Welcome to Make Yourself at Home, a collection of home tours as told through the items within them. Up this week, in the final of four installments we’re running in honor of Renovation Month, Cassie welcomes us into her Seattle home and proves she might love her plants more than anyone else ever has.
Cassie and her husband Sol didn’t think they could afford to buy a place, but when property prices went down in 2008, they were surprised to find themselves looking. And even more surprised to find themselves looking in Ballard, a charming waterfront neighborhood in Seattle.
“We could afford the shittiest piece of shit on the block,” Cassie says. “People thought we were going to tear it down. They were like: What else would you do with this house?” But Cassie’s husband had other plans, and in December 2009, they moved in.
“It needed everything done to it,” she says, “from plumbing to electrical. It needed a roof. It still needs a new sewer line.” With a degree in architecture and construction management, her husband decided to tackle it himself. Sustainability was important to him, she says, and they were on a budget. “He used old siding that he had sourced from a 1920s bungalow. He used wood from my parents’ barn,” she says. He built a fence, he built garden beds, he built a patio, he put in an in-ground fireplace. “We went from people who had a toilet on the front porch to having the cutest house on the block.”
Six years later, the remodels were mostly done, and a year after that, Cassie’s husband sadly died. It’s been three years, and Cassie now lives there with their three kids, Bodhi, Reagan, and Sawyer, surrounded by his memory, living out the vision he had for the space. “He thought it sucked that most people work for the weekend and work to go on vacation. He was like, ‘What if every day, you came home to that vacation? What if every day your house was your favorite place and it felt that good?’” They wanted their place to feel like the beach, but without the kitschy sea shells and Curlz MT-carved driftwood of typical beach houses. So they took a different approach, which you can see documented in detail on @magicbabyvintage. Below, in Cassie’s own words, five things that make their house a home.
#1. The Porch My Husband Built
Every board, every nail, every aspect of it was built, cut, touched, and constructed by somebody who’s not here anymore, and it’s my favorite place in the house, without a doubt. Out there, I smoke and hang out with my friends, watch my kids dance, meditate, do yoga, do nothing, sit. I listen to a lot of music out there, too: George Strait, Twin Shadow, Nahko and Medicine for the People. I get into different things depending on my mood.
It used to be an open-air front stoop, but now it’s enclosed and the ceilings are vaulted. I love the ceilings. I love the hatch door because it’s made from old barn wood from my parents’ house. I love that you can sit on the south side of the porch and look at this tree out the window that changes leaves through the fall, but you can also look through the window into the house and see all the way to the back of the house, through the kitchen, out the window. When the sun is setting you can see that, too.
#2. The Japanese Maple Branch in My Living Room
This branch came off of this beautiful Japanese maple tree that was really horribly placed in our tiny yard. We felt terrible that we were going to have to take it down since it took a long time to grow and no one wants to cut down a tree. So my husband decided to save the coolest branch off and let it cure, and that huge branch is now on my living room wall. Then he took the root ball, this old Japanese maple root ball, and pressure-washed it and let it cure out in the open for two years so that it could dry out. Then he built a stand for it, which now holds the root ball in the living room. So even though the tree doesn’t live outside anymore, it lives inside.
I don’t have a mantle and I don’t have a fireplace, so we use the branch to hang our Christmas stockings. It’s a fixture in our house, and it’s not going to go anywhere. I’ll never have to worry about, “Oh, god. Remember when I thought that branch was cool?” That branch is always going to be fucking cool. It’s iconic.
#3. The Yard and What It Represents
The yard is special because, like the porch, my husband sourced everything with what he could find and made it cool. I like that there’s an in-ground fire pit and that I’ve got a garden on the north side. The fence he repurposed from an old Trader Joe’s that got torn down. He was like, “Oh, I’ll just take that.” He hated to see wood and things get destroyed. He was the first person in my life that actually cared about the climate.
The yard is really an extension of our house. The south side is all entertaining space. I host a moon circle now, and people come over and we burn what no longer serves us. And all summer I hosted farm-to-table dinners. I’d go pick everything that was ready to be picked in the garden (I grow kale, green beans, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, potatoes, sage, lavender, rosemary, garlic, basil, mint, squash, fennel—a lot of stuff considering it’s not very big) and invite whoever wants to come over from my community and my friend group, and we eat really well, communal style.
#4. The Shop Out Back
The shop out back is where my husband built this whole house and made it the way it looks today. It’s also where he died. So it’s a weird place because it was his favorite place. If mine is the porch, his was the shop, because he loved building and creating. I like to think that, even though he died there, he probably chose it because he felt safe. So I’m grateful to that little building out back, and I haven’t changed a ton in it. I’ve had to use some tools and stuff, but it’s all him in there.
#5. My Plants
What I’ve realized about plants is, they have this energy. They knew my husband—when he died, they felt it. And I know that sounds woo-woo, but they felt me, and they’ve supported me. I have tripped out on mushrooms on my porch and realized, Damn, we did this together. You guys were here before my kids. You guys were here before anything, and you’re still here. They know I’m carrying out his legacy and his dream of having this home where people want to be, and they want to be part of it.
People ask me, “How do you take care of so many plants?” But it’s never felt like taking care of them. They take care of me. They breathed life into a space in the wake of death. They were here to breathe for me when I couldn’t breathe. I read this book, Braiding Sweetgrass, by an indigenous biologist named Robin Wall Kimmerer, and she says that when you fully understand plants, you understand reciprocity—the give and take of life. Plants take on what we put out and we take on what plants put out.
People always tell me, “I can’t keep a plant alive.” And my answer to that is, “Go get 10 plants, because we are not meant to be alone, and neither are plants.” I’m able to keep all of these plants alive. They’re vibrating harmoniously together. They’re friends. Plants are magic.
Photos by Cassie Daughtrey.