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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.”