Pacific Northwest | October 12, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineOctober 12, home
Home delivery
Search archive
Contact us
Hood Canal
West Seattle
Lopez Island
Central Seattle
Vashon Island

Fall Home Design

City slick: Handsome, spare and smart, a practical answer to the urban squeeze
The large, open main room has 15-foot-high ceilings and a casual elegance. "The spaces we love are pure and simple, without much programming," says owner Annie Han. The kitchen has two half-size refrigerators, which are hidden in the island. Avoiding a tall refrigerator "makes the room much larger, and allows the wall to be a wall," according to Han. The landing of the welded-steel staircase provides the perfect place for architectural books.
WHEN ANNIE Han and Daniel Mihalyo, the two halves of a young design firm and a domestic partnership, were rudely pushed from their Pioneer Square live/work situation, they looked to affordable downtown Tacoma for their next urban location.

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.
The geometric street façade is striking, with an asymmetric roof peak and two round windows. Understated color and a large setback help temper the bunker-like effect of concrete. The upper fašade is clad with 2-by-10-foot sheet-steel "shingles."
The central feature is the main room, 20 feet by 30 feet, with a ceiling so high you could stilt walk under it with room to spare. "We're attracted to simple volumes," says Han. "I love seeing space and light." Kitchen, eating and living room are all incorporated into this large cube.

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.
The round windows, a last-minute design decision, add much distinction and frame the view of downtown. The little table is made from recycled materials.
Their preference for commercial materials made concrete a natural choice for the main structural element. It offered both strength and a rough-and-ready aesthetic. By having the subcontractors install the concrete forms horizontally, they created distinct banding on the interior walls. It's another example of basic components left in plain sight and put to work for additional functions.

"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.
The architect owners embraced large, simple volumes and cost-effective materials such as concrete, painted wood for the stairs and metal for the kitchen countertops at left. "We didn't want to be traditional house owners," they explain. Niches and paint refine the concrete walls.
Furnishings throughout the house are minimal, and feature industrial found objects that are a natural complement to the building materials. A metal antique surveyor's tripod gracefully cradles a plant. A surplus Boeing box of plywood stenciled "Flight Deck Kit" is used for storing bedding.

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 Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

Today Archive

Advanced search

advertising home
Home delivery | Contact us | Search archive | Site map | Low-graphic
NWclassifieds | NWsource | Advertising info | The Seattle Times Company


Back to topBack to top