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Pacific Northwest | September 5, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineSeptember 5, home
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Stepping Up
From tawdry-tired to lively-inviting, a house
on a hill is remade

Jeff Harrison and Matt Sikes entertain frequently and have created many cozy areas throughout the garden for dining. This one right off the living room provides a covered nook with a soft-candlelit glow from the chandelier. To screen the area from the neighbor's dining room, Harrison made the black and tan curtain from sailcloth the couple found during a trip to Vancouver, B.C.
It takes vision, determination and a little help from your friends to transform a smoke-stained rental house with a desolate back yard into a welcoming haven. That's exactly what Matt Sikes and Jeff Harrison put to good use when they purchased their bungalow on Capitol Hill in 1999.

"We knew going into it that we had a lot of work to do," says Sikes, vice president of North American Finance for Starbucks. "The house hadn't had any sort of upgrading since the '60s."

"And it was the rainy season," says Harrison, who works in information technology for a local insurance company, "which is why we put so much color in it."

Wielding a paint brush was the first phase of this soon-to-be-extreme makeover through 2,200 square feet of living space. "When we moved in, we made the decision we were going to paint every square inch," says Sikes. It was then that they befriended Jan Sewell of Jan Sewell Design. The couple had tracked down Sewell, who helps people set up their houses to sell, after they'd seen a home she had staged during their original house hunt.
Both Sikes, who is originally from Florida, and Harrison wanted to infuse the house with lots of interior color to counterbalance the Northwest rain. The orange in the living room and the chartreuse in the entryway are exact matches off magazine pages from their color search.
"She gave us the courage," says Sikes. "She came in and sat down with us, and we picked out every color for every room in the house in an hour and a half. We picked the colors, and she made sure they went together."

"When I met them it was the very first time I'd done any color consultation," says Sewell. "That consultation was the end of our professional relationship and the beginning of a great friendship."

Over the next few years, with the help of old friends and new ones they would make along the way, the homeowners would replace the 1940s furnace and all the plumbing, remodel the kitchen and create a garden oasis in an inaccessible back yard that originally consisted of patches of dried grass. However, what the plot originally lacked in nuance, it made up for with space for several seating areas ideal for entertaining, good screening for privacy and a small natural spring.

"The access to that garden is just terrible," notes landscape designer Anne Janisse of City People's, who created a landscape plan for the large, barren plot. The only way to get to it was up steep steps at the front of the property and around back through a narrow passage. "Matt and Jeff hauled all the materials up there," Janisse says. "The site being daunting and inaccessible didn't matter. They were determined."
What was once a barren back yard with a small natural spring has been transformed to a multilevel garden with a naturally fed pond. Landscape designer Anne Janisse, from City People's, made a plan and Harrison and Sikes set out to execute it. Jeff Harrison built the garden shed from recycled materials. Items throughout the garden were acquired with a keen eye and an appreciation for sales and markdowns. The pavers are Pennsylvania bluestone; City People's laid the stones in the main area of the garden.
Harrison "literally ripped the grass out with a shovel and leveled the ground for the new plan Anne had laid out," Sikes says admiringly. After City People's had laid the flagstone pavers, Harrison and Sikes began the challenging installation. They hauled more bags of dirt than they could count (with help from a few hired hands) and brought in all of the plant material, as well as several large container pots.

From the beginning, their roles were clearly defined. Harrison is "the master project guy," says Sikes, "and I'm more the day-to-day maintenance."

"I focus on structural things and he focuses on the details," Harrison adds.

The distinct fountain and shed at the very top of their garden were designed and installed by Harrison, inspired by the many years he spent living in Italy. However, being true to his Northwest roots, the former Oregonian created the shed from a series of recycled parts. "The doors are recycled from a friend's kitchen remodel in Portland, the sink and cabinet are recycled from another friend's remodel," says Harrison. Their friends get their reward when the two entertain. With all those seating areas and resting spots in the back yard, it has become a favorite spot for them to dine alfresco. "There's probably nothing we enjoy more together than entertaining our friends," says Sikes. "I'm from the South; it's all about having a party."
The Murano glass chandelier was a special find in a small shop on the island of Murano, during a trip to Italy. It was shipped back in pieces and Harrison put it back together. The use of the bold teal color helped make "Florida furniture disappear a bit."
As the sun sets, the inside of the house glows like a jewel box from the vista of the garden. "In the warm weather I just love to sit out here in the back yard by myself or with people," says Sikes. "In the cooler time, I love our living room. It's very comfortable."

"It's not the kitchen?" Harrison questions.

"I love that kitchen. I take it back. I never leave the kitchen," says Sikes.

It's quite understandable that, after all the years of hard work, it's hard to choose.

"The place is transformed," Sewell says. "It was a tired, run-down, beaten-up little house when they got it. And they've just made it a really cool place to be."

Robin Fogel Avni is a freelance writer specializing in lifestyle issues and trends affected by technology. Her e-mail is

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