A Seattle Home Perched High in the Treetops Transforms With Movable Walls

A Seattle Home Perched High in the Treetops Transforms With Movable Walls

By Melissa Dalton
In The Lookout, Hybrid Architecture inverts the floor plan of a typical home to best take advantage of a sloped site.

Having lived in the Central District of Seattle for years, Robert Humble is well acquainted with its walkable streets and easy access to downtown businesses. He’s also gotten a close-up view of how the neighborhood has changed over time. "The area has really seen a lot of gentrification over the years, and a lot of townhouses that were just slapped up by developers with really no design aspirations whatsoever," says Humble. "We felt like this was an opportunity to demonstrate that you could do a high-quality infill project."

Humble is the founding partner and design principal of Hybrid, a collaborative, multidisciplinary firm that specializes in urban density. When they acquired this steep, 4,200-square-foot lot bounded by a street and an alley, they swapped out the aging on-site home for a cluster of three gable-roofed townhouses on the street side, and a modest 1,040-square-foot home perched upslope on the alley. 

The Lookout occupies the alley side of the lot. "It’s a white box hovering above all of the visual noise of the alley," says Humble. "We [located] the circulation to that side, and have all of our primary openings facing away from the alley toward the tree."

The homeowners, Claudine and Isaiah, have been living in Seattle for three and a half years, and they moved into their new home this fall. "We were looking for a modern look and feel, with unique characteristics at an affordable price point," says Isaiah. "A lot of new construction and updated homes are either very similar and cookie cutter, or unaffordable."

The firm started by preserving a mature cherry tree on the site, using it to separate the townhouses and the home and provide a shared green space. By positioning the home on the high side of the lot, the firm provided the residence with views over the roofs of the neighbors—and into the tree branches. This elevated approach also inspired the home’s name: The Lookout.

The branches of the cherry tree can be glimpsed through the living room windows.

Hybrid stuck to a simple palette for the home’s finishes. "We chose to expose the roof framing to really add some warmth to the space," says Humble.

In order to best take advantage of The Lookout’s elevated view, Hybrid inverted the floor plan, placing the bedrooms a floor below the shared living spaces, and a deck on the roof. "We almost reversed the typical program of the house. Typically, you’d have your yard, obviously, on the ground and then the living room on the ground," says Humble. "In this case, we put the yard on the roof, and the living room on the upper floor, where it has access to the views and light, which is very important in Seattle."

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The abundance of natural light has been a boon for the homeowners, Claudine and Isaiah. "It’s nice to be able to watch the sun all day—and especially while it’s setting," say the couple. "Even on gloomy days, this space is still awesome because it allows what light there is to peek in." 

The kitchen is efficient and compact, with flat-front cabinetry and Richlite counters.

A ribbon window lines the counter and looks into the trees.

Doing all aspects of a project in-house—from development to design and build—provided the firm with creative freedom. "We’ll test ideas in the market that we feel are undervalued," says Humble. "A lot of our projects have a common theme, with flexible, adaptable spaces that are not being provided or fulfilled in the Seattle housing market right now."

The lower level has a moveable wardrobe wall that divides the main bedroom from the second room.

On the other side of the wardrobe lies an office space.

In The Lookout, flexibility is furnished by a clever moveable closet unit positioned between the bedrooms. The closet is designed to host IKEA’s PAX closet system, so it can be customized to the owners’ needs, and the bottom has vinyl pads that allows it to slide across the floor without friction. 

When moved around, the closet can anchor one large bedroom, or serve as a partition between two rooms. This allows the room sizes to flex as needed—there can be two equally sized bedrooms, or a bigger bedroom and a small office/studio.

The simple material palette extends to the bathroom.

An integrated shelf underscores a large mirror, which makes the room feel larger.

Humble can vouch for this adaptable approach, as it originated in his own house, just five blocks away. "I have that same setup. And over the six, seven years I've lived there, I reconfigured it a couple of times by just moving the wardrobes around," says Humble.

Claudine and Isaiah enjoy the view from the rooftop deck. "A place that provided a sense of serenity was huge for us, especially living in the city and with our busy lifestyle," say the couple. "We wanted a place we can come home to and feel relaxed and at peace."

The three townhouses, named the Shake Shacks, range in size from 1,400 to 1,600 square feet. Each has two bedrooms, one bath, and a flexible space at the ground floor which can be rented out or used as a home office. The gable roof shields a protected deck on one side, and a solar panel array on the other.

"We took some pains to save the tree," says Humble of the mature cherry tree that was preserved in the redevelopment. "We used it to focus all of our new openings."

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