A Small-Space Redesign That’s Big on Style

A compact Capitol Hill co-op’s beautiful, budget-wise makeover

By Shannon O'Leary December 15, 2014


This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of Seattle Magazine.

“Wherever I’ve moved, I’ve always just sort of torn walls down,” says Evgenia Messenger.

But when it came to the Capitol Hill co-op that she owned with her husband, Joel Blakely, a character artist for local gaming company Monolith Productions, Messenger saw fit to add some walls. In the process, she gave the 1,000-square-foot pad a big style makeover. “When we walked into the place, it was a 1960s boring box,” says Messenger of their unit on the seventh floor of the nine-story Melrose Terrace building. The tight space also suffered from clashing motifs—Asian shoji screens battling with the rococo plaster ceiling moldings.

In only two months, and for just $25,000, the self-taught designer who studied painting and sculpture at Cornish College of the Arts transformed the blah little box into a chic, cohesive beauty, and managed to cleverly insinuate a second bedroom and two offices into the compact space. “I can’t do CAD drawings, but I can envision any 3-D space,” she says. “It’s kind of like a superpower.” So when she discovered she was pregnant with her first child just as demolition was to start, Messenger reenvisioned the space to include a nursery. She carved out a second room from the kitchen (salvaged leaded-glass windows that she trimmed in black paint to serve as handsome partitions). She displayed more spatial finesse in the dining room. “In our quest to be able to fit a living room, dining room and the kitchen all in one small space, we did built-in bench seating on the back of the [kitchen] counter,” she explains.

Far from feeling pinched, the new kitchen exemplifies Messenger’s “industrial farmhouse” theme and her budget-minded, can-do flair. To get the look and texture of old beam ceilings, for example, she used simple, cheap pieces of landscaper’s cedar edging from The Home Depot, liquid-nailed them to the drop-ceiling soffit and painted them the same creamy white as her surrounding Ikea cabinetry. She also brought in a brick backsplash, which got a weathered whitewash, and covered the unit’s original cold slate tile flooring with 5-inch-wide planks of warm, affordable white oak.

A thoughtfully edited display of hardy found furniture brings home the urban farmhouse feel. Messenger cut down a large $30 Craigslist circular coffee table and fitted it with casters ($20 each) from Amazon that she painted with an iron finish; she gave new use to industrial objects, such as restaurant fryer baskets (from Dick’s Restaurant Supply in SoDo) commandeered to hold art supplies, and old grain-hauling bins for an organized entry table. New objects—a custom cedar TV cabinet severely distressed by Messenger and a floor-to-ceiling custom bookcase of inexpensive birch ply that she designed—are a sublime fit with all that is truly time-worn.

Messenger created this tiny, cozy child’s bedroom for her new babe, Kai, by slicing some space from the kitchen. She snagged the antique bed frame from Ballard’s Goodwill and created the whimsical wall assemblage using twisting sticks she found at Ikea and had painted

Messenger’s money-wise makeover, concluded last year, ultimately was a money maker. It helped to turn the apartment into a hot prospect, aided by its proximity to Amazonland (aka South Lake Union). Messenger sold her unit for what she describes as a crazy-high price this spring. “It basically sold on the same day,” she says, “and we got many offers asking if the furniture would be included.”

Now the DIY designer is at work on another project. “We’ve just bought this 1907 farmhouse in Columbia City,” says Messenger with palpable relish, “and I’m about to tear stuff apart.”

Interior design: Evgenia Messenger (evgeniamess@msn.com; evgenia-messenger.com).
Leaded windows, doors: Ballard Reuse (Ballard, 1440 NW 52nd St.; 206.297.9119; ballardreuse.com).

Farmhouse flair in the kitchen includes faux beams added to the drop soffit above the cabinets and a whitewashed brick backsplash


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