Seattle Home Carefully Blocks Out Neighbors, While Celebrating Natural Surroundings

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By Laura C. Mallonee / Published by Dwell
Melding corrugated metal with Douglas Fir wood, a sustainable home in Seattle brings nature inside while preserving a couple’s privacy.

How does an architect protect clients’ home privacy while also letting in the great outdoors? That’s the question SHED Architecture & Design faced when it began planning a house in Seattle’s Leschi neighborhood for two geologists nearing retirement.

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“Durability drove the selection of metal panels,” Schaer says of the home’s industrial exterior. Manufactured by AEP SPAN from corrugated cladding, it looks like zinc but costs significantly less. It also contrasts nicely with the natural siding and trim. “All of the wood inside and out is Douglas Fir, the predominant wood species in the northwest,” Schaer explains.

"The house is surrounded by, and largely overlooked by, houses on all sides," SHED principal Thomas Schaer explains. "The focus of the design became the development of spaces inside and out that engage the site and surroundings, while retaining a sense of refuge."

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The architects divided the home into separate floors for sleeping, living, and working. Since the house is situated on a hill that slopes 20 feet from top to bottom, there are plenty of stairs. Those pictured above were crafted using wood salvaged from a 100-year-old bungalow that previously stood on the site.

The couple’s new four-story home achieves this by blocking visibility of nearby developments and focusing views instead on the scenic slices of Lake Washington and Mount Rainier that shine through the gaps between them. Now settled into their 2,332-square-foot residence, the residents never have to worry about needing to draw their shades on the majestic beauty of the Pacific Northwest. 

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In the kitchen, a high western window carries the eye past neighboring rooftops to the lush hillside beyond. A wall also extends out to block sight of a neighboring deck. The architects paired custom shelving with slate-gray cabinets by Henrybuilt, cool Basaltina countertops, and white Corian backsplash. The faucet is by Cifial.

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A George Nelson Saucer Pendant hangs over the table. Behind it, a vertical slot window frames a Douglas fir tree while editing out the windows of a nearby town house. “All the openings were composed in direct response to appealing fragments of the site and to avoid relationships that would leave the owners feeling exposed,” Schaer says.

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Exposed fir ceiling beams help muffle acoustics in the living room. With black leather seating, a Knoll Womb Chair and a Rais Rondo stove, the room is comfortable but sophisticated.

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Located on the house’s lower level, the bedroom is bright but soothing. The bed is flanked by custom side tables and covered with a red West Elm duvet.

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Just off the bedroom, a restrained bathroom combines Duravit D-code sinks with Techno by Cifial faucets and a Toto Aquia toilet.

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A patio spins off the northern end of the house’s main level. It fronts “Main Street,” which unwinds from the heart of downtown Seattle into a pedestrian foot path bordered by a woodland. “We went with a low and robust barrier instead of a tall wood fence to preserve views to the park,” Schaer says. The table and benches are by Crate & Barrel.

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The house has a small environmental footprint. SHED built it using advanced framing, a technique that cuts down on the use of lumber by 30 percent. Another benefit of the method is that it prevents heat from escaping the home, making it more energy-efficient. Additionally, the architects installed a high-efficiency boiler that preheats water with rooftop solar panels; a heat recovery ventilation system that efficiently controls the climate; and a rainwater retention tank that conserves water.

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A private terrace overlooks an alleyway on the main floor’s southeastern end. “[The home’s] outdoor spaces are all to varying degrees extensions of interior space,” Schaer says.

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The top floor holds two offices—one for the husband, the other for the wife. Hers opens out onto a small private deck furnished with wire Eames chairs.