A Second Debut for the Symphony House

November 6, 2015 | by Denise Thomas

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A turn-of-the-century Mercer Island home, restored and rejuvenated, has just been unveiled to the local and greater community. Known on Mercer Island as “The Castle” or “The Symphony House,” JayMarc Homes has listed the home for sale for $2,299,950 and invites the public to visit the home for weekend tours.

The Symphony House was built in 1910 by James K. Carr for the D.B. McMahons, owners of a haberdashery (a hat-making company) in downtown Seattle. It has had multiple owners throughout the years, and the last time it came on the market was in May 2013.

But without a garage, a bathroom on the main floor, and with many maintenance issues associated with a 100-year-old house, it did not attract a buyer for many months until it was spotted by Marc Rousso and Jay Mezistrano, founders of local building company JayMarc Homes.

They purchased the property in May 2014 for $2,095,000 and have conducted an eight-month, $500,000 restoration.

“While this is not a typical undertaking for JayMarc, being a part of the Mercer Island community is a very important part of who we are and this project allows us to give back in a meaningful and lasting way,” Rousso said. “We want our fellow neighbors to know how excited we have been to take on a challenge like this restoration.”

JayMarc is also building two new homes – the Mozart and Chopin – next to the Symphony House with design elements inspired by the historic home.

More than 100 Years of Shared History

Symphony-IllustrationSitting stately on Mercer Island’s northwest corner, the house evokes a by-gone era – its design was influenced by architect greats from the School of Chicago – Richardson, Sullivan, Adler and Wright.

It was Mercer Island’s first “grand estate” – and many have remarked that it evokes Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood more than it does Mercer Island.

Built in 1910, the home may have been considered waterfront, but the completion of the Montlake cut – a channel between the Montlake and University District neighborhoods in Seattle that connects Lake Washington and Lake Union – lowered Lake Washington’s water level, thus extending Mercer Island’s shoreline significantly.

It was built close to Calkins Landing at a time when Mercer Island was not connected to the great Puget Sound area by bridge, leaving it an escape from city living and an expanse of unsettled land ready for pioneers. Islanders relied on ferries for transport, children attended on a one-room school house, and summer homes dotted the landscape.

Automobiles appeared on Mercer Island in 1913 and 1914, but it was not smooth or easy driving on the island.

“Back then, the roads were really bad, and most people got around the island by horse,” said Jane Meyer Brahm, editor of Mercer Island History: From Haunted Wilderness to Coveted Community. “Parents created walkways with planks from their homes to the school house so children could get to school easier without stepping in mud and puddles.”

Several families have called the grand old house “home” throughout the years, and it has also served as a vicarage, a French preschool, and even housed a hair salon in the basement. In 1995, the home was selected as the 18th Symphony Designer Show House, and the name ‘Symphony House’ stuck.

The Character of the Home & JayMarc’s Restoration

The 6,000 square-foot home features details and intricate craftsmanship rarely seen in modern day homes. Its distinctive features include Romanesque arches, a dramatic expanse of stone steps leading to the entryway, a Prairie-style roof, and tall Viennese leaded glass windows. Details that catch the eye include the marble salon fireplace, glass door knobs, rich millwork, an original claw foot bathtub, and granite detailing on the foundation.
Symphony House Details | My MI
Leading the JayMarc design team, Aimee Upper and Bill Jones preserved as many original features of the home as possible. The handle to the front door, for example, was kept instead of exchanged for a contemporary alternative.
“So many people have touched it throughout the years,” Upper said. “It sticks a little now, but we felt it was important to save it.”

Upper and Jones also aimed to capture intricate detailing of the era and to create drama in rooms such as the dining and living rooms. Visitors will be charmed by the nursery on the second floor and an attic play space. Paint colors, fixtures, and finishes throughout the home were carefully chosen to give the home a cohesive look.


Living Room before and after

Along with the restoration, JayMarc also balanced considerations for updating the home for a modern family. The kitchen or “cookhouse” was located outside the house when it was originally built out of fear of destructive fires of that era – such as the one that burned Mercer Island’s Calkins Hotel to the ground in 1908.

A kitchen had been added by later owners but was small and not in keeping with the original style of the home. JayMarc updated and expanded the kitchen, enhancing it with dark painted cabinetry, Carrera marble countertops, and a subway tile backsplash. It’s beautiful and current but is also a seamless transition from other rooms in the house.


Kitchen before and after

JayMarc also closed a second stairwell, which likely would have been used by serving staff in the home’s early years, in order to add bathrooms to the main floor and lower level. They also built a two-car garage behind the home. The landscaping was completely redone, bringing in mature trees and bushes, to frame the home.

The result? A completely livable piece of history ready for new owners to enjoy and appreciate the home into the next century.


Bathroom before and after

Welcoming the community

The Symphony House is located at 2740 West Mercer Way and is opening for public tours for the next three weekends: Saturdays and Sundays, November 7th – 22nd. It will be open from 11 am to 5 pm.

JayMarc will also be collecting non-perishable food items to donate to the Mercer Island Youth & Family Services food pantry.

“We want to share this with the community and hope everyone will stop by and see this home,” Rousso said.
Curious to see more? View the listing and take a 3D walk-through tour of the home.

This post is sponsored in partnership with JayMarc Homes. All content, ideas, and opinions are our own. Writing and reporting by Denise Thomas and Erin Sirianni.