Located in the heart of Capitol Hill, Michelle and Susan's house is a one-and-a-half story Victorian built in 1903. The color pink dominates. The siding is pink, the deck is pink, the garage is pink, and most of the trim is pink. In addition, every square foot of ornamentation has been detailed in an intricate pattern of pink, dark pink, teal, and yellow. Under each window are two to three pink triangles, symbols of gay pride. During June, rainbow-colored flags fly at both ends of the house, though a particularly windy day can send the two flags literally flying. A white picket fence surrounds the house, and up on the roof a giant wrought iron swan stands guard.
When Susan, a stocky, fortysomething with curly brown-and-gray shoulder-length hair, bought the house in 1987, it wasn't pink, and the house was falling apart. Susan and her partner, Michelle, quickly began fixing the roof and tearing away the layers of asphalt and asbestos siding to reach the original wood-slat siding. It was exhausting work, but finally, in 1991, the house was ready to be painted. Susan loved pink, and was convinced it was the right color. "She's crazy about anything pink," jokes Michelle, an athletic woman in her 30s with short, messy brown hair. "Personally, it's not my favorite color." As preparations were made, a friend of Michelle and Susan's gave the couple a gift that forever changed the house: A copy of a popular coffee-table book called America's Painted Ladies: The Ultimate Celebration of Our Victorians.
The concept for Painted Ladies originated in San Francisco. The book's authors, Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen, moved to the city in the late '70s and were struck by the number of Victorian homes painted in wild colors like pink, gold, and teal. (Shades of blue were rare in the Victorian era because the pigment was so expensive.) After doing some research, the authors discovered that the seemingly out-of-place wild color schemes were often exact restorations.
"In the late 1800s, people who owned Victorian homes were rich, and they loved showing off," says Pomada from her office in San Francisco. The authors grew so fond of the houses they dubbed them "Painted Ladies," from the impression the homes gave. "When you look at one of these homes from the street, the windows look like eyes, and the trim looks like mascara," says Pomada. "And if there is gold-leaf trim, it looks like jewelry." Hence, Painted Ladies.
Michelle and Susan fell in love with the homes shown in the book, and decided they too wanted a Painted Lady. So the women's planned run-of-the-mill restoration gave way to a freer form of self-expression. Susan did most of the construction, cutting the intricate blocks and triangles and adding additional trim and molding, while Michelle planned a pink, teal, and yellow color scheme. In their free time, the women flew to S.F. to get more ideas.
The Painted Ladies authors aren't surprised by Michelle and Susan's enthusiasm. Since the book was first published in 1978 (there are now six books), the authors have gotten thousands of letters, pictures, and phone calls from people interested in restoring their homes. In addition, many of the homes profiled in the books are owned by gay couples. "I would say over half are gay, especially in S.F.," says Pomada. "They have the taste, the money, and the attention to detail to get it right," she says.
But Michelle and Susan didn't limit themselves to a strict Painted Lady concept.
They were becoming increasingly involved with the gay rights movement at the time. It was 1994, and Susan, especially, was giving time and money to gay causes. Susan was politically active, and wanted her home to reflect that. "I thought, what the heck, let's add some pink triangles," says Susan, fresh from a ride on her red chopper. "I think she was like, 'I'm here, I'm queer, get over it,'" recalls Michelle, joking, "I think she would have gone even more gay if I didn't stop her." Soon the old, asbestos-covered house had became not only a Painted Lady, but a gay Painted Lady. "I'm very proud of it," says Michelle now. "It's very 'out,' and very Capitol Hill."
The constant attention the house gets is flattering, say Susan and Michelle, but tiring. Sometimes when Michelle is working in the garden outside, she wears a Walkman just so people won't talk to her. "It can be an utter nuisance," she sighs. None of the other homeowners and renters on their block seem to mind the house. "Whatever, it's Capitol Hill, I don't pay much attention," says Mike from his porch two doors down.
Unfortunately, not everyone loves the house. Michelle and Susan have had their windows egged. A brick was thrown through the living-room window, and the little pink decorations on top of the fence have been knocked off. Michelle discounts the events. "A lot of people don't even know what pink triangles are," she explains. "I thinks it's mostly just kids or whatever."
Despite the random visits from exchange students, the constant photos, and the bed-and-breakfast inquiries, Michelle and Susan aren't leaving the neighborhood; they've done too much work on the house to ever leave it, they say. According to Jayne DeHaan, a 26-year real-estate veteran working with Re/Max, the pink house has improved the neigborhood. "Uniqueness usually enhances the area," says DeHaan.
Sitting on the porch with her back against the pink siding, Michelle reminisces. "It didn't start out as the gayest house in Seattle," she laughs, gazing fondly at her home. "I guess it kind of just evolved that way."