The fourth floor of Herb and Isabel's gracious 1901 home feels like the top of the world. Poised above most of Queen Anne, this beautifully elevated altitude presents dizzying views from its cozy central den and symmetrical his-and-hers offices.
How lovely then that, no matter what, Herb and Isabel can get to it.
Today, these two robust octogenarians have more energy than a motivated millennial. But now they also have a new four-level elevator, housed in a brilliantly integrated and internationally inspired brick tower – and a reassuring sense of mobility security.
"We added the top floor to the house when we moved in," says Herb. "It's a nice place to sit and look out or watch TV. We were concerned about difficulties going up and down stairs if we had a disability or hip or knee injury."
For a minute there, the couple considered moving from their home of 18 years, and even looked at one-level condominiums. "We ruled out everything," says Isabel. "We would have had to do considerable remodeling."
Instead, they looked to Patricia Emmons (Patricia K. Emmons Architecture & Fine Art), a friend, an architect and a persistent persuader.
"I had suggested an elevator for their existing house on other occasions, and was always met with, 'It's impossible,'" Emmons says. "Once again, I asked for a chance to take a look at the idea. They said, 'OK. Try.'"
Everyone immediately agreed there wasn't really room for an interior elevator, so Emmons looked outside, and across an ocean.
Emmons and her late husband, Bill Curtis, had worked with Herb and Isabel on a previous home and had become friends. They all met up in Rome, twice, and discovered a mutual love of Italy.
What if, Emmons proposed, Herb and Isabel added an exterior elevator ... inspired by an Italian bell tower? A Queen Anne campanile?
"That was a factor, yes," says Herb. "We've been to Italy 15 times, I guess. We're attached to a lot of the art and architecture."
And now, that is attached to their home, rising up along the front porch.
"I researched Roman campanile and created masonry details that reflect its Italian precedents," Emmons says. "A small part of the existing brick facade had to be removed for the tower. But working with contractor Paul Galus (Galus & Galus) and artisan mason Todd Taylor (Ernest Construction), I specified the blending of existing brick in with the carefully selected new to create a tower that looks like it has always been a proud part of the house."
Even better – it's a really, really sturdy part of the house.
Galus and his crew had to hand-excavate the hole for the steel framing, jackhammering about 7 1/2 feet into hard dirt to secure the base, he says. The steel went up in a day, thanks to a huge crane at the end of the street, and took three days to weld.
"I'm pretty sure the elevator will hold up the rest of the house," he says. "It came out really, really beautiful."
Like most elevators, this one, from Custom Elevator Manufacturing Company in Pennsylvania, took its sweet time arriving. "There was a long wait," Galus says. "With the apartment boom in Seattle, all the elevator companies are swamped."
Adds Herb: "It was exciting the day they delivered this. For residential elevators, three floors is typical. You don't usually get four."
Herb and Isabel's four-level elevator is not only unusual, but also artful; practical; and possibly, says Emmons (citing Murphy's Law), completely unnecessary. "As long as they have the elevator, they'll never really need it," she predicts.
"Luckily, we haven't needed it," Isabel says. "Friends have used it. I had a meeting here last week, and everybody wanted to go in. I like coming in with heavy groceries and coming up in the elevator. It sure helps when I go to Costco."