Hillary and Jim Straatman weren’t planning to move—nor was Hillary looking for a career change. Three years ago, she was a cardiac nurse on leave with two young daughters when a real estate broker mentioned a well-preserved four square newly on the market in Bellingham, Washington. Jim had grown up in Seattle in a similar turn-of-the-century, cube-shaped structure with a prominent stair and wood-paneled rooms, a house that he always says raised him. They lived nearby and took a look for fun.
The two are self-taught remodelers and old house enthusiasts—since meeting at age 20 at Bellingham’s Western Washington University 20 years ago, they had fixed up a tiny bungalow followed by a slightly bigger house. But they didn’t begin to consider the four square until it sat and sat on the market. “It’s 4,000 square feet and needed a lot of work—it’s filled with dark wood and had very little light—the electrical system had never been touched,” says Hillary.
As the price got more negotiable, the couple spent nights staring at a spreadsheet trying to figure out how they might swing it. Then the house went to contract with another buyer, only to have the deal fall through several months later. “That’s when we swept in,” says Hillary. Read on to see how they were able to respectfully update a stately but stodgy relic on a budget—and how Hillary’s SOS call to the designer down the road turned out to be life changing.
Photography by Haris Kenjar, unless noted, all courtesy of Lisa Staton Interior Design.
The couple wanted to preserve the architecture—without living in a museum: “we wanted it to feel old and warm but also open and airy.” They did as much of the updating themselves as possible, including removing wallpaper and lugging out several flaking, lead-paint covered, 300-pound radiators (which were then sent to be stripped and powder coated). That is, until they decided to rewire. It took interviewing four electricians to find the one who was willing to work with a “crazy old house without taking out walls and lovely plaster ceilings. We needed someone who was willing to fish wire,” says Hillary. While the dust was flying, they stayed in a rental they own and later with Hillary’s parents; Jim, a manager at a software company, spent nights at work on the house.
Lisa Staton, a neighbor, runs her own busy interior design firm specializing in residential overhauls. She came in to offer advice, which quickly led to a friendship—and to Staton not only working closely with the couple on the house, but to offering Hillary a job. “Hillary is the first client in fifteen years of business who was such an amazing fit that she ended up joining our team” says Staton. “She may not have had formal training, but Hillary is a born stylist and fantastic researcher.” As for Hillary, she tells us design is her passion, “at this stage, I just didn’t know I could turn it into a career.”
All of the wood detailing is local old-growth fir with its original mahogany stain. “I had my days of saying I just want to paint all of this, but I knew I’d regret it,” says Hillary. “The main floor is so architecturally busy that we tried to stay neutral with the furnishings and art, and to introduce texture to soften the spaces.”
In place of the existing wallpaper, the downstairs is painted Simply White from Benjamin Moore, one of our 10 Paint Colors with Cult Followings: Architects’ All-Time Favorite Paint Picks. Staton notes that to “balance all the whites and reddish wood tones, “we added rhythms of crisp black throughout.”
The master bedroom has a balcony that overlooks Bellingham Bay: “We can see the downtown marina and San Juan Islands,” says Hillary. The bedside Hood Sconces are by Brendan Ravenhill, and the Simple Linen Bedding is from Hawkins New York. Hillary ordered the Linen Curtains from H&M online: $99 for two panels, hemming tape included.
Ikea’s rice paper Storuman lamp, $12.99, sits on an Urban Outfitter table hack: “we took off part of the legs and had a stone top made for it,” says Staton.
To unify the elements and draw the eye to the cabinetry, they painted all the surfaces Benjamin Moore Cloud White. The wire mesh chair is a vintage Russell Woodard Sculptura Occasional Chair, currently being reproduced by Woodard and DWR.
How did her work with transplant patients prepare her for her current position? “Nursing was truly life and death and gave me perspective about what’s important. Even when things go wrong on job sites, this is fun.”
Take a look at two other Lisa Staton projects: