Our Ballard back yard addition project is in today’s Pacific NW Magazine:
Our Mercer Island remodel project was included in an article about the use of fiber-cement siding. This project used a European product called Cembonit.
Over the weekend I visited my Capitol Hill House project from 2001, and it’s holding up very well. My original clients sold the house in 2005, and I’ve worked with the new owners to explore options for adding a garage in the back yard. They graciously let me visit this weekend to look around.
The house was featured in Dwell Magazine in 2004, and locally in the Seattle Times Pacific Magazine in 2007. It was a fun project for me, and an opportunity to learn a lot about cutting-edge green technologies and strategies. The strongest element in the design is the solar array on the penthouse roof. I learned that the PV panels were replaced several years ago, because the original BP panels were recalled by the manufacturer. Both solar systems – PV and Solar Hot Water – are still performing well.
I was particularly interested to hear how the siding system was performing. This was one of the first uses of open-gap rain-screen siding in Seattle, and a lot of people were skeptical of it at the time. It’s doing very well, both functionally and aesthetically – IMHO!
I read somewhere that only 9% of people will ever use the services of an architect in their lifetime. Surely more people than this do some sort of building or remodeling, but apparently many of them don’t see any added value in using an architect for their project. I’m sure for many it feels intimidating too – I know I feel that way when I need to consult with an attorney, or financial advisor.
I’d like to try to make a case for why working with an architect makes a lot of sense, and in almost all cases will lead to a better project. And it may sound counter-intuitive, but I think using an architect can often save a homeowner money in the end.
There are high-end architects that only do multi-million dollar projects, and aren’t interested in working with you unless you buy into their design vision. But most architects genuinely want to help homeowners with THEIR vision for the project and want to become part of a collaborative team to make that happen. On most projects my first design meeting is a ‘charrette’, where I sit down with the homeowners, with the existing plans, some quick initial sketches, and a roll of tracing paper, to generate, all together, ideas for different schemes that might solve their design problem. The outcome of that meeting is a clear design direction that is then developed further.
Things an architect brings to a project:
- Fresh eyes
Usually clients come to me with very general ideas about what they’re looking for; but sometimes they have very specific ideas, and even bring floor plan and elevation sketches to show me what they want. I think it’s best to start a project with an open mind, and to consider different options for how to achieve your project goals.
- Design experience
Remember that an architect (depending on the architect) has been designing projects for many years, and has probably worked on a project similar to your’s in the past. Architects tend to understand spaces well, and have a good sense of, for example, when a layout is too tight, or too gracious, or awkward. Architects think on many levels while designing, e.g. about functionality, aesthetics, budget and constructability at the same time.
- Knowledge of how to navigate the permitting process, understand codes etc.
Working with the local jurisdiction to obtain a permit for your project can be an incredibly confusing, and time-intensive experience. An architect has done this many times before, understands the process, and knows how to get you a permit in an efficient manner.
- Help in finding and choosing a contractor
An architect can help you choose a contractor for your project. If you don’t already have one he or she can recommend some. Then they can help you choose one, and help you negotiate a contract.
- Help to make the construction process smooth and less stressful
Often the thing potential clients are most anxious about, anticipating a new project, is the construction process – fear of change-orders, ballooning costs, construction delays etc. An architect can help you alleviate these concerns, by developing construction documents that leave little to the imagination, help you find a construction contract that works best for you, and work with the contractor to answer questions and provide clarifications that come up during construction.
- Green design
An architect can help you incorporate ideas into your project to save energy, make the home healthier and more comfortable, and be easier on the environment.
- Aesthetic value
In addition to helping you solve the functional requirements of your project, an architect can help you create beautiful spaces. I believe this is one of the biggest value-added aspects of using an architect, and can make the experience of your completed project more enjoyable, more uplifting, and will increase your sense of well-being.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but often using an architect can save a homeowner money in the end. We do this for a living, and keep up with trends, new technologies etc. We can advise on such things as bathroom finishes that will be less maintenance over time, find efficient solutions that kill 2 birds with 1 stone, develop design features that won’t look passé in 5 years (and need to be remodeled again), specify products that are more energy-efficient, and materials and assemblies that make the house more durable in the long-term. And sometimes we’ll (diplomatically) counsel against truly bad ideas (e.g. I once toured a house that had a urinal built into the master shower).
