By Donna Pizzi | Photos by Philip Clayton-Thompson
When Betty and Sam Rutherford first considered moving from Bellevue to Washington’s capital of Olympia, they were delighted to find that waterfront property was affordable. “Olympia is a well-kept secret,” says Betty, a vivacious former registered nurse and antiques dealer who got into real estate five years ago. “The quality of life here is very good.”
In the end, however, it wasn’t the city or even the water that lured the couple to this enclave tucked into the southernmost inlet along the Sound. Actually, it was this old house. “The house didn’t look like much from the pictures,” recalls Betty. “Frankly, the former owners had made the exterior look too new by adding stucco in the early 1990s.” The original house, built in 1937 on a five-acre tract as a modified Tudor, featured lap siding and cedar shingles.
Once they got inside, the couple was surprised to find many features intact: the voluptuous sweeping staircase, built-in mahogany bookcases in the living room, a coved and domed breakfast-nook ceiling, and the untouched warren of rooms. “[Although] it wouldn’t appeal to a lot of people, we liked the authenticity of the intricate floor plan—even the very, very small kitchen.”
Built for a physician and his wife, the house included an office area adjacent to the tiny kitchen. The living area faces the water and is appointed in rich mahogany, while the office was lined in knotty pine and the floors were fir. “It was easy to envision what we would do with the house,” Betty recalls; at the time, a triathlete was house-sitting, and only a futon, a bicycle, and some workout equipment stood against white walls. Friends advised the Rutherfords to “open up the kitchen and knock down some walls,” but they preferred not to gut the house all at once. “That can be a mistake; it’s better to live in a home for a while.” It turned out to be a good decision, and the reason the house is largely intact.
They began by focusing on important tasks: installing gutters (which a former owner had removed), repairing the chimney, and hiring a local craftswoman to repair what they thought were leaded-glass windows, but which turned out to have zinc cames.
The next job was the kitchen, which Betty says was really just a closet. “Even before we bought the house, I’d been looking at Lacanche ranges, so when I inherited the $50 electric stove with non-working oven, I decided to go for it and get the Lacanche!”
After much deliberation, they decided to open the kitchen a bit to the old den, an extremely small and dark office. They resisted the temptation to knock down the breakfast nook wall, which would have destroyed its charming domed ceiling.
The kitchen has seen “a succession of flooring, starting with black-and-white tile, which was hard to maintain and never looked clean to me,” Betty explains. They settled on wide-plank flooring of Southern heart pine, which runs through the former doctor’s office—now a den—and into the breakfast nook.
The biggest expense was replacing the synthetic slate roof, which had failed. New faux-slate roofing the Rutherfords were shown—in this case, rubber tiles designed to resembled slate shingles—was expensive and, in their opinion, did not look like slate. Instead, they found the perfect man to install the real McCoy—Dwight Lambert of Rainier Roofing and Remodeling, who had worked on Marsh Commons, a Tudor complex in Kirkland, prior to opening his own business.
As for the furnishings, “the décor is always a work in progress,” says Betty, who acquired many of her best pieces while she was an active dealer in antiques—“heady times in Seattle’s Pioneer Square during the 1990s.”
“Although I think the original designers of the house were going for a modified English Tudor design, I have tried to interpret it as a late-’30s homage to English Country design, a la Syrie Maugham.” (Betty and Sam have original blueprints as well as correspondence from the original architect and builder.) Betty herself has dipped many a paintbrush to find just the right hue for each room. “Paint,” she says, “is a very inexpensive way to decorate.”
She has enjoyed tracking down exquisite fabrics, fine wallpapers, and furniture, the latter at estate sales, antiques shops, and occasionally online. Unlike most collectors who accumulate treasures and never let them go, Betty works more efficiently. She collects, then edits as she goes, selling for a decent price whatever has gone out of favor with the evolution of her interior.
“There is a spare quality to this house,” she notes. “The ceilings are lower than in a 1920s house, and we don’t have the elaborate woodwork you see in Tudor Revivals. That has given me license to tweak rooms toward English and French Country.” Betty says they clearly love the place, because they’ve lived here longer than any other house they’ve owned.Published in: Old-House Interiors October 2009