Freedom (of design): A peek inside the homes of 3 Seattleites with independent style

Nathan Law

We’re approaching the Fourth of July, when the nation’s thoughts turn toward the concepts of freedom and independence. And while the lofty ideals of inalienable rights don’t really apply to the world of home design, freedom (from trends) and independence (of style) are still pretty grand notions to which we […]

We’re approaching the Fourth of July, when the nation’s thoughts turn toward the concepts of freedom and independence.

And while the lofty ideals of inalienable rights don’t really apply to the world of home design, freedom (from trends) and independence (of style) are still pretty grand notions to which we can aspire.

That means freedom from a reliance on muted neutrals, fiddle-leaf figs, gold accents, white shiplap, framed sayings — all the trends that come and go — and an independence to style your home in a way that’s contrary to the aesthetic of the moment.

To inspire your own forward-thinking ideas, we’re featuring the homes of three Seattleites who aren’t afraid to show off their personality and let their design freedom ring.

Seattleite Zoë Withered had been eyeing dalmatian dot wallpaper, but decided to replicate the print with black paint instead. “It ended up being shockingly easy,” Withered said, and cost her nothing. (Courtesy of Zoë Withered)


It’s just paint

Zoë Withered and her partner squeaked in their home purchase last spring, just before the lockdown began.

“That felt really serendipitous,” said Withered, a first-time homebuyer. “We didn’t think that we were going to be able to afford to live in the city. So this was a really good find.”

Their new home, a 2,000-square-foot house in the Maple Leaf neighborhood, was a totally blank slate when they bought it. All the walls were white, and the hardwood floors were extremely worn.

When Withered started refinishing the floors, she realized she could do a lot of the other renovation work herself, too — especially since there wasn’t much else to do during the pandemic anyway. She repainted the upstairs a new shade of white, but then repainted it again later, experimenting with the power of color.

Zoë Withered painted her downstairs bedroom a very deep blue so it would be tranquil and vibrant, but not flashy. (Courtesy of Zoë Withered)


“It unlocked this creative outlet for me,” Withered said. “I realized the thing with paint is, if you hate it, you can just paint it again.

“For us, owning our home and having that freedom of expression, I can just paint this and repaint this and do some fun color blocks and some wild murals. If I don’t like it, I can change it. That was big.”

Withered loves design. She loves midcentury modern. She loves Art Deco and ’80s Memphis. She loves colorful maximalism. She loves Scandi-minimalism. Her home brings all of those styles together.

“If I were to describe how I want my home to feel,” she said, “it’s that I want it to feel bright and interesting. And unique. And cozy and inviting.”

Withered starts the design process by creating a mood board online. She pulls together different colors in a Word document and looks at how they work together, then adds textiles and furniture.

Zoë Withered is drawn to yellows and pinks. “I think of them as happy colors,” she says. (Courtesy of Zoë Withered)


She’s drawn to yellows and pinks — “I think of them as happy colors” — and moody interiors, as well. Withered painted the downstairs bedroom a very deep blue so it would be tranquil and vibrant, but not flashy. The upstairs walls never felt quite right when they were white, and so she painted them a light peachy pink to make them pop.

For her hallway, Withered had been eyeing dalmatian dot wallpaper, but couldn’t pull the trigger because of the cost. After some Googling, YouTube research and practicing on scrap paper, she DIYed the eye-catching dalmatian print with black paint. 

“It ended up being shockingly easy,” Withered said. The project took less than two hours and didn’t cost anything — she already had the paint and paintbrush.

The house is still a work in progress, with kitchen and bathroom updates in the works. And Withered is still tweaking the finished spaces.

“I have big plans. I just haven’t done it yet,” she said. “I think it’s going to be an ever-changing process.”

Suki Kwon’s Queen Anne home features south-facing windows with a terrific view of the Space Needle and tons of sunlight for her plant collection. (Courtesy of Suki Kwon)


A curated jungle

Suki Kwon considers herself a minimalist — about everything other than her plants.

“It’s almost like trading cards or finding Pokémon,” Kwon said. “The collection grows. And grows. And grows.”

Instead of decorating with knick-knacks or tchotchkes, Kwon displays plants. She tries to keep her plant collection, 66 at last count, mostly to ones that need watering only every two to three weeks.

Her home on Queen Anne’s slope features south-facing windows with a terrific view of the Space Needle and tons of sunlight for her plant collection. “Sunshine all day long,” Kwon said. “A very special privilege living in Seattle.”

