the old linoleum in their bedroom, which is now the guest bedroom, then sanded and sealed the original fir floors. In the back bedroom, they added a window and a door out to a new deck and turned it into a study for Rhoda.

They rebuilt the disintegrating front sun porch from the roof down, adding Ellsworth Storey windows picked up from a salvager. Tom also added Ellsworth Storey-designed French doors to separate the living and dining rooms. After they fit built-in bookcases into the dining room and updated the finishes, Rhoda steamed off the painted-over wallpaper, applied a dark gray-green paint and sponged a lighter glaze over it.

Overall, the experience has been bracing for the Lawrences, who are sticklers for detail and superior workmanship. The ongoing task has kept them in touch with the way such matters may go for their clients in the less-than-ideal world.

Still, they're not martyrs. They moved out to stay with friends when the carpenters moved in to build the second story, and recommend you do the same if you're heading into a major tear-up.

The new master bath is up-to-date, with a limestone countertop, under-cabinet lights, double sinks, a skylight and sconces to illuminate a large mirror.
The second-floor stair landing expands into a library and reading area. An Eames chair, bookshelves and a west-facing window seat (out of view) make this a place to linger. The light-colored gallery wall doubles as a privacy barrier for the master bedroom just beyond.

Dean Stahl is a Seattle free-lance writer. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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