written by:
photos by:
March 7, 2011
Originally published in Cheap and Chic

In Seattle, where others saw only a severe slope and lack of municipal hookups, one couple spotted their ticket to their dream home.

  • 
  A supposedly impossible site was the perfect plot for Hale (pictured) and Edmonds, who were searching for some sort of break that would afford them the chance to build their own home. Stilting the house over the steep hill gives them direct access to nature while still being located just a ten-minute drive from downtown Seattle.
    A supposedly impossible site was the perfect plot for Hale (pictured) and Edmonds, who were searching for some sort of break that would afford them the chance to build their own home. Stilting the house over the steep hill gives them direct access to nature while still being located just a ten-minute drive from downtown Seattle.
  • 
  The parcel was practically inaccessible. It was situated 20 feet beyond where the road dead-ended at a curb and lay another 20 feet below street grade. The plot lacked municipal hookups and plummeted down the hill at a 50-percent slope. But the neighboring property had caught Edmonds’s eye: Just beyond the steep pitch was the P-Patch community garden in which she and Hale had been growing salad greens for years. “We’d carry a trowel and bike over from our old apartment,” Edmonds remembers fondly. “It was our escape.”
    The parcel was practically inaccessible. It was situated 20 feet beyond where the road dead-ended at a curb and lay another 20 feet below street grade. The plot lacked municipal hookups and plummeted down the hill at a 50-percent slope. But the neighboring property had caught Edmonds’s eye: Just beyond the steep pitch was the P-Patch community garden in which she and Hale had been growing salad greens for years. “We’d carry a trowel and bike over from our old apartment,” Edmonds remembers fondly. “It was our escape.”
  • 
  Just inside, Pippa, one half of the ever-entertaining twins, goofs around on the stairs leading from the entrance to the main floor and the bedrooms below.
    Just inside, Pippa, one half of the ever-entertaining twins, goofs around on the stairs leading from the entrance to the main floor and the bedrooms below.
  • 
  The first-floor great room is where all the action takes place. “It’s like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian homes: everyone in one main space,” Hale says.
    The first-floor great room is where all the action takes place. “It’s like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian homes: everyone in one main space,” Hale says.
  • 
  In the living room, an Akari lamp by Isamu Noguchi sits atop a coffee table Hale made and next to a collage of Maisie and Pippa’s paintings. Like most of the furniture in the house, the couch, coffee table, and side table were made by Hale or his close colleagues, often in his favorite material: plywood.
    In the living room, an Akari lamp by Isamu Noguchi sits atop a coffee table Hale made and next to a collage of Maisie and Pippa’s paintings. Like most of the furniture in the house, the couch, coffee table, and side table were made by Hale or his close colleagues, often in his favorite material: plywood.
  • 
  Hale's sketchbook shows working furniture ideas.
    Hale's sketchbook shows working furniture ideas.
  • 
  In the dining room, a painting by Victoria Haven hangs over a maple side table that Hale designed and built while in architecture school at the University of Washington. The dining table was a banquet table that Hale repurposed, and the Mies van der Rohe chairs were vintage store finds given to Hale and Edmonds as a housewarming gift.
    In the dining room, a painting by Victoria Haven hangs over a maple side table that Hale designed and built while in architecture school at the University of Washington. The dining table was a banquet table that Hale repurposed, and the Mies van der Rohe chairs were vintage store finds given to Hale and Edmonds as a housewarming gift.
  • 
  Hale found these Stendig chairs from Finland at a junk store in Seattle. He paid $15 per chair.
    Hale found these Stendig chairs from Finland at a junk store in Seattle. He paid $15 per chair.
  • 
  Hale and Maisie peer out of one of the living-room windows, from where Edmonds (pictured at left with Pippa) dreams about installing a zip-line directly to their garden patch.
    Hale and Maisie peer out of one of the living-room windows, from where Edmonds (pictured at left with Pippa) dreams about installing a zip-line directly to their garden patch.
  • 
  Hale's material preferences helped keep costs low: Inexpensive plywood lines the ceiling and cork covers the floors. He covered the kitchen island with yellow plastic laminate.
    Hale's material preferences helped keep costs low: Inexpensive plywood lines the ceiling and cork covers the floors. He covered the kitchen island with yellow plastic laminate.
  • 
  Pippa (left) and Maisie (right) play in the kitchen. Though Hale and Edmonds would have preferred Bosch appliances, a deal at Ikea was too good to pass up. They purchased all of the cabinets and appliances (a combination that earned them 20-percent off the total) for a mere $4,700.
    Pippa (left) and Maisie (right) play in the kitchen. Though Hale and Edmonds would have preferred Bosch appliances, a deal at Ikea was too good to pass up. They purchased all of the cabinets and appliances (a combination that earned them 20-percent off the total) for a mere $4,700.
  • 
  On the east-facing porch off of the kitchen, Edmonds rests for a minute with the twins. There's sometimes a swing hanging from the overhead beams but more often than not "it's a place for morning coffee," Hale says.