Kwon spends an hour or two every day checking in on all her plants. Sometimes she’ll give one a trim or some mist. She’ll notice a new stem, a new leaf, a new flower. She’ll see how the roots are doing in her propagation station. Every day, she sees little changes.

Suki Kwon calls her plants “Grandma’s collection,” meaning most of them are typical plants that she grew up with like cacti, jade, Christmas cactus and rubber trees. (Courtesy of Suki Kwon)


One morning, she got so excited she started screaming, “A new leaf just unfurled!” 

“My husband was just like, ‘You are nuts. You are a crazy person, officially,’ ” Kwon said.

Kwon calls her plants “Grandma’s collection,” meaning most of them are typical plants that she grew up with rather than the super-rare, variegated plants popular on Instagram. She has cacti, jade, a Christmas cactus, a rubber tree.

She does own one prize — last year, she traded a 6-foot-tall cactus for a single rooted pink princess philodendron leaf. Under her care, that one leaf has sprouted six leaves. “Every time one new leaf unfurls, I tell my husband, I won $50!” Kwon said.

If you’re a houseplant newbie, Kwon recommends:

• ZZ plant. It can thrive in a dark bathroom, and the less watering it gets, the better off it is.

• Snake plant. It also thrives in any light condition and doesn’t need watering often.

• Pothos. It needs only some indirect medium light, and you can propagate the stem and create new baby plants.

Since March of 2020, both Kwon and her husband have been working from home. She credits her plants with helping to keep her healthy and sane this past year.

“Definitely, plants have been a big part of it,” Kwon said. “There’s a daily ritual involved with plants. Plants are my babies. They just give me so much pleasure.”

Rosie Leick’s Capitol Hill apartment is filled with treasures from thrift stores, antiques stores and estate sales. (Courtesy of Rosie Leick)


Thrifted treasures

Rosie Leick does most of her shopping at thrift stores, antiques stores and estate sales. “I like the unknown factor,” she said. “You never know what you’re going to get.”

Her coffee table was passed down from her grandmother, and she found a matching side table — Italian marble with a mahogany base — at Goodwill for $30. “I have no room for this,” she remembers thinking, “but I have to buy this.”

There was the time she drove from Magnolia to Capitol Hill with two 4.5-foot-tall carved Spanish chairs sticking out of her Fiat. “I don’t need these chairs. There’s no practical reason for me to own them,” she said. But with her winning bid of $125 at an estate sale (down from the $400 asking price), they were too good to pass up.

“I don’t need these chairs. There’s no practical reason for me to own them,” says Rosie Leick of her two 4.5-foot-tall carved Spanish chairs. But they were too good to pass up at an estate sale. (Courtesy of Rosie Leick)


At another estate sale, this one of a globe-trotting former CIA agent, a ceremonial mask from Southeast Africa caught her eye. “Just knowing the history and the story of the guy behind it gives it more interest than if I would have bought something new,” Leick said. Hot tip: Get on the e-mail list for Estatesales.net.

Her treasure-hunting is limited by the size of her home (a 650-square-foot apartment on Capitol Hill) and the size of her car (a Fiat with a retractable roof).

“I think that’s probably good,” Leick said. “Even though I keep accumulating things, I’m running out of space to put larger pieces. Rugs you can just stack on top of each other, so I keep accumulating rugs.”

Leick’s design philosophy is eclectic. And maximalist. And whimsical. She doesn’t stick to any one style or region, but she is drawn to color. She has some stuff from Ikea, and some stuff passed down from her grandmother. 

Rosie Leick’s eclectic apartment contains pieces from her grandmother, from Ikea and from estate sales. (Courtesy of Rosie Leick)


“Things don’t have to be expensive to look good,” Leick said. “Whatever I see that really speaks to me. I feel like there’s no calculated way of thinking, ‘Oh, I can put this here, this color will match.’ It’s kind of an intuitive process.”

A lot of what you find in stores and on design sites is predictable and trendy. You can become influenced by how someone else has styled it in a catalogue, or how it looks in a floor display. But a thrift store is like a blank slate — it’s totally up to you what you do with the pieces. Leick prefers the thrill of not knowing what she’ll find (and maybe scoring a great deal).

“If you’re at the thrift store, you don’t know what’s going to be there. It’s different every day you go,” Leick said. “You can find a treasure among people’s discarded things and you can give it new life. Or you can see the potential in something.”

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