It’s a pretty good sign you’ve found your Interior Designer of Destiny when you say, “We want cat pillows,” and she says, “Let’s make them work.”
Yep. Brooke Davis and Jon Wagher are cat people (metaphorically!) whose snuggly purrball Sonia is, all three agree, both queen of the house and a key design element. But the two resident bipeds also are skiers and hikers and bicyclers. And travelers and party-throwers. And glamorous balletgoers. And fans of fuchsia. So now, after a synergetic collaboration with the namesake of Michelle Dirkse Interior Design, their light-heavy Leschi home expresses everything they are.
Davis is a Realtor and Wagher is in the mortgage industry, so they see loads of homes, and lots and lots of Seattle-signature grays and beiges. (Just so happens Dirkse is the designer behind the #StopBeige social media campaign.)
“I wanted to have what I don’t see every day,” Davis says. “We know we like color, and I was always interested in a house that looks different.”
But not necessarily the “different” they encountered after falling instantly in love with their 1980 home’s floor-to-ceiling windows, ever-changing views and nature-in-the-city vibe.
“The condition and cosmetics were hideous — oranges and ocher colors,” Davis says. “They were not modern or contemporary. The walls had texture, and the fireplace had big, pink, heavy stone.”
Still, love at first sight is a powerful force, and so there they were, all of a sudden moving from their 1949 Maple Leaf bungalow … and into their new basement for the six-month main-floor makeover.
Structural work came first: rebuilding the fireplace, repairing blown window seals, refinishing the oak floors and skim-coating the almost-topographically textured walls. Scaffolding came down, Snowdrift white paint went up and then, Wagher says, “We were like a blank canvas.”
“We started looking for a new couch, but nothing was the right style or size,” says Davis. “Slowly our budget for the couch kept creeping up, and it felt like a huge commitment to spend so much money without professional help.”
They discovered Dirkse, perhaps with a guiding click from fate, on the home-remodeling and design website Houzz.
“A lot of designers have ‘a style,’ traditional or contemporary. Ours is in the middle,” says Wagher. “I was skeptical about working with a designer, but our communication was good enough that she saw our vision.”
“We understood each other,” says Dirkse, who, perhaps not coincidentally, has a degree in psychology. “They help everyone else find a good home. They deserve a good home to come home to.”
Dirkse started with two refined but modern solid black sofas that anchor the living room’s symmetrical layout and give guests (and Sonia) multiple places to perch. The pink stone is no more, but shades of rich fuchsia pop up in two Palmer ottomans, a pillow co-designed by Dirkse and a painting by local artist Noel Fountain near the built-in bar Wagher always wanted.
In the dining room, a substantial black table with angular subtle accents grounds a big, glamorous chandelier. At one end, nature-invoking green malachite wallpaper curves around a bench nook.
The quieter media room (aka “cat space,” as that’s where the kitty pillows landed) serves as a cozy spot for cuddling and TV, with another powerful blast of fuchsia in the rug.
In each room, Dirkse offered options and helped Davis and Wagher decide when to splurge and when to go lower-end. Some buy-big decisions were instant (the obsession-worthy living-room bench from Jonathan Adler), and some took a little longer.
To tie the living room together, Dirkse suggested two substantial splurge pieces by local artists: a cast-iron sculpture by Mya Kerner above the fireplace, and a green textural painting, also by Fountain, above the buffet. Because they were such splurges, Dirkse initially borrowed them for a test hang.
Once they saw the pieces in their space, Wagher says, their value was undeniable.
“We fell in love with them and had to have them,” Davis says. “We love to pick out art, and we want to work with local artists.”
Speaking of work (and artistry): More modernization awaits.
“We’re going to have Michelle do upstairs,” Davis says. “She helps us express ourselves. She really listens, and she’s flexible — even if we throw cat pillows at her.” (Metaphorically.)