I first met Bill and Connie outside a run-down time capsule of a house in west Seattle. It was a dark-brown and avocado disaster from the 1960s, with a floor plan that was 14 ft. wide and 60 ft. long. Bill and Connie asked me to offer an opinion of the house's condition, and to counsel whether the advantages of the site outweighed the drawbacks of the house.
There was no doubt about the site. It was a secluded spot set back from the street, on the side of a steep hill with a view to the south and west. From the living room you could see from Alki beach on Elliot Bay to the mountains of the Olympic Peninsula, 30 mi. distant.
The old house was something else. From the front, it read as a carport affixed to a garden shed. From the side and the rear, the daylight basement was shaded by a decomposing wood deck along with deteriorated siding and windows. Parts of the downhill-side foundation and the slab floor in the basement had sunk 4 in., finish work was uniformly cheap and nasty, and a 1970s addition to the living room drooped off the side of the house like an old saddlebag. On the other hand, the basement retaining walls showed no cracks, most of the framed walls looked straight, and the placement of the house at the edge of the sloping site took perfect advantage of the breathtaking view. We declared the house an exceptional opportunity.
The new plan begins with an upstairs. With a view such as this one, the transformation agenda naturally called for a second-story addition to the house. At the west end, Bill and Connie wanted a new master bedroom over the living room to take advantage of the dramatic view. They also wanted to update the existing living spaces within an open floor plan. At the east end of the main level, a separate entrance would lead to Connie's home office . Outside, the carport would be converted into a two-car garage with a rooftop deck and a hot tub. Instead of classifying their tastes as traditional or contemporary, Bill and Connie's primary concerns were for materials and details that would be enduring and easily maintained.
They love the romanticism of Spanish-colonial architecture, and their travels in Mexico evoked visions of warm stucco walls, tiled roofs and other handcrafted details.
My design obsessions include the ordered, rectilinear patterns found in Japanese country houses, and the finished house reflects the marriage of these two styles. Common to both are low-pitch tiled roofs with exposed rafters and deep eaves, which provide interesting detail and good weather protection in our often-drizzly climate. Mixing exterior-siding materials is common to Japanese country houses, and we stuck to that tradition by combining cedar shingles with accents of synthetic stucco to contrast with an olive-green concrete-tile roof.
Structure revealed in the living-room ceilings work got under way on the second story, contractor Jed Johnson and his crew carefully removed the old roof decking and the timber rafters that held the decking up. These materials were then recycled into the living-room ceiling and the eaves of the new roof spa. The ceiling of the revamped main floor exhibits another element of Japanese design: the layering of structural components. The 4x12 fir beams support crisscrossing 2x6 floor joists, which are sheathed on top with medium-density overlay (MDO) plywood that was painted dark green (photo above).
We omitted the traditional blocking between the ceiling joists to emphasize their long, parallel lines. The result is a delicate composition. But without some form of blocking, the ceiling assembly can also be a potentially delicate structure in an earthquake or under high winds. However, adding rows of solid blocking would diminish the effect of the ceiling. So we used diagonal steel rods instead. The rods are threaded through the beams and attached to opposing walls by way of custom- fabricated steel connectors, eliminating the need for us to have put solid blocking between the floor joists.
Energy-saving strategies and structural innovations expand the viewed long, narrow plan is punctuated with lots of windows, opening the house to water views on three sides. The Washington State Energy Code requires houses of conventional construction to limit total window and door area to no more than 21% of the floor area of the heated living spaces. With added floor insulation, higher-performing wood doors and a high-efficiency furnace, we were able o reach 30% glazing to maximize the views and natural light. Part of our efficiency was found in the use of Cemcel, a laminated-fiberglass panel (Cemcel Corp., 3040 Giant Road, San Pablo, Calif. 94806; 510-235-9911).
- Bedrooms: 2
- Bathrooms: 3
- Heating system: Forced-air gas
- Size: 3,000 sq. ft.
