Begone, Bad '90s Remodel

Built without a foyer, this Capitol Hill Craftsman is now flush with cabinets that hide the trappings of modern life.

By Allecia Vermillion August 26, 2022 Published in the Fall 2022 issue of Seattle Met

Bonus: a prime showcase for Wells's typewriter collection.

Image: Julie Mannell

Hats. Mail. Masks. Leashes for Louie, the Italian greyhound. So many pairs of shoes. Every time John Wells and his wife, Beth, returned to their 1906 Craftsman on Capitol Hill, they were confronted with the vestiges of adult life, in a big pile by the front door. 

Seattle’s classic homes may be rich in charm, but our most identifiable form of architecture typically lacks a designated foyer: The front door opens right into the living room, with no logical place to stash our stuff.

Designers’ term for this high-traffic entry space is the “drop zone.” The homeowners’ term for the dark brown floating shelf built into the wall next to their front door was “a bad ’90s remodel.” It was functional, but ugly, and kept the couple’s shoes and mail on full display. That same remodel, from long-ago owners, also bequeathed them a brown granite fireplace that overpowered their small living room like a cocoa-colored battleship.

The couple asked designer Kirsten Conner for more storage in the entry and living room—something that could pass for period correct even if 1906 Seattleites didn’t have TVs or dozens of shoes. Additionally, “almost all my clients want a gas fireplace,” says Conner. The brown battleship had to go. 

Before: shoes everywhere, and a fireplace that hogged the living room.

“Eliminating contrast is a really important part of the process,” she says. “You put things away, close the door, and it’s calm and your eye is not attracted to all that clutter.” A bench by the front door was a given. So were the drawers beneath to hold shoes. Conner sketched out two slender cabinets to flank that seating area; they go just halfway up the wall. That way, she says, the window’s architectural details can still stand out. 

The same gray-green quartzite (official name: sea pearl) that transformed the fireplace also caps the cabinets, a subtle connection between the entry and the living room’s opposite wall. The sea pearl shows up again in the bank of bookshelves by the mantel. This solved both the need for storage and the difficulty of TV placement in the narrow living spaces of the Craftsman era.

“We wanted it to look like it’s always been that way,” Wells says of the built-ins. A team from Gaspar’s Construction used trim details to match the era of the home—but also accommodated a circa 2022–size TV screen. Gaspar’s owner Sarah Henry says speaker fabric is her company’s go-to material for cabinets that conceal cable boxes, but still allow for connection with remote controls.

Converting the original coal fireplace to natural gas required some disruptive, deeply unglamorous work to snake the new gas line through the house. Leveling the new hearth with the existing hardwood floors, says Henry, “was a whole other ball of fun.” She promises each client a champagne celebration when the project is complete.

Now, a machine from Wells’s typewriter collection sits on the bookshelves, and his hats stay out of sight, in cabinet shelves aligned specifically for this purpose. Keys, leashes, and Louie’s coat also live behind these doors, he says. “When you want to put something away, it has a place.”

The couple appreciates the room’s jewel-box appeal: Bursts of color, like the yellow cushion on the bench, light up the neutral space. Louie doesn’t appreciate the leash storage nearly as much as the new fireplace, says Beth. “He’s a heat seeker.” 



The new fireplace is Louie-approved.

Image: Julie Mannell

Hard Truths on Hardware

Custom cabinetry can get pricey, but Gaspar’s Construction owner Sarah Henry reminds clients to reserve some budget for the hardware, like knobs and pulls. “The aspects of a home people touch and feel every day” are important, she says. “There’s a big difference in the feel of a $15 pull and a $3 pull.”


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