    On the east-facing porch off of the kitchen, Edmonds rests for a minute with the twins. There's sometimes a swing hanging from the overhead beams but more often than not "it's a place for morning coffee," Hale says.
  • 
  The upstairs loft is an office-cum-craft room. Evidence of the family’s DIY nature is omnipresent. Hale built a planter box and art-supply cubbies with leftover plywood. The space is equipped with plumbing hookups in case—or more likely, when—the family chooses to convert the area into a third bedroom and bathroom.
    The upstairs loft is an office-cum-craft room. Evidence of the family’s DIY nature is omnipresent. Hale built a planter box and art-supply cubbies with leftover plywood. The space is equipped with plumbing hookups in case—or more likely, when—the family chooses to convert the area into a third bedroom and bathroom.
  • 
  The most difficult part of designing his own home was learning when to put the breaks on. "I made so many models and went through so many ideas," Hale says. When he finally accepted the budgetary and physical realities of the project, then the shape of the structure appeared naturally.
    The most difficult part of designing his own home was learning when to put the breaks on. "I made so many models and went through so many ideas," Hale says. When he finally accepted the budgetary and physical realities of the project, then the shape of the structure appeared naturally.
  • 
  The bottom level features two equal-size bedrooms (shown here is Hale and Edmond's bedroom), a bathroom, and storage space. The family is always close to nature. One spring, Maisie and Pippa woke up each morning to a family of squirrels living in their nest outside the twin's bedroom window.
    The bottom level features two equal-size bedrooms (shown here is Hale and Edmond's bedroom), a bathroom, and storage space. The family is always close to nature. One spring, Maisie and Pippa woke up each morning to a family of squirrels living in their nest outside the twin's bedroom window.
  • 
  The bathroom features a Duravit sink that was incorrectly ordered for a job by the contractor and then donated to Hale. The stools are from Ikea, the tub was salvaged, and the tiles were surplus from another project.
    The bathroom features a Duravit sink that was incorrectly ordered for a job by the contractor and then donated to Hale. The stools are from Ikea, the tub was salvaged, and the tiles were surplus from another project.
  • 
  The size of the house was determined by the radius of the crane needed to drill the foundations for the 11 piles that stabilize the building. From its position parked in a gracious neighbor's driveway, the crane could reach 70 feet into the property.
    The size of the house was determined by the radius of the crane needed to drill the foundations for the 11 piles that stabilize the building. From its position parked in a gracious neighbor's driveway, the crane could reach 70 feet into the property.
  • 
  A porch at the bottom floor level serves as a rest space, play area, and work spot when Hale pulls out his tools. The horizontal window above connects the first floor to the deck so Hale and Edmonds can keep a watchful eye on the girls when they play outside.
    A porch at the bottom floor level serves as a rest space, play area, and work spot when Hale pulls out his tools. The horizontal window above connects the first floor to the deck so Hale and Edmonds can keep a watchful eye on the girls when they play outside.
  • 
  Back in the living room, the girls busy themselves with books. Hale designed and made the plywood couch with built-in book storage as well as the plywood-and-red-plastic-laminate side table. Hale's partner at Shed Architecture and Design, Thomas Schaer, created the Richlite-topped, steel-base coffee table.
    Back in the living room, the girls busy themselves with books. Hale designed and made the plywood couch with built-in book storage as well as the plywood-and-red-plastic-laminate side table. Hale's partner at Shed Architecture and Design, Thomas Schaer, created the Richlite-topped, steel-base coffee table.
  • 
  Though Hale spends plenty of time with Edmonds and the twins, he longs for more hours. "The main frustration with the house is all the little projects I still want to complete," he says. "I wish I didn't have to work so I could tinker all day."
    Though Hale spends plenty of time with Edmonds and the twins, he longs for more hours. "The main frustration with the house is all the little projects I still want to complete," he says. "I wish I didn't have to work so I could tinker all day."
  • 
  The exterior is a mix of asphalt roll roofing, SnapLock metal panels, and Hardipanel. "The cladding was something I had fantasized about for a long time," Hale says. "Most clients wouldn't be psyched about it—who knows if I'll be psyched about it in five years." But for now, the house is home to a very happy family.
    The exterior is a mix of asphalt roll roofing, SnapLock metal panels, and Hardipanel. "The cladding was something I had fantasized about for a long time," Hale says. "Most clients wouldn't be psyched about it—who knows if I'll be psyched about it in five years." But for now, the house is home to a very happy family.
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Modern Treehouse home in Seattle, Washington
A supposedly impossible site was the perfect plot for Hale (pictured) and Edmonds, who were searching for some sort of break that would afford them the chance to build their own home. Stilting the house over the steep hill gives them direct access to nature while still being located just a ten-minute drive from downtown Seattle.
Project 
Hale / Edmonds Residence

