IT TAKES A MINUTE to mosey your way up to Mattie Iverson’s magnificent home atop this panoramic Queen Anne hill — long enough, anyway, to appreciate some of its enduring exterior elements: a crowd of gables; sturdy, grand brick; high-up half-timbering; an array of radiant stained glass.
All this you might expect from a timeless four-floor Tudor Revival with this storied history: Its original architects, way back in 1915, were The Beezer Brothers, identical twins renowned for their buildings for the Catholic Church.
These days, though, thanks to a joyous new revival that’s both faithful and fresh, very little is as expected once you make your way inside Mattie Iverson’s magnificent home.
And that is exactly as intended.
Iverson, an artist and mother who lives, creates and raises her two young daughters with inspiring intention, previously had worked with architect John DeForest on two other home projects. They make an excellent team.
“When it comes down to, ‘What does design have to do with parenting and families?’ Mattie has thought so deeply. I really admire it,” DeForest says. “We looked at a couple houses together. I saw Mattie’s reactions. They were fine. This one was a character.”
This one “had been foreclosed and not lived in for a year,” Iverson says. “I wanted a space to re-imagine. I wanted to give it a new, fresh start, for it and for me. I felt pressure on myself to find a just-right space for now, and the future: what I value as space, and how I want to spend our time. I’ve always loved old homes and the mishmash of throwing together experiences and styles. It was quite a project.”
Here, now, the classic/modern mishmash starts right inside the formal entry and progresses — gradually, intentionally, surprisingly — as you climb.
“There’s a process of going through the house to the attic,” says Iverson. “The first floor is about preserving what’s here. You’re going to feel something modern floor by floor and end in the attic. It’s an experience.”
And yes; the preserved proportions of the living and dining rooms feel familiar. But those carved wood columns? That intricate ceiling tracery? That grand staircase railing? All are brilliant white.
“This is a house with tremendous character, and also some rules: symmetry, level of detail, beautiful stained glass,” says DeForest. “Here we are with a huge amount of detail, but it’s painted out white.”
Up that grand staircase, under an original crystal chandelier, past a wall gallery of collected and/or swapped artwork, beyond original stained glass framed by more white wood: the bedroom level.
You will notice plywood. On purpose. In cubbies and platform beds in each girl’s room. In cabinets and bins in the creative play space the girls share. In built-in bookshelves.
“It adds structure,” says Iverson. “We love our books. And, it’s … the hints you get before you get to the full-on attic. There are little surprises everywhere.”
Including, perhaps, in the sweet, sunny bathroom the girls share, with private-but-boundaried matching side-by-side shower/tubs — and no mirror at all.
“It started more with the master bedroom, not liking how a mirror determined the conversation,” Iverson says. “Do we need a mirror? Very intentionally, there are no mirrors. We’re not going to reflect on our visual selves as a choice. I’m raising them with confidence and identity. It’s not that there aren’t mirrors [in the house]; it’s public space vs. private. Each girl has a locker-style mirror. It’s not that you can’t use a mirror, but by choice you seek it out.”
You also might have to seek out the plywood stairs to the attic (they’re hidden behind what looks like a closet door), but — ohmygosh. Find the stairs. Climb them.
Pick up your jaw from the plywood floor.
Then follow the bright, barely stained plywood up the walls and onto the ceiling, as it defines angles, shadows, spaces … and perhaps the most unexpected element of all: a curved, supercool translucent wall.
“In the attic (it had been maroon), there was just this amazing shape,” DeForest says. “Using plywood, one material makes the space powerful. As soon as we tried a rectangular wall up there, it detracted from the roofline, so we inscribed this elliptical shape in creating all these different, interesting spaces that are surprising, not conventional.”
Along the attic edges, a guest bedroom, a bathroom, nooks and crannies tuck along squeeze-through, watch-your-head passageways — “all these ins and outs, a whole network of spaces,” DeForest says.
They are not easy to navigate. Also not an accident.
“It’s narrow, and the roofline makes you have to potentially duck your head,” Iverson says. “That’s exactly why I did it, so you arrange yourself into the experience.”
The experience, it turns out, is the ultimate intent. And here, on the top floor of Mattie Iverson’s magnificent home, experiences evolve in a decidedly modern space completely at ease in a shell of classic expectations.
“There’s a lack of distraction in the attic; you are present,” she says. “It’s a space of community, not a space to look out — a space to be in. As the kids get older, it’s about connections and interactions. Whether me, me and the girls, girls and their friends — that’s the value of the attic. It’s an intentional space … I love the attic so much. It’s because of the rest of the house that the attic is so fun to get to. If it were a modern house, it wouldn’t be the same.”