When is a one-bedroom condo more than its modest floor plan? When its owners—in this case, architect Hank Butitta and artist Nell Nordlie—have customized the space with built-in furniture, hidden storage, artisan lighting, and pops of colorful patterned tile. It’s also telling that Hank and Nell, even as they plan their new home, are reluctant to leave.
"Hank teases me, because I said I’m going to live here the rest of my life in this tiny condo in Fremont," Nell says. "I love it so much."
Back in Minneapolis, before the couple got together and relocated to Seattle in 2016, Hank converted a school bus into a tiny house for his master’s thesis at the University of Minnesota—and the experience provided useful lessons.
"That was my intro to ‘How do you make the most out of small spaces,’" Hank says. "There’s actually kind of a progression from the bus to this project, where we self-renovated a bland and compact condo into a midcentury-inspired urban retreat filled with art and furniture that we designed and built specifically for the space."
The 512-square-foot condo is located on the second floor of a 10-unit, late-1980s residential building in Seattle’s bohemian, if gentrifying, Fremont district. There’s a view out to nearby Lake Union through the trees, and an even better vantage point from the building’s shared rooftop patio. "It’s just kind of tucked in the perfect spot," Hank says.
Before they decided to make an offer on the condo six years ago, its lack of storage space gave the couple pause. So they went through a design exercise to make sure it could work for them. "We did a SketchUp model of how everything was going to lay out, so we’d know if we could fit everything we need to survive in this small space," says Hank.
The condo’s real estate listing details their additions—the list of "custom built-in furniture includes the entry closet, pantry, ceiling-height bookshelf, large corner couch with storage, large desk with drawers, floating shelves, bureau, bedside table with large drawers, queen bed platform with storage, closet organizers, and laundry nook. This means the unit comes almost fully furnished with a sleek, modern interior."
In still photos, it’s hard to do all that hidden storage justice—which is why the couple created an animated GIF to show all the kitchen, living room, and bedroom compartments opening up, almost like a series of secret doors in a mystery novel. The pieces are more than practical—they’re a delight to witness in action.
The couple collaborated closely on the entire renovation, with Hank fabricating the wood pieces at a local shop and Nell creating the textiles.
As the fabrication manager for Seattle firm LMN Architects, Hank has worked on large-scale projects like the Seattle Aquarium and the Washington State Convention Center expansion—so he’s used to working with high-performance custom materials.
Nell is a visual artist, a graphic designer, and an Etsy veteran with a love of the handmade. Her pursuits range from quilting to collage (numerous works hang on the condo’s walls in these photos), and she’s also a nanny who loves taking care of people.
When they’re not working or pursuing home-improvement projects, the couple volunteer for Sawhorse Revolution—they pitched in on the nonprofit’s Estelita’s Library community space.
The apartment’s ambiance occupies a sweet spot between their sensibilities. "Sometimes, when people who do different things come together in a cool way, there’s more range in what they’re able to make," Nell says. "We also want our designs to be an act of care."
Of special significance are the glass pendant lights in condo’s living room, kitchen, and bedroom. Each comes from Minnesota’s Hennepin Made studio, where Hank used to work making lighting molds. "They’re really special to me, personally, because my friends made them—and I helped too."
The couple won’t give away the lights, but they hope the next owner will want them. "It definitely feels like an extension of us," Nell says. "There are a few things that we’re willing to leave behind."
The condo’s bathroom and kitchen draw the eye with walls of Heath Ceramics handmade tile. At first, Hank resisted the extra cost outlay, "but Nell was like, ‘No, handmade tile is really important. This is a featured piece,’" he recalls.
"The tile became the first thing everyone comments on," Hank says. "So when it came time to redo the bathroom, I said, ‘We need more of that tile for the shower surround—and she’s like, ‘I could care less about the bathroom.’ So then I was the one going, ‘We’ve got to have it.’" The couple even decided on open cabinetry for the kitchen, to give the tile more space to shine.
Nell and Hank are about to embark on a new adventure, having bought a vacant lot north of Seattle with much more square footage that will allow the couple to each have their own studio, and enable Nell to eventually take care of her younger brother, who is disabled.
Yet even as they exit, the couple are still fine-tuning their longtime home. "It’s all about taking care," Nell says. "I’m proud to be a nanny because caregivers hold everything together. Taking care of people, and community, and home—it’s all the same to me."
952 North 35 Street #202 in Seattle is being offered by Andrew Hafzalla & Maria Torres of Kelly Right Real Estate for $420,000
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