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 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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
Builder: Hybrid Assembly
Structural Engineer: Malsam Tsang
Landscape Design: Glenn Takagi
Developer: Hybrid Development
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