Just north of Bridle Trails State Park, in a Kirkland neighborhood where horses have the right-of-way, the home of two Chicago transplants fits right in among the other 1960s ranch-style houses built deep into green lots and surrounded by lowland forest. But from the inside, the house Chris and Christy bought three years ago scarcely resembles the one they live in now.

The couple wasn’t looking to remodel when they moved from the Midwest in 2013. They were looking for land, and for a quiet, walkable neighborhood like the leafy Cincinnati suburb of Christy’s youth. The Bridle Trails home offered exactly that—along with claustrophobic ceilings, unrealized basement space, and a massive rock-facade fireplace reminiscent of a hot tub grotto. Still, they saw potential, particularly in the dining area. “I would wake up at night thinking about what that room could be,” says Christy. “Big windows with beams that lead the eye outside. Quintessential Pacific Northwest.”

Papers were signed, and just over a year after moving into their new home the young parents moved back out so Thomas Schaer from Shed Architecture and Design could kick off the nine-month transformation.

“The rooms were all sort of small,” Schaer recalls. “They wanted to really open the space up.” This meant vaulting the low seven-foot- 10-inch ceiling, excavating the kitchen from its previously hidden nook (“Cooking is not something to hide from your guests anymore”), and introducing the basement to sunshine with windows. In the basement Schaer also added a mudroom entrance, an expanded hallway that leads to two new bedrooms, and an office for when Chris, a user interface designer, works from home. Outside, the unused horse shed has become a guesthouse for when the parents visit from the Midwest.

But what to do about the fireplace? Building code prohibited Shed from altering the twin fireboxes that faced the living and dining rooms. And if the fireplace stayed, there was no getting around its size. Schaer loved the idea of using cement blocks since “it’s fun to be intentional with such a humble masonry material.” You’d think it be a hard sell to suggest a large cement block in the center of the home? No big deal, says Chris. “The fireplace was so over the top before.”

When the couple moved back in nearly a year later, they brought with them a new baby girl born just before the project completed. It was a lot of change at once for Christy. Sometimes she’d wake up in the middle of the night, asking, “Where am I?” Then during the day she’d visit the dining room, the space she dreamt up a year earlier: a wall of windows to take in the surrounding greenery, with the dutch door open on a warm spring afternoon to let the outside in. “This is why we wanted to live here.”

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