Jerry O’Leary has lived in Guatemala, Costa Rica, England, France and Italy. But he never fully left Seattle, where he maintained his primary home beginning in 1980. When he finally made the decision to stay for good, he was surprised to discover that Seattle no longer suited him as well as it once did.
“I’m an older person now, and I just wanted something slightly quieter than Seattle,” said Mr. O’Leary, 71, an avid art collector who worked as a lawyer and helped manage his family’s business interests in natural-resources companies. “I was not able to go out and access everything that Seattle has to offer, so it seemed that paying the premium of living in Seattle became less and less worthwhile.”
He tried nearby Bainbridge Island, but found it a little too quiet. So he settled on Tacoma, a smaller city about 35 miles south of Seattle with a vibrant arts scene.
Jerry O’Leary bought an apartment in Tacoma, Wash., and worked with Hoedemaker Pfeiffer, a Seattle-based architecture firm, to renovate it.Credit…Ian Eland
He was intent on buying a condominium rather than a house, but found few appealing options available, so he identified five buildings he liked and waited for one to open up. It took about a year, but eventually a 2,200-square-foot apartment went on the market in a 1980 building designed by Alan C. Liddle, a prolific local architect who died in 2009. Mr. O’Leary bought it for about $700,000 in March 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic.
“It has a beautiful view of Puget Sound and Vashon Island, and I can see the ship traffic,” he said. “It’s a beautiful place to live.”
Mr. O’Leary liked the bones of the space, but the four-decades-old interior needed a complete refresh. For that, he called on Hoedemaker Pfeiffer, a Seattle-based architecture firm, and made two basic requests.
“The first thing was that I’ve never been able to get more than half my art out of storage, so I needed a place that would let me bring out as much of my art as possible,” he said.
Even so, he didn’t want his new home to resemble a cold gallery. “I wanted something that was beautifully made, that had first-class materials, but where anybody could walk in and feel comfortable,” he said. “Nobody would walk in and feel like they couldn’t sit down in any chair, they couldn’t touch any wall. It had to be absolutely livable.”
Tim Pfeiffer, a partner at Hoedemaker Pfeiffer, and Hana Schooley, a project manager at the firm, aimed to preserve the original spirit of the apartment while making some surgical improvements. They left most of the walls intact, but replaced a few with oak-slat screens to bring sunlight into dark corners.
“It’s a really long condo unit, so it was a challenge getting light to penetrate from one side to the other,” Ms. Schooley said. “Our concept didn’t involve big moves — they were small moves to improve the light and create a space specifically for Jerry.”
One of the screens connects the living room and the den, where integrated shelves provide a place to display sculpture. “It’s definitely a collector’s home,” Mr. Pfeiffer said, “with great sightlines to specific pieces, and collections of pieces in other areas.”
More screens dissolve the boundaries between the kitchen and a hallway leading to the primary suite, as well as between the primary bedroom, bathroom and dressing area.
For visual warmth and a welcoming feeling, the architects chose a palette of textured materials in neutral hues: Sandalus quartzite with a leathered finish around the fireplace, two types of limestone for the primary bathroom floor and vanity, grass-cloth wallcovering with a subtle pattern around Mr. O’Leary’s bed, and buff-colored paint for his major art display walls.
They furnished the space with vintage pieces heavy on character, including a sculptural 1960s Guillerme et Chambron wood armchair in the living room; a dining table and chairs from the same furniture maker; and textured linen fabrics and woolly rugs.
But none of it happened quickly.
Mr. O’Leary had bought the apartment from an older seller whose move into a nursing home was delayed amid the pandemic, so he allowed her to continue living there for nine months after closing. It wasn’t until she moved out at the end of 2020 that Mr. Pfeiffer’s brother-in-law, Tom Treleven, of Treleven Project Management, was able to start construction.
Mr. O’Leary moved into his new home in March 2022, after spending another $700,000. “It’s extraordinary,” he said. “It’s a gorgeous place. The rooms work exactly as I’d hoped they would, in a very comfortable, natural way.”
So far, he estimates that he has managed to display about 70 percent of his art collection — far more than in his previous home.
Mr. Pfeiffer, who grew up in Tacoma, was just as taken with the finished apartment and its surroundings. “I mentioned to Jerry,” he said, “‘You know, if you ever decide to sell this place, it’s got my name on it.’”
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