Makeover gives a midcentury Boise home a new timeless elegance

Debra King and Fred Choate, pictured with their King Charles spaniels Jazzy and Mia, did much of the work on their home’s remodel.
Debra King and Fred Choate, pictured with their King Charles spaniels Jazzy and Mia, did much of the work on their home’s remodel.

When retired interior designer Debra King and artist Fred Choate first walked into this midcentury ranch on the Boise Rim, they were struck by the possibilities. Their vision included an expansive great room, windows that embraced the Foothills view, zen-like gardens of flowing grasses and colorful dahlias, and a kitchen that would add a lively flow.

“We instantly knew how it would look,” Debra says. “We saw the house on a Monday and made an offer on Wednesday.”

They wanted to design a place where they could relax, reflect, create and spend the rest of their lives. But what makes the remodel special is that these two artists did much of the work themselves and employed an inventive use of the original house materials that also add character.

After that first walk-through, they drew up their own floor plans. Fred, who is a well-known painter, started work on a detailed rendering that transformed the house into more of an early prairie-style home. They gave themselves some creative challenges as they merged their two households.

At the time, Debra owned a stunning Georgian Colonial on Harrison Boulevard. There, she created a formal interior to reflect the period and an English-style garden filled with topiary and boxwood hedges. For her new house, she sought the traditional without the formality.

The Rim house interior would need to be rethought to help accommodate her treasured furnishings from her Harrison home, such as a large crystal chandelier and a custom cherrywood entertainment center, as well as her art collection and Fred’s paintings. So wall sizes and window placements were specifically designed to fit specific pieces.

They also needed an art studio for Fred to work and teach in, and they wanted a lower-maintenance garden with comfortable outdoor living spaces.

Debra and Fred knew each other professionally over the years before they started dating in 2009. Debra designed interiors, and Fred occasionally painted murals in homes. He also painted murals on the interior walls of area Moxie Javas and on the exterior of The Record Exchange at 11th and Idaho streets, as well as many other large murals for local businesses. Now, he’s known for his evocative landscape paintings on canvas.

Debra brings a flair for color, texture and her eclectic style; Fred wields finish carpentry skills and renegade creativity. Fred builds; Debra refines. Her touches especially came into play as they began placing the furnishings. She has a knack for blending styles.

The end result mixes Old World elegance with classic American design. An eclectic mix of Northwest contemporary, traditional English and Asian styles blend seamlessly in its richly paneled rooms. The master suite feels like a sanctuary with separate his and her bathrooms and a closet that is the envy of any organization fan. The sitting room off the master bedroom beckons you to relax and enjoy the view.

“I think this house was just waiting for someone to come along and make it grand,” Fred says. “We didn’t intend for it to be so elegant. We were shooting for comfortable.”

The new walls now display Debra’s contemporary art collection, which includes several pieces by Boise artist Stephanie Wilde, as well as colorful mandalas painted by Debra and gorgeous oil landscapes by Fred. Treasured Asian porcelain figures and brass and wood pieces that Debra has collected over the years adorn the shelves and cubbies.

DIY Remodel

Fred did much of the work on the interior, from demolition to finish carpentry, berm building and rock placement. Debra selected the wall colors, interior finishes, wood stains, window and door styles, the exterior stone and stucco facade, and other details that add to the look of the home.

The original detached garage — which is now Fred’s art studio — became his woodworking shop during construction. There, Fred built the door casings, the laundry room cabinets and butler’s pantry. He crafted the wood paneling for the formal living room and foyer, the library bookcases, the open beams in the great room, the coffer ceiling in the living room and the mantel. He also made the crown moldings throughout the house.

“It was really a labor of love,” Debra says.

Most of it is solid craftsmanship, but some of it is just plain fun and clever. Fred used some of the movie magic he learned working on film sets. “So everything is not as it seems,” Fred says with a wink and a smile.