- Cost: $130 per sq. ft. (remodel only)
- Completed: 1994
- Location: Seattle, Washington
A long, thin house with a view. At the crest of a hill in west Seattle, this remodeled house began its transformation with a second-story addition to take advantage of the views of Puget Sound. The addition includes the master suite and a rooftop spa and a lap pool over the garage. On the main level, an office has its own entry to maintain the privacy of the house.
Cemcel panels resemble the rice-paper-and-wood divided lattices found in shoji screens (photo p.4). But unlike rice paper, Cemcel has the strength and safety of tempered glass and U-values that range from 0.40 to as low as 0.25, depending on thickness and filling. Cemcel isn't cheap: Costs start at around $25 per sq. ft. for the material, which means $250 or more to glaze a single door. I've used it a lot in skylights because the translucency is good at hiding dirt and scratches. In Bill and Connie's house, using Cemcel allowed us to gain daylight in places where we couldn't use windows without violating the energy code. Maximizing the number of windows presented another problem. We now had a tall, thin house on a hill in a seismic-four zone (serious earthquake potential) looking south into the teeth of our strongest winds.
The new windows--especially at the corners--eliminated essential shear walls needed to brace the house against wind and earthquake loads. Instead of relying on conventional plywood shear walls at the corners, we braced the house with a steel frame.
Built from 8-in. wide flange steel I-beams, the frame was welded together in place. The frame becomes a visible element in the house as it extends from the top of the concrete foundation wall to the top floor plate. The columns of the frame are visible inside the living room and master bedroom. A similar frame reinforces the front wall.
A sweeping steel canopy shelters the front door (photo p.2). The canopy frame is suspended by steel rods, and it is covered with corrugated decking. To make a clear break from traditional housing precedents, we chose the steel both to promote the durability of the structure and to reinforce the contemporary virtues of the design.
Holding up the slabs dips in the downhill foundation and the slab proved to be less of a concern than everyone imagined. To prevent further settling of the house when the new floor was added, we installed pneumatically driven steel-pipe pilings on 2-ft. centers along the 60-ft. wall. Each piling was then affixed to the foundation with Chance Anchors (A. B. Chance, 210 N. Allen St., Centralia, Mo. 65240; 573-682-5521). These anchors are steel brackets that grab the foundation with epoxied bolts. Adding the anchors stabilized the wall, allowing us to build atop it without fear of further settling.
Let's put a pool on the roof. Our first owner-initiated change order was the lap pool over the garage. This isn't as audacious as it sounds. The swimming spa is much smaller than a conventional lap pool (a propeller creates an adjustable current of water to swim against) and therefore can be economically maintained at a temperature that allows year-round use in our mild climate. Such a spa does, however, weigh about 20,000 lb. when full of water.
The dining table is almost in the trees. A stove top counter overlooks the dining area. The doors in the upper cabinets have seeded glass panels, which reflect light in fractured lines. Photo taken at F on floor plan.
After some delays for engineering and permit adjustments, we poured new footings, beefed up the outboard garage wall and installed some large glulam beams. Commercial-grade plywood joists topped with conventional-plywood decking span the big beams. And a torch-down single-ply membrane protects the roof.
A variety of textures and colors. In contrast to the hard, smooth steel canopy that arcs over the entry, the interior walls are finished with hand-troweled plaster, layered in the heavy textures common to Spanish-colonial houses. We chose slate flooring for the entry, Connie's office and the kitchen (photo). At about $12 per sq. ft. installed, slate is relatively affordable.
It's a low-maintenance finish, and the earthy colors of the slate look good alongside bamboo flooring in the living room and dining room. The bamboo, which is made up of laminated strips, resembles maple in color. It is hard, is dimensionally stable and can be finished with water-base or solvent-base finishes (Michelangelo Inc.; 206-767-6549).
Fir trim wraps around the windows inside, repeating the honey color of the ceiling framing on the main level. In the living room, a polished-granite hearth anchors a cast-concrete fireplace surround framed by a mosaic of inlaid stone.
A counter separates the dining area from the kitchen; the counter includes the cook top and upper cabinets. Panels of seeded glass in the upper-cabinet doors create ripple lines of light and dark that resemble bubbles, or more appropriately, raindrops.