Maisie and Pippa Hale possess the reckless abandon innate in most four year olds, but there are two things in particular that they aren’t afraid of: knives and power tools. Since I arrived this afternoon, the charismatic twins have been sitting on the yellow kitchen island countertop helping their mom chop vegetables, each taking turns playing assistant knife wielder.

Prentis Hale and Tracy Edmonds’s daughters grew up around moving blades. Hale served as both designer and general contractor for the family’s house in Seattle’s Mount Baker neighborhood, and the toddler twins often visited the construction site with lunch and Edmonds in hand. Back in the kitchen, Maisie turns from dicing onions: “We ran through the hole!” she squeals recalling scurrying through the opening in the timber framing separating their soon-to-be bedroom from their parents’.

Rectangular red-framed open garage
The parcel was practically inaccessible. It was situated 20 feet beyond where the road dead-ended at a curb and lay another 20 feet below street grade. The plot lacked municipal hookups and plummeted down the hill at a 50-percent slope. But the neighboring property had caught Edmonds’s eye: Just beyond the steep pitch was the P-Patch community garden in which she and Hale had been growing salad greens for years. “We’d carry a trowel and bike over from our old apartment,” Edmonds remembers fondly. “It was our escape.”

But for Hale and Edmonds, planning the project came long before preparing for twins. In the 1990s, premarriage and prekids, the couple shared a one-bedroom apartment in Capitol Hill, just northeast of downtown. “We stayed there so long that we ended up being the old people in the building,” Edmonds shares with a laugh. The area became increasingly “too hipster and too loud” for their liking, and with friends starting families and buying houses, they started looking, too. After discovering that the lower-price homes on the market all required substantial work, Hale and Edmonds decided to build from the ground up. Hale was immediately thrilled with the idea: As a cofounding principal of SHED Architecture and Design, this was his chance to experiment with a personalized structure and a small budget.

Edmonds embraced the challenge of finding an affordable lot, scouring the Internet for properties priced less than $25,000. When a search unearthed one adjacent to a park on Lake Washington, she called the realtor immediately. The agent was initially brash, scoffing at the idea that anyone would be interested in the lot—but he wasn’t entirely without reason: The parcel was practically inaccessible. It was situated 20 feet beyond where the road dead-ended at a curb and lay another 20 feet below street grade. The plot lacked municipal hookups and plummeted down the hill at a 50-percent slope. But the neighboring property had caught Edmonds’s eye: Just beyond the steep pitch was the P-Patch community garden in which she and Hale had been growing salad greens for years. “We’d carry a trowel and bike over from our old apartment,” Edmonds remembers fondly. “It was our escape.”

Little girl hanging out by the wood staircase
Just inside, Pippa, one half of the ever-entertaining twins, goofs around on the stairs leading from the entrance to the main floor and the bedrooms below.

Today, their home floats at the edge of the wooded park, nestled among the boughs and branches. Anchored upon 11 piers, it’s clad in colored strips of asphalt roll roofing, an affordable siding alternative that Hale chose to resemble bark. On the east and west sides, decks outfitted with hammocks and swings jut out Swiss Family Robinson–style. Last spring, Edmonds hauled beets from the P-Patch through a living-room window with a bucket and string, and she jokes about installing a zip line from the room directly to their section of the garden.

