Sisters in the City: Two Sisters Downsize to a Wallingford Bungalow that Stays True to the Spirit of the Place
When twin sisters Mary and Melinda decided it was time to simplify their lives, they had two houses totaling over 5000 square feet. The management and upkeep of multiple properties spread across the Sound convinced them that it was time to downsize. With a quiet country retreat in the San Juans,‘The Sisters,’ as they are fondly known, found appeal in the notion of relocating to a city neighborhood in Seattle. As great cooks and foodies, Mary and Melinda loved the idea of partaking in the neighborhood restaurant scene while also moving closer to amenities and friends. In this process, they had absolutely no question that they wanted J.A.S. Design Build to renovate their new home. Having worked with J.A.S. to create their island property, The Sisters were familiar with the company’s design-build process and ethic. Just as importantly, they had built a strong friendship with J.A.S. co-owners Joe and Kim. Says Melinda, “If Joe told us to jump off a cliff, we’d ask, ‘What time?’ We trust [Joe and Kim] so much.”
No cliffs were involved, but purchasing and renovating a dilapidated Wallingford property does require a leap of faith. Joe and Kim had a house in mind—a 1920s bungalow located across the street from the J.A.S. office and only a block away from their own home. Having had his visionary eye on the house for several years, Joe told The Sisters, “This is it!”
When Mary and Melinda visited before renovation, they were taken aback. No one had lived in the property for quite some time. “It was a slum before renovation,” recalls Melinda, the sumac bushes growing up through the floor boards on the porch of the decaying little house. “But,” she adds, “When you find really good people and they feel really strongly about something, you don’t second guess their vision.”
Once the purchase of the house on the corner was complete, Mary and Melinda’s J.A.S. team was excited to get started. Most of them had been involved with The Sisters’ island house, so it was a bit like “old home week.”
Joe Schneider (Creative Director)
Mike Freeman (Project Architect)
Kelsey Smith (Interior Designer)
Ryan Zamora (Lead Carpenter)
As with many city lots, land-use constraints were prominent parameters for what could be done and how large the house could be. Although the property is zoned for multi-family, the square footage of the lot is quite small—a common characteristic in this historically modest, blue-collar neighborhood. J.A.S. did not alter the existing foundation and general volume of the house. However, as the designs and program for the house developed, the J.A.S team worked to simplify the general form while being mindful of scale and detail. The main roof form was retained and turned into a site-build truss system using salvaged timber, which allowed for an open living space with a great room feel. Other extraneous elements of the original structure were removed, including a bay window bump out, eroded fireplace and chimney, and the existing entry porch, which was cramped and gloomy. The main gable roof was extended as far as possible into the front yard setback to create a wide, covered front porch and steps. Box bays were also added on the back of the house to create more useable bedroom spaces.
Now, the property is transformed. On a recent sunny day, the house, all white, had its large front window thrown open, creating a porch-like space that looks onto the bustle of the neighborhood while still maintaining a sense of privacy for those gathered inside.
The square footage of the building footprint after renovation has stayed at 1069 square feet (the porch addition created another 300sf of covered outdoor space). The Sisters live on the main floor, which accommodates two bedrooms, one full bath, a powder room, laundry/pantry/utility space, and modern kitchen—complete with a chef’s table for everyday dining that can also serve as a work space. The great room approach to the main living and kitchen areas allows for a generous and light-filled space connecting to the outdoors and the surrounding neighborhood while at the same time remaining private, warm, and intimate.
The remodel also boasts a one-bedroom rentable ADU (accessory dwelling unit) in the daylight basement, as well as a studio/flex space for Mary & Melinda’s use. The value of such flexible spaces became part of an important conversation between J.A.S. and The Sisters about downsizing and future life stages. Having the opportunity to keep portions of the home for workspace, personal storage, rental income, guest use, or housing a long term care provider allows the house to continue to support them as they move into years of less work, more travel, more cooking and entertaining…everything that retirement may have to offer.
For Mary and Melinda, moving into a smaller home precipitated an act of downsizing that has allowed them to take control of their lives. Says Mary, “It’s a wonderful way to simplify. We edited so much. We threw away so much. We asked ourselves, ‘Do we really use the space we live in?’ The answer was no. But here we use everything. Everything has a purpose.”
Their city home inspires a new lifestyle for Mary and Melinda that offers different experiences and opportunities than their old lives on the Eastside. Wallingford has it roots as a working class neighborhood full of small-scale housing and residents who often stayed within the area to work, be it at the cookie factory, the gravel pit, the sawmill, or the boatyard. Joe and Kim—who keep this tradition alive by living and working within the bounds of Wallingford—hope to preserve and build upon the neighborhood’s existing architecture. They have purchased a duplex and cottage behind The Sisters’ property and have plans to someday create an urban village. “So many of the buildings in this neighborhood are going to be demolished for condos,” explains Joe. “We are trying to show another way of developing property. There’s an urban planning aspect in what we’re doing that’s somewhat pie in the sky, but that we hope can become reality, given that Kim and I live in this neighborhood, too.”
Kim has a sharp sense of preserving the spirit of the neighborhood without renouncing modernity: “We’re not trying to make a Wallingford theme park, but we are trying to relate to this place.” As the group falls silent for a moment, attention turns to the pronounced ticking of a mantel clock at the end of the hall. Mary explains that the clock has been passed down through their family for several generations. She’s glad it’s still with them, ticking away. Kim, inspired, reads meaning in an antique clock keeping time in a remodeled house: “That’s the balance we seek, blending new things with old things that have their own stories. We’re working with what’s already here.”
Says Kim, “Sometimes potential clients come to us and they want to know if they should spend money renovating their homes. We ask, ‘Well, do you love your neighborhood? Do you want to commit to it?’” She believes that this should be the litmus test for moving ahead with renovation: the desire for a unique and beautiful home that serves the needs of its dwellers while also staying true to the spirit of the place.
As Mary and Melinda embrace life in Wallingford, they certainly feel a commitment to the greater community. Mary now walks to the nearby University of Washington to audit classes, and she speaks fondly of a fellow walker who she often meets along the way. Melinda mentions a group of children and parents who wait on the corner each morning for the bus. Recognizing the group, Kim chimes in with enthusiasm. “I love it,” she says. “Everyday those kids wave
goodbye to their parents. It’s just one of those wonderful tiny moments to be found in a real city neighborhood.”
As long-time Wallingford residents who now have a stake in The Sisters’ house, Joe and Kim feel the same sense of connection to the place they have chosen to live and work. They followed their own rules in choosing to keep J.A.S. in Wallingford and tackle a renovation project on their own family home a block away from the office. It’s simple for Kim: “We love our neighborhood.”Check out sister-hood