Our Life As A House

Living Room: Simply Red

Ed and Becky Fotheringham's 1926 farmhouse in Seattle's Phinney Ridge isn't big--about 1,750 square feet. And they're not rich. He's a freelance illustrator from Australia. She cooks, gardens and cares for their two kids, Anna, who's 5 years, 9 months old, and Joe, who turns 3 next month. She also lets Ed know when he's talking too much. In other words, they're normal. Yet their home is a design miracle: it's kid-friendly and effortlessly cool. Ed and Becky, please explain.

"Living with restrictions is good," says Ed, 38. "It forces you to be creative." The living room, with its picture windows overlooking the Olympic Mountains, is the social hub of the house. "The chairs are from Anthropologie and they're leather, so they're bulletproof," says Ed. "You can vomit on them and nothing'll happen." "That's nice, Ed," Becky calls from the kitchen. "Nice visual."

Redoing This Old House

The Fotheringhams' game plan: buy small, think big. With housing prices soaring and the economy sluggish, more Americans are saving their money for renovation. $158 billion Total spent by Americans on home renovations in 2001

$173 billion Total spent by Americans on home renovations in 2002

$119,500 Average selling price of new one-family houses in 2001

$124,800 Average selling price of new one-family houses in 2002

SOURCE: JOINT CENTER FOR HOUSING STUDIES AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY

Growing Up in The Kitchen

The kitchen is Becky's laboratory, and right now it's bubbling at peak capacity. For a charity auction at their girls' preschool, Becky (right, with apron) and her friend Lucie Robataille offered a menu of hors d'oeuvres for a party of 20; by midafternoon, the two have to churn out dozens of crabcakes, stuffed mushrooms and cucumber canapes. "This woman bid $150 for it," says Becky, 36. "We've gotta get rolling."

When the Fotheringhams bought the house in 1996, the kitchen was separated from the living room by a wall, trapping it in the rear of the house and blocking it from the mountain view. "The best $1,500 we ever spent was blowing this hole in the kitchen wall," says Ed of the doorway they added (right). "It makes the house flow all the way around. You never feel stuck." With the aid of Seattle architect David Root, an old pal of Ed's from the University of Washington, they also sealed up another door in the kitchen that led to the basement and moved it to the dining room, clearing space for an alcove (below) where the kids eat breakfast and make colorful messes.

Let's Eat! But No Crayons.

Ask little Joe a question and he usually answers without taking his eyes off what he's doing, saying only "yeah" in a clipped but enthusiastic way that's so adorable it makes your knees buckle. The effect is multiplied when you ask Joe multiple questions. "That your camera, Joe?" "Yeah." "You like taking pictures, huh?" "Yeah." "Wanna be a photographer?" "Yeah." Of course, cuteness has its limits. Before the Fotheringhams finished off their basement, the kids used the dining room as a play space. They'd push the dinner table against the wall and spread toys around like confetti. (The tabletop, bought from Seattle dealer David Smith, is made of Indonesian teak, which is expensive, "but it's a tropical hardwood, so it'll last forever," says Ed. He hated the table's original base, so he tore it off and replaced it with plain steel legs. The chairs, meanwhile, are from Design Within Reach, $90 apiece.) Once, while Becky was in the kitchen, Joe grabbed a crayon, scaled the table and began coloring on a painting (top right) that Ed had bought from an art-school pal. "Little punk," Ed says, beaming with pride. "Honestly, it looks better now."

Almost every piece of art in the house, in fact, was bought on the cheap from friends. "And 80 percent of that stuff comes from this event at the Center of Contemporary Art that I go to every year," Ed says. "It's a 24-hour paint-a-thon and then afterward an auction. Drinking, painting, total debauchery. It's awesome." The kids' work also goes up on the walls. An Anna Fotheringham oil-on-paper, circa 2002, occupies some prime real estate in the kitchen.

Giving Them Some Space

Ed is perhaps proudest of the salvage effort on this tiny upstairs room (inset, left) that's sliced into near uselessness by the house's sloping roof. It served as Ed's office until he began renting space downtown, then he converted it into the kids' computer room. "That was my idea!" Becky yells up the stairs. Ed concedes the point. "Better say that everything was our idea--or her idea--or I'm dead." With so little space to play with, they decided to keep things bright and cheap. Says Becky: "IKEA is our friend."

On this autumn afternoon, the kids play counting games on the iMac--well, Anna plays; Joe sits on his big sister's lap and watches--then they hit the yard, where Joe draws on the deck with colored chalk. The sprawling garden just beyond it is Becky's sanctuary. The house is built into a hillside and the yard is sloped, so the Fotheringhams had architect Root install a three-tiered deck made largely of railroad ties (just $10 a pallet). Then they tore up the grass and started planting. "It used to look like a dog park out here," Ed says. "The woman before us had terriers, and they just ate up the place."

When the weather cooperates, the Fotheringhams mostly leave doors and windows open: the red- and yellow-painted walls echo the flowers, making the interior of the house feel as light and airy as the garden outside. "I plan to stay in this house as long as possible," Ed says. "I don't need to be luxuriated, just comfortable. The thing about that clean, spare, modernist look is, it doesn't age well. Something that's a little rough around the edges--it can get nicks and scratches and look even better. It lasts."