The Treehouse—despite conjuring romantic notions of a summerlong project—was anything but a single season’s effort. Hale and Edmonds purchased the property in 1999 for $15,000, but it took a decade to move in. First they had to test the soil to make sure the land could hold foundation piers (their only building option, since excavation was beyond their budget). Then, “we just sat on it,” Edmonds says. She moved to Italy in 2002 for a year of Montessori training; Hale joined her for a few months of photography. In 2006, Maisie and Pippa were born. Finally, after years of permitting and pricing—then repricing contractors and materials after the economic meltdown—construction began.

Living room with Akari lamp by Isamu Noguchi
In the living room, an Akari lamp by Isamu Noguchi sits atop a coffee table Hale made and next to a collage of Maisie and Pippa’s paintings. Like most of the furniture in the house, the couch, coffee table, and side table were made by Hale or his close colleagues, often in his favorite material: plywood.

Hale (and Edmonds) quickly realized the downside of designing one’s own home: There’s no one to tell you when to stop. Hale’s flights of fancy took the design from a double-height art space to one including a wood and metal shop. For months, he came home with model after model of the house, each time hoping for an architecture school–like crit from Edmonds who just wanted Hale to pick a design and stick with it. “The hardest part was imposing discipline and coming to grips with reality,” Hale concedes. “I needed to figure out where the rubber met the road and start from there.” The resulting home is tucked quietly away at the end of the street, leaving just the top floor and skylight hutch visible from the road. Though the 1,644 square feet (built for just $162.82 each) are spread over three floors and stilted above the steep hillside, it feels more like a ranch house. “It’s like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian homes: everyone in one main space,” Hale says. In many ways the house does resemble the iconic architect’s small, affordable homes, designed with simple materials, strong connections to the land, and the hope of building a better solution for living.

There’s rarely a moment when a family member is out of sight. The kitchen opens to a deck and the dining room, which anchors the living room on the other side. It’s in this great room (great floor, really) that Maisie and Pippa read Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs together on Hale’s handmade couch, which is outfitted with built-in bookshelves. Hale often works at the dining table—a former banquet table repurposed by a friend—instead of in the loft, which houses his and Edmonds’s desk but has been commandeered by the girls and turned into their arts-and-crafts room.

Maisie Hale’s furniture idea sketchbook
Hale's sketchbook shows working furniture ideas.

The bathroom, a storage closet, and two equally sized bedrooms are located on the lowest level—for now. “The house is exactly the size we want it to be,” Hale says, “though I don’t know if Maisie and Pippa will think that in a few years.” If—or more likely when—the twins outgrow their shared room, the loft is shower- and toilet-ready, built with flexibility in mind to allow the space to be remodeled into an additional bedroom and bath.

“This house is Prentis’s ongoing project,” says Edmonds, adding, “that’s why I say designers shouldn’t live in their own designs.” Hale had hoped to build a bridge from the loft to the living-room roof, but that idea was placed on the backburner due to limited funds. He plans to clad the bedroom walls with plywood, one of his favorite materials for its texture and price tag, but he hasn’t gotten around to it yet. In the kitchen, Hale and Edmonds forewent installing Bosch appliances (though they hope to upgrade later), cashing in on a sale at Ikea that cut the price of the entire kitchen system and appliances to a mere $4,700. Outside, they bid adieu to building a slender driveway guardrail, as it would have required extensive, and thus expensive, testing to meet code. Parts of the house are still scrappy and unfinished—the bedroom doors stand unframed, the powder room pocket door doesn’t close completely—but the family makes do. “It was important that nothing in this house be precious,” Edmonds says. Tick marks running up a wall in the kitchen track Maisie’s and Pippa’s growth; their paintings and artwork are pushpinned directly into the wall.

Thrifted Stendig red curved chairs
Hale found these Stendig chairs from Finland at a junk store in Seattle. He paid $15 per chair.

When the sun begins to set, we gather around the dining table for the meal Edmonds prepared with her two tiny sous-chefs. When Maisie and Pippa start squirming in Edmonds’s arms, it’s time to call it a night. We make our way to the front door, where boots and sneakers spill out of the shoe-storage area. “This entryway is too small,” Hale critiques, “but on the upside, there are no long goodbyes.” Ours isn’t—but it’s clear that Hale, always the designer, is already reworking the space in his mind.
 

 

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