Renowned Pacific Northwest architect Gene Zema, known for his mix of modernism and Japanese architecture, designed this house around 1974 towards the end of his career. It features a rich palette of woods and Japanese joinery visible throughout the home. Located outside Seattle on Bainbridge Island, the house had decayed over the years and suffered from constant roof leaks. The clients, a family, brought in SHED Architecture & Design for minor fixes but the project expanded to an overhaul and revitalization that included the rebuilding of the house’s central living space, the reorganization of the kitchen, and a new outdoor deck.

Zach Edelson uploaded Zema Redux through Add A Home.
Add your own project for the chance to be featured in Editor’s Picks.

Nestled in a grove of Douglas fir trees, the house stands on series of wooden pylons in a Japanese-inspired fashion. Residents ascend the stairs, center, to reach its single floor. The exterior wooden shingles were intact and are original to the design.

The building’s character is defined by the texture and color of its exposed wood. The clients wished to maintain this unique design feature and the architects worked extensively to repair and maintain the original ebony hues. The oak floors were refinished. The dark brown beams and columns are stained fir; they only required repairs on the exterior. The ceiling is cedar.

The kitchen was originally an awkward alcove facing the main living area. The architects expanded the room and installed a classic modernist ‘service core’ at the kitchen’s center; it features large appliances such as a Sub-Zero fridge and an Asko washer/dryer. This allows easy movement through the kitchen to the adjacent dining room and main hallways.

The light fixtures, a string of dangling lights seen above the dining table, emulate what SHED Architects principal Thomas Schaer calls Zema’s “builderly” style: straightforward and unpretentious. The wooden screens, seen top right, are all-new to the house but follow Zema’s Japanese-inspired style.

The dining room table previously had an awkward placement around a column. For a more efficient solution, the architects simply embedded the table in the column, using carefully selected wooden supports that would match existing tones.

The dining room opens up to the new concrete hearth. Old plans indicate this area was originally intended to be an open courtyard, however, the original clients enclosed it with a leaky glass canopy. The architects installed a new sloped roof that quickly channels away rainfall. The fireplace is composed of brick salvaged from the original floor and the new concrete floor features increased insulation.

The sloped roof has the added advantage of looking onto the surrounding trees. A large television is concealed behind the wooden panel adjacent to the fireplace. A sleeping loft, seen at right, became possible when the old laundry room was eliminated.

In a sophisticated main bathroom in Seattle, sea-green concrete floor tiles with a geometric pattern provide a lawn of color against wood walls and white tile. The paper lanterns are also a clear homage to the building’s Japanese inspirations.

The brass fittings are new to the project but are similar to metal that was originally used elsewhere in the project. The fittings, seen here in the children’s bathroom, will quickly acquire a dark patina.

The architects added an extended deck that creates an opportunity for gatherings. It also smoothly transitions the interior level, which hovers above the ground on pylons, back to the earth. Steel columns were specially implemented so the clients could string lights over the deck. A fire-pit is now located in front of these steps.



  • House (Single Residence)
  • Style
  • Modern