A Seattle Backyard Becomes a Calm Oasis For Two Book Lovers

Tucked behind a Seattle home, this beautiful backyard reading retreat of glass, timber, and tile offers an idyllic escape from city life.
Text by

Once rendered unusable by a thicket of overgrown plants, a Montlake backyard belonging to bookstore owners Danielle and David Hulton has been transformed into a modern reading retreat, perfectly crafted for curling up in with a book.

"Before the project came to be, it was hard to visualize how much space there was hidden under all the vegetation," says local design firm Board & Vellum, who was tapped by the homeowners to renovate the backyard with a new structure and landscaping.

Blue-painted cedar siding wraps around the 169-square-foot Backyard Reading Retreat. The smaller wooden shed hidden in the rear houses a prefab dry sauna.

Concrete pavers line the new hardscape, which steps up to a deck built of ipe wood. Ipe wood has also been used for the built-in benches and fencing.

"For inspiration to launch the project, the homeowners envisioned a ‘found shed’ with a modern twist, featuring plenty of glass to help blend the spaces," adds the firm. "Everything in the shed would be meaningful and have a purpose, and every framed view—both from within and without—would be intentional."

Walls of glass and large skylights flood the interior with light, and frame views of the outdoors. The windows are from Windorco Supply, Inc.

Shop the Look
She Sheds: A Room of Your Own
Create your very own hideaway for relaxing, crafting, reading, or just to have a private place just for you. She Sheds provides the instruction and inspiration.  They've got their man caves, and it's time for you to have a space of your own.

The gray-blue siding continues from the exterior to the interior to reinforce the seamless indoor-outdoor experience. The Callen chair and ottoman are from Room and Board.

Thanks to full-height glazing and carefully framed views, the Backyard Reading Retreat feels much larger than its 169-square-foot size lets on. Sliding glass doors seamlessly connect the interior to an outdoor patio with built-in bench seating, a hot tub, and a fire pit.

"The homeowners hoped to transform their lot into a unified, beautiful, indoor-outdoor oasis linking their home, yard, and a new backyard shed in a designed experience where every detail would come together to compose the many smaller sub-spaces into an integrated whole," notes the design firm.

Though the tiny retreat—permitted as a shed—was primarily designed as a reading space, it can also be used as a guest suite, or for entertaining.

Accessed via collapsible ladder, the 58-square-foot loft bedroom with a queen mattress is located beneath an angled tongue-and-groove cedar ceiling that's painted white and punctuated by a large skylight. The floor is wool carpet.

Since the backyard borders a neighbor’s massive Atlas Cedar—designated an "exceptional tree" by the city due to its size—the project’s building footprint was limited by the tree’s dripline. 

To emphasize the project’s site-specific layout, the firm turned the site constraint into a design feature that informs the curved forms of the landscape elements.

"The graceful ovoid arcs through the site, and the wood deck, concrete pavers, and a custom-fabricated steel planter all curve as they meet the line," explain the designers. "The shed itself tucks into the arc by only a very specific amount, a glowing anchor point in the yard."

"Even those who adore city life need a place to unwind away from the bustle," say the designers. 

An abundance of shelving offers plenty of storage for the couple's books and knickknacks. The wallpapered ceiling, which hides cracks in the drywall and speakers, is Flashdance in Gray Matters.

"It certainly doesn’t hurt to relax alone with a good book in a backyard reading retreat, or to hang out with friends and family around a fire pit, or with a dip in the hot tub. This urban oasis—though small in size—offers space to satisfy all those needs: the introverted and extroverted." 

A built-in seat by the large window is the perfect place to curl up with a book. Mosa tiles from United Tile were used for the floors, and include built-in radiant heating.

The entrance to the bathroom is tucked between two bookshelves.

Fire Clay Hexite tile covers the bathroom walls. The countertop is Pental Quartz.

Mullioned doors separate the vanity from the indoor shower. La Cantina Sea Foam Green doors (not pictured) connect the indoor shower to one outside.

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Board & Vellum / Jeffrey Pelletier

Builder/General Contractor: Proform Builds / Joey Fentress and Jasun Sherman

Structural Engineer: Bykonen Carter Quinn / Tom Bykonen and Kyriakos Moroseos

Landscape Design: Board & Vellum / Derek Reeves

Architectural Design: Board & Vellum / Ryan Adanalian

Interior Design: Board & Vellum / Katie Mallory

Cabinet Maker Sub-consultant: Architectural Cabinets, Inc.

Other: Geo Resources / Dana Biggerstaff, PE

Other: Boiler Room / Kevin Names (Steel work)

Where to Stay in Seattle


Last Updated


Get the Dwell Newsletter

Be the first to see our latest home tours, design news, and more.