A Tiny Backyard Studio in Seattle Filled With Midcentury Finds

A Tiny Backyard Studio in Seattle Filled With Midcentury Finds

By Zachary Edelson
A petite outbuilding is exactly what a couple needed for their Seattle property.

A couple living in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle—known for its small-town feel and elegant single-family homes—sought to build a studio in their well-cultivated backyard to host their diverse passions: painting, sculpture, vintage furniture, and gardening. Design-build firm First Lamp was brought in to craft a one-room structure—titled the Orchid Studio—that could accommodate these endeavors while serving as a guesthouse in a pinch. As First Lamp principal and partner Kevin Witt says, the key was designing a flexible and simple space that would draw its "richness and success from its surroundings" and the passions of the clients.

The studio occupies the corner of a backyard filled with carefully-tended plants. They positioned the studio at the yard’s far corner, diagonal from the main house’s back door, to create a path through the garden that would engage visitors in landscape.

Working with a limited budget, First Lamp designed and built one principle architectural flourish: exposed Douglas fir rafters that would weather to a brighter red over the years and accent the white siding.

Exposed Douglas fir is usually prohibitively expensive in larger projects but was far more economical in this case: First Lamp could stain the wood themselves in one afternoon, obviating the need for subcontractors. Another small but impactful detail was the tapering cut of the rafters which gives the studio a more dramatic profile.

The architects worked closely with the clients to match the aesthetic of the vintage furniture they collect. The midcentury modern Danish chair, seen right, has been refurbished and reupholstered.

The single main room features ample glazing to provide natural light for cultivation of artistic endeavors. In the words of Witt, the "studio is the anchor for the backyard."

The coffee table, red Memorex video ball TV, and red Mercer candlestick phone are all thrift store finds. The ceiling fan from Modern Fan Company is contemporary, but matches the retro aesthetic.

The floor is polished concrete, chosen for its durability, low-cost, and minimal maintenance. The red fiberglass armchair is from Modernica.

The culmination of the collaboration was the design’s simplicity: a single neutral, durable, versatile volume that can easily host a changing collection of hobbies, art, furniture, and guests.


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