When Rob and Connie Cooper bought their 1910 Tudor-style home in Tacoma’s North End, they knew they would want to do a bit of work to bring it up to date.
More than 10 years later, that bit of work has become a quest to restore the two-story, 3,800-square-foot home to its original glory.
“We started out just wanting to make it livable,” says Connie.
But the task soon turned into an adventure that included new wiring, new plumbing, new outside stucco, refinished floors, stripping paint from light sconces, the painstaking restoration of windows and more.
“We spent probably a year and a half doing all the windows,” says Connie.
Rob, a retired contractor, says building a new house is easy compared to refurbishing an old one.
“Never underestimate the work involved,” says Rob, who did the work himself. “One thing leads to another.”
The Coopers have hired help to finish up an important task – refurbishing the living room fireplace, including installation of a new green-tiled hearth designed to match the home’s early 1900s style.
They hope to have the job completed in time for the Historic Homes of Tacoma Tour, scheduled for May 2 and 3. Their home is one of six on the tour, along with three other buildings.
ROOMS WITH A VIEW
Visitors to the Coopers’ home will see a house that takes splendid advantage of its location, perched at the top of a gulch overlooking Commencement Bay.
The living room runs along the entire front of the house, with large corner windows accented by cozy window seats. The windows offer a sweeping view of Old Town, as well as ships passing through on their way to the Port of Tacoma.
“It’s best at night,” says Rob, gazing out toward the bay’s steel-gray waters.
The Coopers broadened the view in their long, narrow kitchen that adjoins the living room. They knocked out a wall that had divided the space, then added windows to match the existing ones, opening the kitchen work areas and the eating space to more daylight and more spectacular views.
Connie describes a five-step process for staining the new window frames so that they would match the old ones.
Between the kitchen and the dining room, there’s a floor-to-ceiling butler’s pantry. It’s just one example of the many built-in storage areas that adorn the house – a hallmark of the Craftsman-style accents found both indoors and out.
There are built-in china cabinets in the dining room, a storage bench in the entryway, living room window seats, and a built-in linen closet upstairs. All are finished in the original dark-mahogany stain that matches the downstairs crown molding and baseboards.
Another Craftsman touch is the home’s unusual main entry. It’s located at the side of the house, rather than in front. Visitors enter through an extra-wide oak door fitted with large brass hinges.
The Coopers aren’t sure of the front door hardware’s provenance, but they do know that nearly all the home’s indoor brass doorknobs are original to the house.
Rob stripped paint from many of them, then buffed and polished them to perfection before covering them with protective lacquer.
The Coopers have tried to retain as many of the home’s original fittings and fixtures as possible, including the radiators that provide hot-water heat. Rob liberated them from boxy wooden covers, then spray-painted them with an antique metallic finish.
The house was built in 1910 for the family of Frank D. Nash, an attorney who served in the state Legislature and as a University of Washington regent. Nash sold the house in 1919, leaving a legacy of public service that would be matched by many of its future occupants.
Most prominent among the other families who lived there are the Swayzes. Thomas and Frances Swayze moved into the house in 1933. He served as controller of the City of Tacoma until 1941, when he was appointed state director of licenses.
Frances was dean of women at the University of Puget Sound before being elected in 1952 to the state Legislature, where she served until 1966. In 1956, she was chosen Washington state Mother of the Year. Among her five children, at least two were drawn to public life. Thomas Swayze Jr. was speaker of the state House of Representatives and a Pierce County Superior Court judge before his death from cancer in 2005.
Gretchen Swayze Wilbert is a former mayor of Gig Harbor.
The Coopers moved to the Nash house from Seattle. But they had kept a cabin at Tacoma’s Salmon Beach for many years before deciding to relocate.
Rob grew up in Tacoma, and decided in 1998 to move back to his hometown.
“I missed it,” he said.
The Coopers initially were drawn to their historic house by its charm – and the views. Because of Rob’s ability to contribute all the labor, they knew they would be able to afford renovations. While they haven’t kept strict track of remodeling expenses, they estimate they have spent about $125,000 on materials.
So after 10 years and $125,000, do they feel the house is completed?
After the fireplace and a new back deck are finished, the couple will move their renovation work to the basement. That’s where they’re working on a recreation room, complete with a second kitchen.
And a great view.
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635