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Washington State Four Square: The Client Got Hired by Her Designer Thanks to this Project

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Washington State Four Square: The Client Got Hired by Her Designer Thanks to this Project

September 27, 2019

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.

Built in 06 for Lindley Hoag Hadley, an attorney  and U.S. Congressman who, Hillary says, was likely inspired by courthouse architecture, the house came replete with its original woodwork, all largely unpainted and in good condition. It opens to a grand center hall.
Above: Built in 1906 for Lindley Hoag Hadley, an attorney  and U.S. Congressman who, Hillary says, was likely inspired by courthouse architecture, the house came replete with its original woodwork, all largely unpainted and in good condition. It opens to a grand center hall.

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.

After installing a new electrical system, the couple realized they needed help: &#8
Above: After installing a new electrical system, the couple realized they needed help: “We had no concept: How much lighting do we need? How high do you hang sconces? After paying to have the house rewired, we wanted to light it properly,” says Hillary. “That’s when I called Lisa.”

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.”

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Above: “With all of its dark and deep details, the house was a hard puzzle to solve,” says Staton. “We wanted to quiet it down a bit, and to immediately telegraph that it’s a family home.” Towards that end, they pitched a tepee in front of the grand stair. And they selected a few clean-lined, 20th-century classics, such as this green marble table from Homestead Antiques in Seattle and 1960s Ib Kofod-Larsen chair, to add what Staton calls “a layer of modernity.”
The entry opens to the dining room, which has another of the house&#8
Above: The entry opens to the dining room, which has another of the house’s four fireplaces (and was likely originally the sitting room). The pink painting was commissioned by Hillary as a tribute to her late grandmother, the owner of an interiors store, who got her started on this path—and whole-heartedly encouraged the career shift.

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.”

J.L. Møller Model 75 chairs from the fifties—two found in Seattle, two ordered from a dealer in Denmark—surround a vintage Danish table. All of the house&#8
Above: J.L. Møller Model 75 chairs from the fifties—two found in Seattle, two ordered from a dealer in Denmark—surround a vintage Danish table. All of the house’s lighting is white and sculptural: the pendant light is from Jayson Home in Chicago and the Go Lightly Sconces are a Barbara Barry design from Circa Lighting. Hillary happened upon the Sheep Ottoman at Target.

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.”

A glass-fronted cabinet is conveniently accessible from both dining room and the kitchen. Photograph by Hillary Straatman.
Above: A glass-fronted cabinet is conveniently accessible from both dining room and the kitchen. Photograph by Hillary Straatman.
On the other side, the pass-through is concealed behind a paneled door. The kitchen is the one room the couple are waiting to tackle: &#8
Above: On the other side, the pass-through is concealed behind a paneled door. The kitchen is the one room the couple are waiting to tackle: “It’s where the budget stopped,” says Staton.”The island and linoleum floor are from a 1990’s remodel gone bad,” explains Hillary. “We hope to do a refresh.” Photograph by Hillary Straatman.
All of the downstairs spaces flow into each other. Set in the back of the house, the southwest-facing living room gets the most natural light, &#8
Above: All of the downstairs spaces flow into each other. Set in the back of the house, the southwest-facing living room gets the most natural light, “a hot commodity in this part of the country,” says Hillary

The sofa was her grandmother’s and is still in its original 1960’s upholstery, “faded to just the right brownish blush,” says Staton. The coffee table is Blu Dot’s marble-topped Minimalista Table and the ceiling fixture is the Waldorf Triple from Lambert & Fils.  

Keeping things light—a powder-coated steel picture ledge, &#8
Above: Keeping things light—a powder-coated steel picture ledge, “customized to our exact dimensions” by Etsy vendor True North Industrial, displays a layered collection of watercolors and prints.
One of the refurbished radiators stands behind a pair of vintage safari chairs. All of the Icelandic Sheepskins are from Hawkins New York.
Above: One of the refurbished radiators stands behind a pair of vintage safari chairs. All of the Icelandic Sheepskins are from Hawkins New York.
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Above:”The wood trim in the upstairs bedrooms was already painted, so we felt okay repainting it,” says Hillary.

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.

A still-life on an Ikea dresser. The  light is the Cleo Orb Base Table Lamp by Kelly Wearstler for Circa Lighting. Hillary&#8
Above: A still-life on an Ikea dresser. The  light is the Cleo Orb Base Table Lamp by Kelly Wearstler for Circa Lighting. Hillary’s mother gave her the black and white photo on the day of the 2017 Women’s March—it shows naked women forming a peace sign.
An LA work trip for Lisa and Hillary coincided with the Rose Bowl Flea Market, where they found the yellowed art students&#8
Above: An LA work trip for Lisa and Hillary coincided with the Rose Bowl Flea Market, where they found the yellowed art students’ drawings that are casually tacked to the wall in the guest room, now  the baby room: the family’s third daughter was born recently and named after Hillary’s grandmother.

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.

The family bath has its original built-in drawers and cabinets on two sides, but the room was updated in the 90s, when the sink vanity and tile floor were added (the latter was in bad shape and required new grouting—&#8
Above: The family bath has its original built-in drawers and cabinets on two sides, but the room was updated in the 1990s, when the sink vanity and tile floor were added (the latter was in bad shape and required new grouting—”Jim put in a lot elbow grease here,” says Hillary).

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.

Above L:Hillary and Lisa introduced the large mirror from Rejuvenation and Triple Seven Home sconces—”it’s a narrow space and a nice thing about these lights is that they don’t take up much room but they have scale.” says Hillary. The nickel New York Cross Handle Faucets are $259 from Signature Hardware. Above R: The tub is original.
The couple&#8
Above: The couple’s two older daughters share a room painted Benjamin Moore’s Opal, “subtle but pink enough to make the girls happy,” says Hillary. The bedding is a combination of By Mölle, Ikea, and H&M Home designs, and the pear poster, Pirum Parum, is from Fine Little Day. No, the glass vase with flowering branches, Hillary assures, is not usually in place.

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:

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