But a Seattle friend said, oh no, don't move there, nobody will ever visit you.
"But it's only 30 minutes away," they said.
"We'll never see you," the friend sadly insisted.
Reluctant to leave friends and culturally rich Seattle, they decided to build despite the daunting financial challenge. They purchased a single-family lot near the Providence campus of Swedish Medical Center in the Central Area, close enough to walk to downtown movies and concerts if they liked. Then they built a loft-style dwelling with commercial materials, concrete and metal, inside and out.
Another loft-style space rests atop the main one, comprising the second floor. This is work space where the couple, both in their mid-30s, design homes, furniture and art as Lead Pencil Studio.
The bedroom and bathroom are shoebox-sized, as befits a "downtown" sensibility that craves open space and is willing to sacrifice to have it.
These private rooms are connected to the main loft by a short, wide staircase descending from the exact middle of the wall. The stairs are meant for sitting on, like an East Coast stoop brought inside. It is a witty example of design giving the bones of the house extra duties, and thus accomplishing more with less.
Ironically, neighbors thought the couple were wealthy, constructing a million-dollar house, according to the rumor. Hardly. Though the metal and glass and confident exterior gave it a rich look, the house was built for under $90,000 (materials, permits and subcontractors). Mihalyo and Han were the contractors, and provided most of the labor, hauling, hammering and welding for seven months. They even rented a small backhoe and excavated the foundation.
"As much as possible, we left material in a raw state. We wanted as few finishes as possible," says Mihalyo. Some painted Sheetrock and a variety of windows help domesticate the feel. But overall, the structure of the house is left visible and made a virtue. Many architects pay homage to this idea, but few so fluently or completely.
In a small home so handsomely spare, you'd hope to find a few pampering details, and these come in the bathroom with a vintage white porcelain tub and iridescent wall tiles. Radiant heat, the natural choice with concrete floors, keeps the spaces toasty warm, another comfort perk.
Is this house for everyone? No. It's tailor-made for those who don't have an expansive budget, but want expansive space, even in a 1,400-square-foot home. Through design imagination, sweat equity and a willingness to accept some trade-offs the bedroom is barely bigger than the bed they built a dynamic, elegantly pragmatic live/work situation close to downtown. Perhaps, then, that sucking sound is not creative talent draining from pricey Seattle to Tacoma, but Tacomans wistfully sighing as they watch Seattleites adapt and thrive.
David Berger is a Seattle-area writer and artist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.
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