For example, they designed the dining room to fit Debra’s 84-inch-diameter table and large chandelier overhead. To accommodate the lighting fixture, they needed to create a dome above the table that added height.

Now, the dome looks like it’s made of copper. Shhh — it’s actually embossed wallpaper over sheet rock, finished with a metallic trompe l’oeil finish. The decorative trim pieces are reused picture framing.

Other creative touches include the open beam system in the spacious great room. They’re hollow and adorned with faux metal connectors. The beams of the living room coffer ceiling are highlighted by medallions that are copies of tiles Debra acquired to adorn the mantle.

Fred took a mold from the center tile and made plaster of paris replicas. Painted with dark metallic paint, they adorn the ceiling’s intersections and tie the room together beautifully.

In the garden, he used pieces of the original cracked asphalt driveway and cement sidewalks to create meandering garden paths they dubbed Phoenix paths because Debra’s granddaughter Phoenix loves to play on them. The original paving stones became trim at the top of the chimney, and cement window wells became supports for the sculpted berms.

The Timeline

Fred and Debra bought the home in May 2011 and then fixed it up to use as a rental that first year. In January 2013, Fred began tearing into walls to begin transforming it into their dream home.

Stewart “Buster” Dancer of Buster Built came on board in February for the “build out” of the great room, master-suite sitting room, closet, meditation room and a new attached two-car garage. He moved doors around, created windows, melded the new roof lines with the old and took the project through the drywall stage with the stone exterior complete. That finished up in September.

“We took it from there and did the finish work,” Debra says.

Fred worked for more than a year on the ground level interior. They moved the furnishings in April 2014 while Fred finished the basement. That part of the project lasted until December 2014. In January 2015, Fred started work on the art studio, which was completed this fall.

Work down below

The original basement had one small bedroom and large unfinished storage space. Fred transformed it into two large bedrooms and a new bathroom.

To do that, he had to tear apart a 1949 home-built plywood-and-galvanized-metal freezer, with a tar-infused cork insulation, that was powered by a free-standing motor.

“When Fred demo-ed it, he was covered in black soot,” Debra says. “He looked like a chimney sweep.”

They took out the copper pipes and other workings and turned them over to artist Cyndy Lounsbury, who used the items to create a hanging sculpture that resides over the entrance to the basement staircase.

Fred gutted the basement down to its bones and then rebuilt the interior walls with almost 5 inches of dense insulation. “We had heaters put in last winter, but it’s so insulated that we never use them,” Fred says.

He did massive insulation upstairs, too. When the exterior brick was removed, they built another stud wall that left a 9-inch pocket that they filled with insulation.

“Now, when there’s a thunderstorm outside we can barely hear it,” Fred says. “I was all ready to do all kinds of solar, but insulation is really where it’s at.”

The work is still ongoing, Debra says, as the couple continues to transform the home into their own. Upcoming projects include a mosaic patio; an outdoor kitchen with a plumbed gas grill, stove top and refrigerator; a pagoda-style gazebo for outdoor dining; and a patio off the sitting room to enjoy the view on warm summer nights.

The team that helped complete this project

Homeowners Debra King and Fred Choate did much of the design work and interior finish work. Buster Built Construction came on to do the build-outs and heavy construction that took the project through drywall with a completed exterior. Buster Built owner Stuart “Buster” Dancer started working in residential construction in 1976. Learn more at or email

The rest of the team

Action Garage Door

Anvil Iron Works

Boise Hardwood Flooring

Bunch Sheet Metal and Heating

Crawford Masonry

Ediger Plumbing

Far West Landscape and Garden Center

Howard’s Rain Gutters

JayCo Cabinets

Joe Vrba painting and staining.

K.D. Roofing

Mike’s Stone Supply

Northwest Stucco

Paul Davis Tile

Solid Earth

Szurgot Electric

The Stereo Shoppe

Treasure Valley Door and Trim

Treasure Valley Closet

WaterWare Boise

Related stories from Idaho Statesman