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A kitchen and dining area. There is a table, chairs, blue cabinetry, cupboards with glass doors, and a hanging light fixture. On the wall hanging above a door are multiple assorted plates.

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Seattle chef Renee Erickson cooks up warmth at home

Her Ballard bungalow is a mélange of antiques, art, and travel finds

About 18 years ago, chef Renee Erickson fell in love with a puppy. His name was Jeffry, and since her co-op condo building didn’t permit dogs, she needed to find a new place to call home. Thankfully, he was useful in securing the circa-1907 bungalow she found in the waterfront Ballard neighborhood.

“I used this adorable puppy like bribery, photos of him and all sorts of things to get the owners to pick me over the other two offers,” Erickson says. Fortunately, she adds, it worked. “The house itself felt really loved, and when I bought it, it had a new roof on it. The owners before me did a great job. They cared for it.”

A man and a woman stand on stairs that lead up to a door. They are both smiling and looking into the camera. Behind them is a window where a cat can be seen sitting on a ledge on the inside of the house. The cat is looking at the man and woman.
Renee Erickson and her husband, Danial Crookston, outside their bungalow in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. The exterior sconce is from Barn Light Electric.

The bungalow, which Erickson describes as “nondescript” at the time of purchase, yet well-kept, has blossomed over the years into a place of warmth, joy, and, of course, cooking and entertaining. (And platters. So many platters.) While Jeffry is no longer with them, Erickson and her husband, Danial Crookston, as well as their dog Arlo and cat Brooklyn, have filled the space with items from their travels, nostalgic treasures, and a new kitchen that draws from French and English design influences.

“I think my first restaurant felt the most like my house,” Erickson says of Boat Street Cafe, which, after 12 years on Western Avenue, closed in 2015. “People come to my house and get it. My house is lived in more than a restaurant, it’s not quite as organized all the time. But I think there’s definitely a correlation between the two.” The restaurant’s aesthetic evolved in tandem with her own style, whereas the restaurants she opens now—designed with Jeremy Price, a co-owner of their restaurant group, Sea Creatures—are more likely to have preplanned interiors.

In the foreground is a living area with a fireplace, and dresser. There are various objects, works of art, and plants that are on top of the fireplace and dresser. In the distance is a kitchen area where a brown dog is sleeping on a patterned area rug.
An antique pine food cupboard is home to the spirits collection. The interiors throughout are painted in custom whites from Sherwin-Williams.

When Erickson moved in, one of the first steps she took was to give herself a blank slate with an all-white palette. “It was all sorts of wild colors, which I just painted various degrees of white,” she says. “Seattle is pretty dark half of the year, so having a bright, warm space inside is really important to me.”

She kept the floors as they were, though: half fir and half oak. She was inspired by a story she suspects might be a tall tale: “From what I understand, the entire house was laid with fir floors,” she says. “And then there were salespeople that would come around and try to get you to upgrade your front rooms, where you might entertain, into oak.”

A living area with a white couch, table, chair, and desk. There are white built-in shelves on the wall. There are books, various objects, and works of art on the shelves.
Erickson’s vast collection of cookbooks, mementos, and two Foo Dogs by artist Jeffry Mitchell call these built-ins home. Added to the house 10 years ago, they were the first major improvement she made to the space other than painting.
Eirik Johnson

Thankfully, the original built-ins around the fireplace had also been preserved, but they too needed a paint job. Erickson describes them as being sponge-painted in brown and green, the product of someone getting a little crafty in the ’60s, and to match the rest of the house, she again went with white. Built-ins were crafted in what the couple calls their TV room (but which is predominantly filled with books and trinkets) about 10 years ago, an addition Erickson says was the first major improvement she made to the space other than painting.

A dining area with a table, chairs, and a wooden cabinet. Hanging on the walls are a guitar, plates, and a poster. There is a vase with flowers and a bowl with tomatoes on the table.
A print from local restaurant Canlis and platters from Erickson’s collection hang in the dining room over a “very old Ikea table, painted and well worn.”

In 2016, Erickson and Crookston decided to upgrade the kitchen and add pops of color to their neutral palette. While the kitchen wasn’t completely out of date, there was a breakfast nook to make more accessible, more light to be let in, and a higher ceiling to be found.

It didn’t hurt to have an interior designer as a business partner, and Price drew up plans for the kitchen collaboratively with Erickson. They took down a wall and discovered a taller ceiling, as well as hidden brick, and built a cabinet that snugs right into it.

