Architecture as Inspiration
Our mission? To retrieve the souls of exceptional and historically significant houses through intensive research, deep listening, and meticulous reconstruction; thereby restoring the integrity of the house and its surroundings."
Breathing Life Into a Forgotten Classic
When Heidi Schor & Paul Damen of House Healers discovered Heron House in Winter 2014-15 they discovered a tired home on a sprawling overgrown lot in a state of near-abandonment. Says Schor, "The house was surrounded by a mass of dense vegetation including blackberry bushes. Decades of debris including sofa and car parts, as well as a chain link fence along the creek separating the house from its most precious natural features. Inside, previous owners had added a deck and rooms, which obliterated the original architecture. The upper floor's expansive master suite had been damaged by arbitrary wall heights, archways and an atrocious master bathroom tiled in thousands of round blue tiles. A warren of small rounds crowded the lower level; lime-green was the wall color of choice throughout.
Schor & Damen saw beneath the surface to the underlying structure and recognized the building as one with great bones and architectural significance. Despite the debris inside the house, they also noticed rare home features that included playfully applied angles, a massive "wedge" fireplace, vaulted (or cathedral) wooden ceilings and three unusual, highly-customized, articulated wooden air vents and curvilinear oak and slate-patterned floors. They also sensed that the estate-sized property-comprised of two historical 7200 SF lots, located at the confluence of Victory and Thornton Creeks - afforded a level of privacy and serenity that they had rarely encountered in the dense, urban metropolis of Seattle. Surprised to discover an urban property with its own “private” creek, and the feeling of rural living, they purchased the property without hesitation.
With some research at the Seattle Building Department, Schor and Damen discovered that the home’s architect was listed as "Simonson." During trips to the Puget Sound Regional Archives and the University of Washington Architectural Archives, they learned that "Simonson" referred to Alfred Fenwick Simonson AIA.
As they threw themselves into restoring the neglected house, Schor and Damen developed what they describe as an "uncanny and close relationship with Alfred." (Simonson passed away in 1985). A graduate of the University of Washington School of Architecture, Simonson trained in the 1930's with architects George Stoddard and Jessie Warren. Simonson's custom homes included many in Seattle's Blue Ridge neighborhood. He also designed homes for builder Charles Cross and developer S.H. Christianson. Simonson’s style is a classic example of a custom, mid-century Seattle regional modernist design popularized by graduates of the University of Washington Department of Architecture included Perry B. Johanson (of NBBJ), John Morse, Fred Bassetti, Paul Hayden Kirk, Wendell Lovett, Lionel Pries, Tucker & Shields, John Van Horne & Edward Cushman, and Lee McRae.
Schor & Damen's holistic approach to recovering the property rejected a literal restoration of the house built in the 1950's into a period style. Instead, as Damen described it, "we worked diligently to recover the soul of the house and the property, as well as honor its past residents." While researching Simonson’s body of work, Schor discovered the architect’s love of mixed media: brick with stone, stone with wood, wood with metal, metal with glass. They followed this inspiration as they artistically layered materials, while also aiming to make the house inviting and functional for today's living. Sothey opened up an enclosed kitchen, created a spa-worthy master bath, added even more windows, “which Alfred surely suggested”, built an entertainment size deck, installed a state of the art energy efficient heat pump/furnace with air conditioning, a tankless water heater and updated the plumbing and wiring.
Rather than replacing or removing the Japanese tile roof, (installed at a later date by the second owner but now leaking) and feeling that it was a priceless artifact of history, they disassembled it tile-by-tile to install a new waterproof sub-structure, and then painstakingly re-assembled the tiles back in their original places.
Not only this, Schor and Damen, also lovers of mixed media, installed pieces of a collection of salvaged artifacts of seattle’s architectual history that they had amassed over the years as functional elements of the house: stone with wood, wood with metal, metal with glass.
As a result of their efforts, Schor and Damen have turned Heron House into a modest landmark filled with half a century of human and natural history yet, with many of the comforts & technologies of a new house. To Schor & Damen, the brilliantly designed but long-overlooked house has been healed of past neglect and now stands ready for new ownership.
SIMONSON PROJECT LIST