Sara and Jeremy Imhoff bought their first home, a run-down 1918 bungalow, in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood in 2005. The Imhoffs, both of whom are architects, embarked on an extensive renovation in the spring of the following year, designing it and doing much of the work themselves, and serving as their own general contractor.
The idea was to preserve the charm of the original house while giving it an update. Jeremy, a project architect at Sundberg Kennedy Ly-Au Young Architects, and Sara, who works from home under the name Imprint Architecture, kept the built-in cabinets and some of the original windows, for instance, but otherwise extensively reworked the space to give it a light, inviting, and distinctly modern feel.
"We tried to create something that is timeless and won’t become quickly dated," Sara says.
They vaulted the living room ceiling, dispensing with the old attic and carving out skylights to draw natural light into the space. There was no room in the 2,000-square-foot house for a staircase to a new upstairs office, so they installed a small, wooden alternating-tred lapeyre stair.
Some of the most extensive renovation work was done in the kitchen. They demolished a wall that had separated the old kitchen from a small dining room, leaving behind the old doorframe "as a sculptural memory piece," Sara says. The Imhoffs designed the cabinetry and a distinctive wine rack, and asked Nathan Harman of KERF Design, a Seattle-based custom furniture and cabinet shop whose work they admire, to build them. By stripping away drywall, they reclaimed some inches around the old service chimney, which they now use to vent their range hood, and created enough space to squeeze in a 24-inch Liebherr refrigerator.
The kitchen is "small but efficient," Sara says. "One person usually cooks, and we eked out enough space at the island for two to sit, with 12 inches of storage on the other side. We restored the old built-in to keep dishes, etc., and, surprisingly, there is quite a bit of storage in this small space."
The couple preserved the distinctive breakfast nook, resisting the urge to use it for storage. "The breakfast nook was the only thing we liked about this house when we bought it!" Sara says. "It was tempting to want to turn it into a coat closet as these old houses never have any closets, but we kept it because we just love the feel of it, and sitting in it. The window is new, but the table and benches are original. We skimcoated the plaster wall and painted it blue to match some of the cabinets, and added a new light."
The Imhoffs, who embarked on the project before they had children, are now raising three. By spacing the work out over the course of six years, and taking on so much of it themselves, the Imhoffs were able to complete the renovation for about $150,000—much less than the $225,000 or so that Sara estimates it would have cost to hire more people to do it all at once.
Will Lamb is a writer and editor based in Jersey City, New Jersey. He served as a senior editor at Dwell from 2013 to 2015.