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Sunday, December 17, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Northwest Living

A Charmed Life

Keeping our great houses


While the Rucker mansion is in fine hands, many important homes in the region face a future in which increasing land values, new zoning and changing taste threaten their existence. Historic Seattle, Historic Everett and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation are nonprofit membership organizations that offer educational programming and advocacy opportunities designed to protect historically and architecturally significant buildings and sites. For information:

Historic Seattle: 206-622-6952 or www.historicseattle.org

BOB AND BRENDA Kerr are convinced it was "kismet," some lucky turn of fate that brought them to the home they love.

The year was 1997, and they were looking for a house. Bob was not overly impressed by the new construction he was seeing. One day, he shared with Brenda his memories of a great hilltop house in Everett he had seen only briefly in 1990. "It had so much charm and character," he recalled. Then, that very same week, they ran across it in a real-estate magazine. "We drove up, walked through it, went out to lunch and decided, 'That's our house; let's buy it.' "

They have never regretted their decision to take on one of the city's most important residential landmarks, the Rucker mansion.

The Rucker family real-estate holdings encompassed large sections of central Everett. Their wealth from selling land allowed Bethel Rucker to build a dream house for his new bride, Ruby. Completed in 1905 on a knoll with a panoramic view of Port Gardner Bay, the brick mansion with its columned veranda was designed with entertainment in mind. From its mirrored entrance hall, guests found themselves surrounded by handsome oak, mahogany and maple woodwork, and exquisite velvet and silk wall coverings and draperies.

On the top floor, there was a ballroom for dancing; on the ground floor, card and billiard rooms for gentlemanly recreation. There was even an indoor conservatory with rockeries so that, in unpleasant weather, people could enjoy the illusion of being in the garden.

Such a house begs to be decked out gloriously for the Christmas holidays, and Bob and Brenda have taken to it with energy and delight. Brenda does worry about her husband's thoroughness in hanging outdoor lights. "Much to my chagrin, he goes up on the fourth floor and hangs lights off the peaks."

As Brenda prepared the house for a series of teas and open houses to celebrate its 100th year, Bob decorated four live trees with different themes: a burgundy Santa Claus tree in the library, a gold angel tree in the entrance hall, a red poinsettia tree in the ballroom, and a blue and silver tree in the master bedroom.

Each tree is absolutely symmetric, the ornaments carefully placed and harmonious. "We just collected things over the years," Brenda says. "Bob tends to pick up old Christmas ornaments at garage sales." Clearly, he has selected well, probably because he has a long history of collecting furniture, a wide assortment of it filling nearly 13,000 square feet in the Rucker house. Bob started acquiring furniture in his last year of college when his grandfather passed away and his Texas hotel was being torn down. "I got the hall tree, an icebox, a dining-room table and a bedroom set. Those things were passed down and were important to me. I began to love and appreciate antiques from around the turn of the century."

Brenda recalls that antiques were stacked to the ceiling in the basement of their last house, in Bellevue. It turned out to be a blessing when they moved into the Rucker mansion, where furniture appropriate to its period found a home at last.

Remarkably, most of the original features of the house remain intact, including the wood paneling, stone and carved-wood fireplaces, a glazed-brick and metal fireplace hood in the billiard room, hand-cut and -laid tile, and fabric wall coverings from the important New York City interior-decorating firm of W. and J. Sloane. One of the most interesting features is an early-day cage shower with marble drain in the bathroom adjoining the billiard room.

The couple is methodically addressing 1960s-era modernizations to the kitchen and upstairs bathrooms. Eventually they will focus on alterations in the dining room and parlor that took out original fireplaces and filled in doorways.

The recent kitchen remodel took a year in construction and three years in planning. The Kerrs insisted on matching the oak finish colors and trim molding of the original house woodwork. They also decided they "wanted it to look as if it had evolved over the years." Consequently, kitchen cabinets were designed to appear as if they were separate pieces of furniture. Drawer fronts are cut from single white oak boards so the grain is continuous throughout. The crowning touch is a hand-etched depiction of the house cut in granite by Russian artist K. Leonid.

At holiday time, the Rucker mansion feels like the perfect house. Bob reflects, "When I was single, for 15 years, I did not decorate. But when Brenda and I got married, she really wanted to. And so it's been a lot of fun — a giving-back time for us. We relish the parties that we have and seeing some of the people we won't see but once a year."

The Ruckers would undoubtedly take pleasure in knowing that the house has such fine stewards, and is once again a community centerpiece.

Larry Kreisman is program director of Historic Seattle and author of "Made To Last: Historic Preservation in Seattle and King County." Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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Historic Everett: www.historiceverett.org.

Washington Trust: 206-624-9449 or www.wa-trust.org.

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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