A few years after Demi Raven and Janet Galore were introduced by a mutual friend and fell in love, they starting looking for a home where they could live together. But for artists with careers in technology, it was clear that a cookie-cutter house would not suffice.
“We spent some time thinking about what kind of future space we’d like to live in,” said Mr. Raven, 53, a software engineer at Amazon. “And we were aligned pretty closely in that we wanted something atypical and creative.”
“It’s that dream a lot of artists have,” added Ms. Galore, 58, a user-experience design manager at Google. “You want to find a raw space, and something you can build into a live-work space where you can make art.”
Fortunately, the friend who introduced them, Marlow Harris, is not just a matchmaker, but also a real estate broker. And she knew of an unusual building for sale that she was sure the couple would like: a former corner grocery store from 1929 in the North Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle.
The building, which had a retail space on the ground floor and a three-bedroom apartment above with a separate entrance, had most recently been used as an outreach ministry for a church. But by the time Mr. Raven and Ms. Galore saw it in 2015, the ground floor had been empty for years and the upstairs was barely habitable.
Outside, the building’s red bricks were beginning to fall out, as the mortar turned to dust. Inside, there were beaten-up walk-in coolers and leftover commercial sinks.
“It was a little bit grim and creepy, to be honest,” Mr. Raven said.
The decrepit interior was so creepy, in fact, that it inspired the couple’s first art project in the space. “We made a horror movie about it,” Ms. Galore said.
But despite the off-putting elements, the building got their creative juices flowing. “It was very much the size and shape of what I had hoped to find,” Ms. Galore said. “When you walk in the main door of what was the grocery store, you come into this big, 1,200-square-foot room with 13-and-a-half-foot ceilings and big windows.”
The building — a total of 3,680 square feet — was more than the couple, who married in July 2016, needed for their home and studio. It was big enough, they realized, to serve as a community arts space with exhibitions and performances by other artists.
“With a little courage and vision, you could see that the space was going to be really beautiful if someone gave it love and attention,” Mr. Raven said.
In the beginning, that someone was Mr. Raven. After the couple closed on the property in October 2015 for $700,000, they slept on a pullout sofa in the old grocery store while Mr. Raven renovated the upstairs apartment. But right from the beginning, the couple began hosting exhibitions, performances and concerts, calling their new space The Grocery Studios.
When the apartment was ready in January 2017, the couple moved upstairs. Then they turned their attention to the ground floor, which they wanted to convert from a commercial to a residential space and connect with a new interior staircase. They knew they needed professional help to make such big changes, so they hired Mutuus Studio, an architecture firm, and Robb Joyce, the general contractor who owned A.R. Joyce Remodel and lived across the street.
“They were using the downstairs as a studio,” said Jim Friesz, a partner at Mutuus Studio. “But the heating was marginal, the concrete floors were at all different levels, the windows had been replaced with plexiglass, and the first and second floors weren’t connected. It just needed work.”
The architects found an ideal place for the new staircase, installed columns and beams as part of a seismic retrofit, replaced the plexiglass with glass windows covered by frosted privacy film, added insulation, tightened up the building envelope and poured a level concrete floor.
Just off the open living room, which doubles as the main gallery space, they added a kitchen with a steel-clad peninsula. They made custom cabinet fronts by covering plywood panels with linen and resin, and created counters with Fenix laminate on top of plywood with exposed edges.
And wherever they could, the architects tried to maintain the building’s original character. During demolition, they discovered that the walls and ceiling of a former garage were lined in solid Douglas fir as a fire-safety measure, and they left it exposed in the new guest bedroom. In one of the bathrooms, they mixed pristine white subway tile with existing painted brick and steel.
After construction began in the summer of 2018, it took three years of start-and-stop effort to make the changes, because of budget concerns and pandemic-related delays. But the job was substantially complete in July 2021, although Mr. Raven is still making finishing touches, including building more storage closets. By doing so much work themselves, the couple kept the total renovation cost down to about $700,000.
Once the two floors of the building were combined into a single-family home, Mr. Raven and Ms. Galore began holding art events again. They also established Walk Up Gallery, or WUG — a tiny, street-facing gallery space in the former store’s two front windows.
To make it easy to transform their living room into an event space, the couple have furnished it with lightweight pieces that can be quickly moved and stored, including upholstered benches and sprightly wood coffee tables. “We hang out, watch TV and live down here,” Ms. Galore said. “But within half an hour, we can pull everything out of the room and transform it into something else.”
So far, the space has seen about 40 performances, exhibitions and other events — which has left Mr. Raven and Ms. Galore eager for more.
“There’s a certain energy that comes from doing these shows,” Mr. Raven said. “The amount of gratitude we see from people, both artists and guests, every time we do it, just leaves us wanting to do it again. It’s self-perpetuating.”
For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here.