A Blissful Retreat Replaces a Scrap-Filled Yard in Seattle

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By Ian Spula / Published by Dwell
An architect couple sets out to transform a run-down property.

For Seattle architects Matt Wittman and Jody Estes, the slow road to upsizing really paid off. Facing rising housing costs downtown, they traded an apartment for a small house in a gritty neighborhood, sensing promise in a deep, skinny lot with a scrap-filled yard. A few years later, enough resources had been marshaled to append a modern studio. The cottage and addition are sharp stylistic contrasts, but an elegant courtyard and a careful material transition mediates and harmonizes.

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The studio addition is part of a revamp that unifies buildings, canopies, and the courtyard. It was a three-year job for architect-owners Matt Wittman and Jody Estes, with many materials opportunistically salvaged.

"The project has an eclectic feel because it evolved over time," says Wittman. "And the scale was such that we didn’t have to favor any one source for materials."

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Steel pipe columns and wood beams were recycled from a 1960s church carport; the old-growth fir sliding screens, fence, and gate originate from a heavy timber warehouse in Pioneer Square; the aluminum-and-glass garage door is reclaimed from a downtown condo conversion; and the studio’s shelving and track lighting is courtesy of workstations from another downtown building.

Constructing a carport was the first major commitment, followed by wood, bamboo, and concrete block perimeter walls and green screens.

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Inside the studio, sliding fir screens hide storage, utilities, and a bathroom. The ceiling and wall panels are plywood, the floor is radiant heated concrete. An Eames lounge chair from Herman Miller mingles with an IKEA sofa.

Wittman and Estes named their creation Grasshopper Studio for the lightness it exhibits in wood and glass and the subtle strength of steel pipe legs that bear the vertical load. "I feel it might just get up and hop away," says Wittman.

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The glazed envelope and overhang of the new studio puts the material collage on full display. It is designed in the Miesian pavilion tradition, a study in planes and columns. A crushed stone perimeter fills in the carport and steps to the courtyard. Wittman explains: “We wanted to continue the blurring of Japanese landscape design with modernists like Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright.”

 

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A covered walkway provides a sheltered passage between the main house and studio. The fire pit is used during social gatherings.

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The courtyard is sunken because of the existing grade. The Albezia shade tree was planted when the outdoor area was still scrap yard, an “act of hope and faith in the future,” says Wittman.

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Carport doors swing open to the alley outside of the studio, where the property extends enough for additional landscaping. The corrugated steel siding comes from a surplus from a nearby apartment building. “There’s a lot of urban infill potential in Seattle’s neighborhoods,” Wittman remarks. “We’re catching up to older, denser cities in this regard.”