A kitchen area with a stove and wooden countertops. There is a rack with hanging pots and pans. On the wall are magnetized wood blocks that are holding multiple knives. There are built-in shelves with books, bottles, and kitchen wares.
A magnetic knife block from Salty Metalworks holds Erickson’s collection of knives—she loves her orange-handled Korin knife and vintage carbon steel. The pot rack above the stove is also from Salty Metalworks, her butcher’s blocks are from Boos, and the tea kettle is a Kaico Kettle by Makoto Koizumi. “I love all of my wooden spoons, and I use my Blu Skillet Ironware pans,” Erickson says. “They are hand forged and are amazing.”

“When we took [the wall] down, it was not only two more inches, which made my butcher blocks fit perfectly,” she says, “it gave us great texture and more options for storage.”

They had the floors refinished and swapped in four windows over the sink for the original one. Instead of a tall fridge, they installed three refrigerator drawers. They hung glass-fronted cabinets over the soapstone countertops and Carrara marble tiles to contrast the rich, sea-blue color of the bottom cabinets.

A kitchen with blue cabinetry and white cabinets with glass doors. There are various kitchen wares on the shelves and countertops.
Glass-fronted cabinets hang over soapstone countertops and Carrara marble tiles to contrast the rich, sea-blue color of the bottom cabinets. A quartet of Jieldé Loft lamps hangs over the windows.

“I definitely wanted to do colored cabinets; I tend to really lean toward making things too white,” says Erickson. She wanted to match the blue to that of a French dish. “I was trying [for] something that felt bright and cheerful.”

That sentiment extends to the rest of the home, filled with antiques, artwork, and various wares like handblown jugs, tubs of firewood, and musical instruments. Erickson says she has a love for old things, a tendency gleaned from her close friendship with Ballard mainstay, artist, and shop owner Curtis Steiner.

A bedroom with a bed, end table, chandelier, and multiple works of art on the wall. There is a colorful patterned quilt on the bed.
An antique chandelier hangs over the walnut spindle bed, which is from Garnet Hill. On the side tables, the lamps have alabaster bases from Curtis Steiner and shades from Mary Davis Lighting.

“He and I have had a really great friendship around hunting for old stuff,” she says, and his influence informs how she looks for antiques. “He exposed me to things that I wouldn’t have noticed early on,” like the chandeliers in the living room and her bedroom.

She points out, for example, her collection of platters that hang over the back door in the kitchen. “There’s millions more, unfortunately,” she says, laughing. “I think as objects, they are really beautiful. Almost all of them have come from Europe and traveling.” She is known to bring back very heavy bags from her trips. “I’ve brought home hundreds of pounds of silverware before, and my friends are just like, ‘You are crazy!’”

A table and chalkboard from Boat Street Cafe grace the living room. Steiner illustrated two drunk chihuahuas on the chalkboard before Erickson bought the restaurant, where it then hung as a menu. When the first location closed, it came home and never left.

A living area with a couch, table, cabinet, and chandelier. There is a large chalkboard on the wall along with other works of art. A bucket with firewood sits next to the cabinet.
One of Erickson’s most prized possessions—a chalkboard that Curtis Steiner painted before Erickson bought Boat Street Cafe—is displayed on a wall in the living room. A vintage faux bamboo chandelier hangs over a West Elm Hamilton sofa and MackenzieBryantCo pouf.

“It’s from before I bought a restaurant; it was before I ever thought that I would ever want to buy a restaurant,” she reminisces. “As an actual piece of art, I cherish it.”

They’ve transformed the home’s backyard, installing a monumental outdoor oven. The facade, according to Erickson, will be bricked with bricks from the patio that was originally at Boat Street, and they’ll paint it white to match the brick in the kitchen. Even though the construction is still in progress, Erickson and Crookston already use the oven all the time to cook for themselves and their friends.

An outdoor oven. Behind the oven is a wooden fence. Next to the oven are various plants in planters.
Erickson and Crookston have transformed the home’s backyard over the last year, installing a monumental outdoor oven. The facade will eventually be robed in white-painted brick.

Erickson says she feels lucky that, when she and Crookston started living together, he didn’t want to move—his interest in the house has reminded her to not take it for granted. “Seeing him love it like a new home points out how great it is to me,” she says. “Having a new set of eyes to fall in love with it [again] has really been great.”

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