Before & After: A Remodel Brings a Famous Cartoonist’s Former Home Back to Life

Before & After: A Remodel Brings a Famous Cartoonist’s Former Home Back to Life

By Melissa Dalton
This Seattle house high above Lake Washington once belonged to illustrator Irwin Caplan. Now it blends refreshed midcentury character with a seamless addition.

The cliché goes that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover—and the same could be said for the front facade of this 1951 home in the Laurelhurst neighborhood of Seattle. The low-slung street front is mostly defined by a carport—but the interior tells a different story, with a wall of glass overlooking Lake Washington.

The stunning views were a welcome surprise to Prentis Hale and Kyle Griesmeyer of SHED Architecture + Design. It looks like "a very humble, modest home from the street because of the slope—and the door was opaque, with the garage just sort of in your way," says Hale. "Once you walked in, the house really opened up to the landscape." 

Before: Exterior

Before: A carport dominated the front facade of this 1951 house.

The house was originally built for illustrator Irwin Caplan, known for the "Famous Last Words" comic strip in the Saturday Evening Post. The residence was recently bought from Caplan’s estate by new owners, who found that it ultimately needed both cosmetic and functional upgrades. A renovation led by SHED lightly reorganized the interior so that the home’s midcentury character can shine.

After: Exterior

A fresh coat of paint gave the home a striking update.

A combed cedar plank soffit sits above the refreshed front door. The opaque glass was replaced with clear glass so the owners can see out, and the wall-mounted mailbox is from V Sons Designs.

For starters, a 1958 rear addition had reshaped the main living area in an odd way, forcing the fireplace into a circulation path and removing the hearth from any natural furniture grouping. SHED was reluctant to remove the fireplace, seeing as how it was an original feature, but in addition to being located in an awkward spot, the chimney hemmed in the kitchen behind it. The team removed the hearth to create one fluid living area with a kitchen, dining area, and comfortable seating.

Before: Living Room

Before: Floor-to-ceiling windows revealed a stunning view, but the glass was single pane and needed to be replaced.

Before: A previous addition had relegated the original fireplace to an awkward spot: the walkway between the front door and the living room. The hearth "no longer felt like the center of the house any more," says Hale. "The whole living room was [geared] toward the glass and disconnected from the central hearth."

After: Living Room

Now, the furniture grouping comfortably occupies the living room. A sectional from Gus Modern sits with a custom steel coffee table and a Paulistano armchair.

An expansive glass door trimmed in vertical grain fir opens the interior to the refreshed deck. The designers made sure to keep the frame around the doors thin, in order to capture views and convey the minimal detailing of the original midcentury home. "All those details that go into keeping that eastern window wall as open and permeable as possible kept the essence of the original house, increased the indoor/outdoor connection, and retained that character that we and the owners had responded to in the house," says Griesmeyer.

A vertical grain fir wood screen separates the stairs from the main living area. The credenza and shelving are original to the house.

The screen extends up to a skylight, which sheds sunlight on the staircase.

One of the main goals of the remodel "was to liberate the kitchen from its completely closed-off corner of the house and integrate it with the dining and living room," says Hale. Once the hearth was removed, it was replaced with an extensive peninsula edged by a fir-trimmed post.

A support beam installed in the ceiling was painted the same color as the exterior window trim to subtly connect inside and out. A new skylight over the kitchen’s center aisle "creates this one glowing part of the plan throughout the day," says Griesmeyer, and provides a pleasing focal point.

Before: Kitchen

Before: The kitchen door can be seen to the left. "The kitchen was connected to the hearth but completely closed off from the living room," says Hale.

Before: Although the kitchen had been updated at some point, it retained an awkward layout.

After: Kitchen

A peninsula is lined with Form barstools from Simon Legald.

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The renovated kitchen features a Leicht cabinet system in white and three-quarter-inch Caesarstone counters in Raw Concrete.

The backsplash tile is Heath Ceramics Dwell Little Diamond in Stone White. A new skylight funnels light into the kitchen.

By removing the hearth, the architects freed up space to create a proper entry nook by the front door. It’s clad in vertical grain fir and adorned with Afteroom coat hangers by Menu.

Before: Dining Room

Before: The addition gave the layout an awkward L shape.

After: Dining Room

Vertical grain fir panels present a cohesive background for the table, which is surrounded by Eames chairs and illuminated by an Andrew Neyer light.

Before: Guest Bathroom

Before: The finishes needed updating in the guest bath.

After: Guest Bathroom

A custom medicine cabinet hovers over the fir vanity, which is topped with Pure White Caesarstone. Two-inch, black hexagonal floor tile provides a note of contrast. The wall-mounted faucet is from the Kohler Purist line.

After straightening out the rear facade at the living areas, the architects extended the footprint of the master suite at the upper level, which created space for a guest room/office below. They brought this new addition to the available roofline for a seamless look.

"We take stock and form our own opinions about what is strong about the house, and then we try to push it—to amplify it in a way," says Hale of the firm’s approach. "Much of it is to not mess up a very nice house. Our goal is to figure out how to seamlessly integrate our work into the structure."

Before: Exterior Addition

Before: This angle shows how the old addition jutted out onto the deck.

After: Exterior Addition

A new rear addition at both levels added much-needed space to the master suite (above) and created an extra bedroom/office with deck access (below).

The addition carves out a cozy seating area with a natural sight line to lake views. The custom railing is steel.

The lower deck was rebuilt using Kumaru decking when the original was discovered to be rotting.

After: Master Suite

In the master suite, large glass windows convey the view. The dresser is vintage.

Mutina Puzzle Edge tile is complemented by plaster walls and a fir vanity.

After: Office

An Artifox Desk 02 sits with an Eames chair in the lower-level office/spare bedroom. While the lower deck has been rebuilt, the interior of the lower level is currently being redone to provide guest spaces for visiting family and an entertaining area.

Main level existing and new floor plans

Lower level existing and new floor plans

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