HomeDIY CraftA 1933 Ship Captain’s House in Seattle Gets an Update

A 1933 Ship Captain’s House in Seattle Gets an Update


This article is part of our Design Special section about new interpretations of ancient design styles.


Six years ago, Sonya Schneider and her husband, Stuart Naga, purchased a federally designated historic site in Seattle, a 5,000-square-foot, two-story house made of dark, old-growth western cedar planks, with several The gables were dormer windows. and a cedar-shake roof. It was located on an unusually large three-quarter-acre plot of land with mature maples, Douglas firs and a hemlock tree, in Ballard, an old Seattle neighborhood on Puget Sound.

The house, for which the couple paid $2.5 million, according to public records, was built in 1933 by Norwegian ship captain Ole E. Nilsson, reportedly as a replica of their childhood home in Bergen, Norway. Was in the form

In the early 20th century, Ballard’s shipbuilding, lumber and fishing industries attracted thousands of immigrants from Scandinavia, and today the community has retained a strong ethnic identity with an annual Norwegian Heritage Parade and a new National Nordic Museum.

The house is a unique example of Scandinavian vernacular architecture inside and out. It was constructed by highly skilled craftsmen, who carefully crafted the walls and ceilings from Douglas Fir. (Boards are placed parallel to the wainscoting and perpendicular to it.) The living room has a double-height vaulted ceiling with balconied ceilings characteristic of 19th-century Norwegian homes; Its railings have carved balusters and its support beams are decorated with colorful scrolls, acanthus leaves and floral motifs, a style of traditional rural Norwegian folk painting called rosmeling or rose painting.

When she first saw the home, Ms. Schneider, 45, a playwright originally from San Diego, recalled that she immediately recognized its value. “I grew up in a house with similar properties built in 1933,” she said. “I have been raised to appreciate the quality of the space and the fine craftsmanship.” (Mr. Nagae, 46, is a Japanese American venture capitalist from Seattle.)

Over the years, with a family consisting of two daughters, ages 14 and 11, the couple integrated their growing collection of contemporary art into the interior (by photographer Nan Goldin, Indigenous Oregon artist Mary Watt, and Seattle native Roger Shimomura, among others) and an eclectic mix of mid-century and contemporary furniture.

The result is a refreshing mix of time-transparent design elements. “We have two worlds talking to each other,” Ms. Schneider said. “The old house is happy to be covered with contemporary art. We introduced light and color into dark rooms.”

There was only one problem: The galley kitchen was too small. Ms. Schneider said, “I think Captain Nilsson had a servant who did the cooking.” “There’s a small bedroom in the basement.”

The couple decided the home should have a large kitchen, though they hadn’t sought an architect until they met at a Pearl Jam concert in Rome, of all places, six years ago.

Mike Mora, co-founder of Heliotrope Architects in Seattle, and his wife, Jessica, came to attend the concert and see their old friends Seattle band member Jeff Ament and his wife, Pandora Andre-Beatty.

“That night, Pandora introduced me to Sonya and Stuart, and we learned that we lived a half-mile from each other in Seattle,” Mr. Mora recalled. “I was really familiar with the house because I used to pass by it every day on my way to work.”

Ms. Schneider invites Mr. Mora over and shares her dreams.

She wanted a new, light-filled kitchen where her family and friends could gather, allowing movement between the interior and garden spaces.

She was totally open-minded: “When we started talking, I said, ‘Let’s go for the weirdest plan and then scale it back up; We gravitate towards modern architecture.

Mr. Mora was thrilled. “We were pleased that we did not need to design a replica of a 100-year-old building; We can be influenced by it, but with contemporary lines and more elaborate glass, make an addition of our time.”

Heliotrope ArchitectsFounded in 1999, has a number of high-profile institutional clients including REI, Amazon, Microsoft and Nordstrom. it won in 2020 james beard award For excellent restaurant design. Its residential work, however, tends to be minimalist, sustainable, and quality with, they say, “seasons.”

Mr. Mora’s plan for the kitchen followed those principles; It’s deceptively simple-looking, cool and elegant.

The 500-square-foot extension is a contemporary post-and-beam construction.

“It’s a story, because we didn’t need another program,” Mr. Mora said. It complements the house but stands on its own.

Both structures are linked by a glass passageway that highlights the distinctive character of each. Mr. Mora chose black brick walls to nod to the house’s dark gray tiles. His plans easily got approval from the local landmark board. As Ms. Schneider said, “They wanted us to do something that reflected the current times.”

The kitchen’s interior is equally sophisticated: Like the house, it’s fully panelled, but in a fresh, contemporary way. The cabinetry is stained white oak; Beams and pillars are Douglas repainted. The ceiling is of clean cedar. The floor is polished concrete.

In the cooking area, a long counter with a farm sink is placed under a glass wall. Behind it is a large, quartzite-topped island, which includes the stove, and another counter, which offers bar seating for eat-in and cook-out compliments.

This space deals with completely clean surfaces; There is no clutter. There is no external hardware in the cabinetry.

On one side, glass doors open to the west (and a terrace with a view of Puget Sound).

On the opposite wall, built-in cabinetry leads to a kitchen table and four chairs made by Brooklyn-based designer Bowen Liu and a showstopping Lindsay Edelman blown-glass chandelier. Its glass wall offers a view of the new garden to the south by landscape architect David Berleth.

The outdoor terrace to the south, shaded by an overhang, has a built-in wood-burning barbecue for grilling, Mr. Nagae’s favorite pastime, but the main activity outside is the backyard to the west, which has a loggia for private outdoor dining.

Norwegians have an expression: “Wood is our living muse.” 800 BC As early as AD, the Vikings demonstrated their exquisite craftsmanship and knowledge of wood construction techniques in their longships.

Heliotrope Architects reveres such craft traditions, which may explain the kitchen’s deep resonance for Ms. Schneider.

“The kitchen really feels like a collaboration; It turned out exactly as I expected,” she said. “I feel connected to this place now through this project: It’s both an homage to the old house and a nod to my husband’s Japanese, very minimalist sensibility.”



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