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Updated Saturday, November 17, 2012 at 07:22 AM

Tired Ballard cottage gets artistic, salvaged update

By Valerie Easton
Special to The Seattle Times

WHEN ARTIST Shelli Markee and her two sons first laid eyes on their new house in Ballard it was a mess. Built in 1910, the cottage was clad in metal, the floors were linoleum, it had been stripped of appliances and the bathrooms hadn't been updated since the 1940s.

Markee hired Lynne White to redesign and update the place. The two women had worked together before, and perhaps because White is also an artist, Markee trusted her to help turn the beat-up little place into a family home and art studio.

Even though it was a spare 1,000 square feet, at least the house had a big farmhouse kitchen and high ceilings. "It reminded me of a Sears kit house," says Markee.

"We talked about adding a second story, but we wanted the house to fit into the neighborhood," says White. They decided it'd be better to have the two boys on the lower level rather than overhead.

White, who ended up taking the house down to the studs, dug the basement down 2 feet to create higher ceilings and space for windows. She plumbed it for a future apartment so Markee can make good use of the space after her sons grow up and move out. "We wanted a house where Shelli could live forever," says White. Still to come is a 500-square-foot rental cottage in the backyard.

For now, the lower level is a fabulous play space for the kids. "It's modern and sparse down there, the boys didn't want any of my antiques or salvage items," says Markee. There's room for bedrooms, bath, drum set, keyboard, bikes, television, skateboard obstacle course and, sometimes, even a tent.

Upstairs, Markee's vintage aesthetic, as well as her color sense, hold sway. The front door is leaf green; the French doors are painted turquoise. The walls are white to show off the delicate tracery of Markee's 3D wire art. Birds and beehives, words and faces crafted of black metal hang from the ceilings, and grace the walls and bookshelves.

"Shelli's vision for a recycled home was so strong," says White. The doors and cabinets throughout the house are salvaged, as is much of the furniture. The old pine floors, once clogged with paint, were stripped and polished.

The kitchen is testament to Markee's aesthetic of keeping visible and close at hand all the things she lives with. From spices to utensils and shopping bags, everything is thoughtfully arranged into still life-like vignettes. Just off the kitchen is Markee's bed, bath and studio, complete with re-purposed sink. She particularly appreciates her own bathroom, with white subway tile and claw-foot tub, after sharing a bathroom with her sons for years.

Markee haunted Earthwise, Second Use and the RE Store to find pre-used cabinetry, sinks, lights and fixtures. White saved old doors and flooring from a previous job to re-purpose in Markee's house. And Markee teamed up with Sarah Littlefield of Seattle Junk Love to find vintage items. "We junked all the way to Idaho and back," says Markee.

Using re-purposed items not only as decoration but as the very fabric of the home proved aesthetically gratifying but not cost-saving. "It took more time to strip, fit and trim," says White.

Markee, who never wanted a house that looked new, is delighted with the results. "Nothing matches," she says. "And that was my goal."

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "petal & twig." Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Ellen M. Banner is a Seattle Times staff photographer.


ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
The new basement, with more windows and higher ceilings, is sons George and Charlie's domain. Here they play music, watch TV and ride skateboards on the heated concrete floor.




ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
George and Charlie read by the fire in the living room. The new metal and wood fireplace was crafted by Alex Johnson of Domus Vitae; the mantel is made of reclaimed fir and old bleachers salvaged from an elementary school.




ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
While the house appears to be the same size from the outside, the remodel included digging down 2 feet to double the space by creating a livable lower level.




ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Surrounded by her wire sculptures, Shelli Markee works in the studio off her bedroom.




ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Shelli Markee's wire art is inspired by nature, and ranges from delicate earrings to owls.




ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
"It was awful, as skinny as a lean-to," says Markee of the master bath before the remodel. The wall was moved over about a foot to make room for a recycled claw-foot tub and pedestal sink.




ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
The kitchen has been updated with re-purposed cabinets, white paint and new appliances. Markee calms the clutter and chaos of family life with beautiful arrangements of everyday objects.




ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Shelli Markee's love of vintage extends to the used-brick patio and old couch in the back garden. Still to come in the backyard is a rental cottage with alley access.




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