Pacific Northwest | March 14, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineMarch 14, home
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· Savvy in Four Stories
· A Contemporary with Character
· More AIA homes


A Contemporary with Character: clever use of the site and a few surprises break the cookie-cutter chain
AIA Home of the Year

· Savvy in Four Stories AIA Home of the Year
· More AIA homes
· About the judging
WITH UNDEVELOPED in-city lots getting harder and harder to come by, homeowners and architects are increasingly seeing older homes as the best path to a contemporary new one. Such was the case with two vintage Seattle homes. Each posed very different challenges, but the results were so positive they both have been honored as Seattle Times/AIA Home of the Year winners. And neither has a garage!

The rear of the home reveals the living and dining areas — and a small sculpture on the floor.
"WE'RE A 'WALK-into-the-store-and-buy-it-off-the-shelf' society," architect Tim Carlander is saying. "The effort to try to do something custom and pull it off is hard."

But in Carlander's case, worth it, for he and his partner Bill Vandeventer's hard work — to turn the challenges of a cramped lot and tight budget into a sleek, in-city aerie — have won these architects one of two Home of the Year kudos.

Their winning design is near Lake Washington in Seattle's Leschi neighborhood, on a block of historic, tree-sheltered older homes.

And right there comes the first challenge Vandeventer+Carlander Architects faced. Previously on the site was a charming 1903 home whose beauty, alas, was only veneer deep. It was owned by the same young couple who own the present house, and their first thought, the wife says, was to remodel the old charmer. (The couple prefers to remain anonymous.)

So they hired Vandeventer+Carlander to draw up the plans, gasped at the cost to do that right, and finally decided the day the one millionth weird old-house problem surfaced that, in the wife's words, "This house is coming down!"
A view from the dining area shows the entry hall with its blackened-steel floor leading down to the rear of the house, where the main entertaining spaces are. To the left , seen through the door leading to a secluded patio, is a partial view of the kitchen.
Calming down, she rationalized, "It was too expensive to save, really," and plans for a new house were born. Not that going that route is cheap. As Carlander says, custom architecture by its very nature "is expensive, and the dollars can rise very quickly. The biggest challenge was meeting the budget, given not only the size of the house, a touch over 3,000 square feet, but to get it built with the quality of construction that was important to our work. It was hard."

The construction cost, excluding land, came to about $700,000. "This is a stretch, definitely," the wife says. "We'll be paying it off for years to come."

Given the historic character of the neighborhood, the easy choice would have been to replace the old house with a new old house. But listening to their architects, the couple became convinced it made no sense to build an early-21st-century house "that looked like it was built in 1923, especially when you can't afford the detailing," she says.

Even more, they fell in love with their architects' plan for a chic, modern, four-level home full of surprising treats. There are the three ultraprivate roof decks that capture new views of Lake Washington and the Cascade Mountains. There's the way lattice work detailing the home's south-facing, mostly glass side lets in light in the winter, yet shades and cools living spaces in the summer. And there's the entry, whose fabricated steel floor is flush with the kitchen counters. How possibly can that be?
A view from one of three roof decks shows a home office. The decks offer privacy plus a view of Lake Washington.
Let's mentally enter the house and find out. Just inside the front door is a short entry hallway. To one side is an opening in the wall showing the sunken kitchen. It's reached by descending a short staircase whose seven steps also lead to a spacious living/dining area. This short drop in elevation accommodates the slope of the long, narrow lot and allows the entry's 8-foot ceilings to become 11 feet in the entertaining areas. A row of steel columns is both a design statement and the reason this house can support floor-to-ceiling living-room windows.

Atop this floor is another, containing three bedrooms, and another, containing an office and the roof decks. There's also a basement. But surprise, no garage. Since this house is a block from a major bus line (and quaint neighborhood shopping area), the need for one was reduced.

Architect James Castanes, one of the Home of the Year judges, promoted this house for the award because "it really is an artful statement on the site — and a slap in the face to many of the Eastside cookie-cutter homes that you don't have to have that. It's everything architecture should be as it responds to its surroundings."

Elizabeth Rhodes covers residential real estate for The Seattle Times Home/Real Estate section. Her e-mail address is

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