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Quick Feasibility Study For Potential Homebuyers

I often work with potential homebuyers, and their realtors, to do an analysis of homes they’re considering, exploring the feasibilty of additions or other improvements. For several clients I’ve looked at the possibility of adding a DADU (Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit, or Mother-in-Law apartment) to an existing lot.

For a small amount of work – sometimes only 2 1/2 to 3 hours – I can visit the site, measure the lot and the exterior of the house, do a bit of online research, sketch up a quick site plan, and show the potential homebuyers options for the property. Specifically I’ll look at things such as Code-required setbacks, limits on lot coverage, etc., and indicate on a site plan the amount of “buildable area” they could locate a DADU, or addition within. Based on this analysis they have a much better understanding of the potential value of the property for their needs.

In some instances, for example if the site has a lot of outbuildings, or a strange lot configuration, or elements that may or may not contribute to “lot coverage”, I may need to visit the City to review the property with a land use planner. If clients want to look at the feasibility of a major remodel to the existing house, I can do a more involved analysis, creating as-built drawings (or using realtor-supplied floor plans, which often are available), and doing some quick design studies.

In probably 25% of cases clients learn, in a cost-effective way, that they can’t do what they want with a property, and they continue their home search. But in the other 75% of cases, it’s determined that what they want to do is feasible, and they can comfortably proceed to make an offer on the house if they choose to do so. Often they then become clients I work with to bring their plans to fruition.

By |2023-03-24T00:23:40+00:00March 24, 2023|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Quick Feasibility Study For Potential Homebuyers

Capitol Hill House

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!

By |2019-10-07T09:14:33+00:00October 7, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Capitol Hill House

Why Work With an Architect?

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.

By |2019-09-24T15:08:50+00:00September 24, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Why Work With an Architect?

Houzz – Kitchen Islands

I commented in a Houzz article about the ends of kitchen cabinets:
 I sometimes like to incorporate recessed shelving into the ends of islands, because it adds functional storage for cookbooks, a little out of the way, and also adds visual interest to the blocky ends of these cabinets.
By |2019-08-04T11:47:01+00:00August 4, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Houzz – Kitchen Islands

R.I.P. Walter Widrig

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.

By |2019-08-01T10:10:09+00:00August 1, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on R.I.P. Walter Widrig

Phinney Ridge House Update

I was in Phinney Ridge today, and swung by the house Jeff Lewis and I built in 2005. It was nice to see how well the plantings have filled out, making the house seem even more rooted into the site.





By |2019-07-14T20:23:17+00:00July 14, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Phinney Ridge House Update

ADU, DADU, Backyard Cottage, Carriage House…?

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.






By |2019-07-06T16:37:57+00:00July 6, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on ADU, DADU, Backyard Cottage, Carriage House…?

Ballard Addition

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.

By |2019-06-21T15:54:03+00:00June 21, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Ballard Addition

Northgate Backyard Cottage

Just completed Backyard Cottage / DADU in North Seattle. This was designed as a separate residence for an Au Pair, to take care of the owners’ children. Not furnished inside yet, but I’m glad to see how comfortably it fits in among the large trees and existing playground of the backyard!

By |2019-05-02T09:41:47+00:00May 2, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Northgate Backyard Cottage

Ballard Back Yard Addition

A nice nighttime shot of our Ballard Back Yard Project – adding a 285 s.f. Family Room, a half-level down from the main floor, with a roof deck above accessed from the second floor. Showing off the Panoramic Folding-glass Door Wall. This is a collaboration with Proform Construction.

By |2019-04-12T16:20:04+00:00April 12, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Ballard Back Yard Addition

Timeless Architecture?

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.

By |2019-03-30T11:38:41+00:00March 30, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Timeless Architecture?
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