Sunday, July 19, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Northwest Living

Georgian Colonial -- This Classic Design Fits A Contemporary Family

PAUL BROWN AND MARGARET WATSON LIVED in what many city residents would call a dream house. They had a handsome older home on the west slope of Queen Anne Hill, with splendid views of Elliott Bay and the Olympic mountains.

But the couple also had two children, Colin and Andrew, and it wasn't a child's house. It had very little outdoor space apart from a steep hillside covered with vegetation. And though they loved the western exposure and views, the intense afternoon light was fading some of their artwork.

Brown and Watson found the perfect solution by moving clear across town to a Georgian colonial house in Washington Park that faces east and has a large stretch of grassy lawn for their children. It even has an architect-designed playhouse, courtesy of the original owners. The house and playhouse were built in 1928 for Dr. M.C. Lyle, a physician at Virginia Mason Hospital, and it was here that he and his wife raised six children.

Their architect, Edwin Ivey, was born in Seattle in 1883 and established a successful practice in his home town. His residences are dignified and gracious, and have stood up well to changing tastes because so much thought was given to the practical needs of families.

The Georgian colonial is a house type imported from England in the 18th century, and was the backbone of American residential architecture through the 1930s. Whole neighborhoods, particularly on the East Coast, bore witness to its popularity.The style was noted for its boxy form, symmetrically arranged windows, small paned glass, dormered gabled roof and ornamentation around the door and at the cornice. These houses were appropriate repositories for Sheridan, Chippendale and American colonial mahogany furnishings.

The Georgian colonial that Edwin Ivey designed for the Lyles was somewhat unusual in that it is not entirely symmetric. Its principal facade is divided into five window bays with a central entrance. But Ivey planned an additional bay onto the south end of the house with a slightly lower roof line that reads as a later addition, even though it is part of the original. This section of the living room has shallow window sills compared to the deep sills of the other windows and includes French doors leading to the back terrace. The south side of the house is distinguished by a second-story porch supported on square pillars.

The grounds were originally landscaped by Otto Holmdahl. This Swedish landscape designer had an extensive practice in Seattle and Tacoma from the early 1920s until his death in the early 1960s. He designed many of the largest and most important gardens in Puget Sound, including the garden of William Boeing Jr. in the Highlands and a garden on Bainbridge Island now called the Bloedel Reserve. Holmdahl was one of the first professional landscape designers in the Northwest to celebrate the use of native plants.

Holmdahl's plan for the Lyle property included planting holly, hawthornes, maple and sycamore trees and a variety of Northwest shrubs, perennials and annuals to define and insulate the edges of the property from neighboring lots. A section at the back of the house was made into a naturalistic pond, called "the bog."

FORTUNATELY FOR THE NEW OWNERS few changes had been made to the home. Original arrangement of rooms, and trim and moldings all had been maintained. Nevertheless, the interior needed a great deal of attention to enliven the rooms and make them welcoming. The couple have done so with light colors and comfortable background furniture that allows the art on the walls to take center stage. They both had interests in art and collected it separately before they met. In their marriage, they merged their collections and have continued to acquire pieces they both like, primarily Northwest art.

The living room is handsomely proportioned and its multi-paned windows with deep sills and French doors let in light from three directions. The urn bas-reliefs carved above the doors echo the restrained classical elegance of the garland reliefs above the windows on the outside of the house.

When the couple moved in, this room was painted bright yellow. It is now three shades of mushroom, and filled with new sofas, chairs and carpets.

The light qualities of their Washington Park home called out for a brighter, lighter palette. Interior designer W.H. Smith suggested wall and carpet colors, and brought appropriate fabric samples from which to choose.

In the dining room, Brown and Watson have made efforts to authentically capture the Georgian ambiance of the house with 18th- and 19th-century mahogany furniture.

The focus of the library is a Civil War-era southern mantel piece bought by the original owners from the MacDougall estate on First Hill prior to demolition in 1928. The walls of this room are a saturated green to complement the wood bookcases and trim that are original to the house.

Upstairs, the original nursery and the sewing/linen storage rooms are now a study and den, respectively. The couple appreciates and has kept the original bathroom tubs and fixtures, including the generous double sinks in the main bathroom and a sink in the closet of Andrew's room. There is even a built-in child-size desk in the corner of Colin's bedroom, courtesy of the Lyles.

The couple has worked two years and are far from finished.

"It seems to take forever," Paul Brown says. "Other people, who have seen it months ago, say, `You've done so much work on this house.' When it goes so slowly, it's hard for us to see that. But I do think we've done an enormous amount of work."

Lawrence Kreisman is coordinator of Seattle Architecture Tours, and author of several publications on regional architecture and history. He writes regularly for Pacific. Steve Ringman is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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