Of course some architects are better than others, and not everyone will share your vision or values. And not all will be the best choice for your project. As with contractors it’s a good idea to talk with 2 or more, to find one that is excited about your project, and that you feel is a good fit for you.
Our recently completed Ballard rear yard addition was featured in an article about great indoor/outdoor connections:
I just learned a professor from my college years at Rice University passed away. Walter Widrig taught History of Architecture. I hadn’t thought of him in many years, but it made me contemplate the importance of a very special person in my life that, without realizing it at the time, inspired me to develop a passion for things and ideas I didn’t even know were important to me, helped me to find myself, and become who I am today.
The City Council has just voted to update the Seattle Land Use Code, making it even easier to build ADUs in the city. Changes include: allowing bigger cottages (1000 s.f., up from 800 s.f.), removing the owner-occupancy requirement, removing the parking requirement, and even allowing more than one ADU on a lot.
With Backyard Cottages / ADUs in the news, I thought I’d explain a little what ADUs etc. are, and show examples of different configurations.
ADU stands for Accessory Dwelling Unit, and can refer generally to any additional living unit, or more specifically to an attached unit within an existing main residence (for example a basement apartment). An ADU can also be called a Mother-in-Law Apartment.
DADU stands for Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit, and refers to a stand-alone structure, usually in the back yard, separate from the main residence. A DADU can also be called a Backyard Cottage.
A Carriage House is a DADU that contains a garage within the same structure.
We have done many ADUs, both attached and detached. Here are some examples:
West Seattle Backyard Cottage
built 2012, 315 s.f.
This very small cottage serves as a backyard office for the homeowners and a guest cottage for visitors. It’s a studio configuration, with a pull-out couch in the living space, and a small kitchenette.
Phinney Ridge Carriage House
built 2014, area: upper living unit 298 s.f., garage 375 s.f.
This is a new office/guest studio built over an existing garage. The garage was structurally upgraded to support the new second story, which is accessed by new exterior stairs. The carriage house was designed to match the traditional main house.
Green Lake Backyard Cottage
built 2012, area: 792 s.f. (main floor 540 s.f., upper 252 s.f.)
This is a story-and-a-half, 2 bedroom, 2 bath backyard cottage in the Green Lake neighborhood. The owners wanted a detached accessory dwelling unit that, in the short term, will provide a place for the in-laws to stay during extended visits. In the long term, it will act as a residence for the in-laws when they re-locate here. The ground floor bedroom can be accessed separately from the DADU, to act as a guest bedroom for the main residence. This DADU was just under the former size limit (800 s.f.)
Northgate Backyard Cottage
built 2018, area: 499 s.f.
This one-bedroom DADU was designed as a separate residence for an Au Pair, to take care of the owners’ children.
View Ridge ADU
built 2010, area: 1044 s.f.
This basement ADU was part of a whole-house remodel that completely re-configured the house inside and out, including a new roof deck and solar array. The ADU contains several interesting features, including in-wall radiant heat, and a glass floor that allows the ADU to borrow natural light from the main residence’s well-lit atrium space above. Incidentally, this was over the nominal limit of 1000 s.f., but the code allowed an exception in older houses under certain conditions.
Just got photos back of our Ballard project, a rear yard addition creating a family/dining room that opens to the back yard patio. A roof deck on top is accessed from the upstairs landing. The existing kitchen was completely remodeled. The highlight of the project is the Panoramic folding-door wall, which allows the addition to fully open to the outdoor space. Photos are by Cindy Apple.
I just returned from a two-week trip in Italy, to a few cities I’d never been to – Bologna, Ferrara and Modena – and another, Genova, that has become one of my favorites.
I studied in Rome for two semesters in grad school, at UW. When I returned home I remember one of our non-Rome Program classmates ridiculing us, saying he didn’t need to know how to design Classical architecture to be a good architect.
To me the value of studying abroad was not to learn to design in an old style, but to see architecture that has lasted the ages, and to try to understand for ourselves how that is. In contrast to our ephemeral, novelty-driven pop culture, it’s refreshing to see buildings that still have beauty, integrity, and presence after many generations.
Another recently completed project, this one in West Seattle. The main goals in this project were to open up the main floor spaces (Kitchen/Dining/Living/Entry) to each other and to the outdoors, to renovate the Kitchen and main floor bathrooms, and to make the basement more functional. The existing fireplace was opened up on all sides, and re-clad, and has become the real highlight of the remodel.