Structure Type: built works - dwellings - houses

Designers: Chiarelli and Kirk, Architects (firm); James Joseph Chiarelli (architect); Paul Hayden Kirk (architect)

Dates: constructed 1950-1951

2 stories, total floor area: 2,330 sq. ft.

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5619 NE 77th Street
View Ridge, Seattle, WA 98115

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The Roman House, a small but distinguished courtyard-centered design created for a University of Washington (UW) Botany and Genetics Professor, his wife and their two daughters, was completed the year the architectural partnership of Chiarelli and Kirk dissolved, in 1950; the two had formed their firm in 1945, steadily gaining acclaim regionally and even nationally. Herschel Lewis (1914-1989) and Caryl K. Roman (d. 2014) resided in the house for long periods, the former 39 years, the latter, 64, along the way assembling a fine collection of paintings and furniture. They particularly liked Scandinavian Modern furniture and travelled to Copenhagen and other places visiting cabinet makers' shops to buy sofas, cabinets and chairs. Chiarelli and Kirk had an ample lot on which to site a modestly-sized dwelling. The 30,122-square-foot yard, sited on a steep hill overlooking Lake Washington to the south and east, had a lush appearance, the result of the Romans planting 150 different varieties of rhododendrons on the property.

Building History

Born in Russia, Herschel Roman met his wife Caryl, while they both studied at the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO, the former a graduate student from Saint Louis studying genetics, the latter an undergraduate journalism major from Dallas, TX. Soon after marrying, they came to Seattle, where he began a job in the UW Department of Botany. They stayed for one year before Herschel joined the army in 1943 and served until being discharged on 02/11/1946. (See, "Herschel Roman in the U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010," Accessed 02/09/2015.) The Romans resettled in Seattle from Saint Petersburg, FL, in 1946, at which time Herschel founded the UW Department of Genetics. The couple had two daughters. Their first residence was located in Seattle's Ravenna neighborhood at 5749 27th Avenue NE, but by the late 1940s, the Romans pondered building a new house. By 1948, Herschel, at age 33, had received the rank of Associate Professor, providing a decent salary, travel opportunities and tenure. Interested in art and other cultural pursuits, the Romans educated themselves about Modern architecture. According to their daughter, Ann, "... They developed a love for contemporary architecture...and Caryl drove around Seattle, knocking on the doors of houses she liked and asking the names of the architects. They settled on Paul Kirk and had the house built in what was then outside of the Seattle city limits, now View Ridge." (See email from Ann Roman to the author, "The Roman House Tour," received 02/02/2015.) The couple had a deep appreciation for Puget Sound's natural surroundings, and searched for a property that could maximize their connection with their local surroundings. Ann wrote: "They were attracted to the lot because it had a view of Lake Washington and the Cascades and a ravine with a stream. They moved in in 04/1951 and soon purchased the adjacent lower lot." The acquisition of the lower lot provided a large amount of hillside to the south with a creek running across it. The Romans were not ostentatious people and wanted a residence that was practical and shaped to its surroundings. They chose the firm of Chiarelli and Kirk, which, during the last five years of the 1940s, had developed a reputation for smart planning and unpretentious, Modern styling that did not upstage its natural context. The Roman House would be one of the last houses done by Chiarelli and Kirk, completed after the pair parted company in 1950.

Building Notes

The Romans kept a blueprint of surveyor Robert W. Jones's site survey, dated 08/05/1950, with a traced outline of the Chiarelli and Kirk design sketched on it. From the survey, one can see the numerous stumps--cedars, maples and a cottonwood--that had once stood here. Some of the cedars were fairly large, with the stumps measuring 30 inches across. As was often the case, the architects chose to leave existing maples, madronas and dogwoods in place. To the dwelling's north, NE 77th Street's steep 15% grade ran east-west. The Romans owned a large piece of property, measuring 195 feet on the west, 187 on the east and 133 on the northern street front, that had a small section of level ground in the northwest corner where Chiarelli and Kirk sited the U-shaped house. Behind the house to the south, a small stream ran west to east and the hillside broke sharply at a 37% grade, The architects sited the residence to maximize views of Lake Washington, placing large windows on the eastern and southern walls and a sizable porch on the southeast corner off the living room.

Chiarelli and Kirk laid out the house on two floors, around a central entry courtyard. The front door was sited on the courtyard's southeast corner that was nearby to a central stair that led to an exposed basement, accommodating a recreation room, spare bedroom, storage room and laundry. Just above the rec room on the southeast, they located the living room with its panoramic picture windows leading the eye south to the lake; A southern porch extended the living room's living space, enabling outdoor activities with the lake as backdrop. A dining room stood unpartitioned on the north end of the living room, one conjoined space, a feature many Modern architects used in the 1930s and 1940s to add apparent size in a small house. On the dining room's west wall, the architects included built-in cupboards for dinner ware, and on the other side of the north wall, a standard U-shaped kitchen with a stunning, framed view of the lake. The kitchen had a western door out to the central entry court. Kirk, particularly, liked entry courtyards, and many of his later houses, both tract and custom, contained this gracious feature. The center of the courtyard was originally to have had a pond that was never built. On its west side stood a carport, typically preferred by the architects to a garage, as it had lower building costs and could still provide adequate shelter for autos. The main floor's southwest section contained a sequence of spaces, moving east to west, including the master bedroom with adjoining bath, an office, and a daughter's bedroom. The master had no closets, the owners preferring to keep their clothes in tansu, while the end bedroom had a closet on its north wall. The hallway leading to the office and bedroom also had built-in cabinets providing ample storage. Chiarelli and Kirk equipped this relatively small house with many built-in cabinets to reduce clutter and enhance the dwelling's sense of spaciousness.


Portions of the entry court were enclosed to create a spacious foyer in the Roman House. The family wanted this additional space to use as a gallery to display their many artworks. The kitchen was remodeled relatively recently by the Romans.

PCAD id: 19506