Last week, the Wall Street Journal ran a story on this awesome built-from-scratch house in Phinney Ridge. The owners, Aseem Agarwala and Elke Van de Velde, have an awesome blog detailing every bit of the building process, but we desperately wanted to hear more from Seattle's own Chris Pardo -- co-founder of pb elemental and the brains behind the design.
How did Aseem and Elke approach you to work on this house? What were your initial thoughts?
Chris Pardo: Aseem had been following pb on Facebook for a while and was familiar with our work. One day I posted about a prefab project we were working on and its budget. He commented on the post basically saying that he never thought it was possible to build modern in Seattle (including a lot) for under a million [dollars]. We went back and forth in email a bit explaining costs involved and a few days later he and Elke were in our office discussing the type of lot they would like to build on. I'm also a real estate broker so I started a search, guided by Aseem, to find a property that met their requirements in the neighborhood of their choice. We had great luck finding the lots but bad luck getting the sellers to close -- this was in the midst of [a lot of] foreclosures, so even with full-price offers we were getting nowhere.
Finally, searching aerial maps one day, Aseem saw a vacant parcel in Phinney Ridge, looked up the tax payer info, contacted them and a few weeks later was under contract on the property they now live on. When they first came in I was excited by their enthusiasum and their amazing design taste -- it's fantastic having clients who both appreciate and understand design while having individual taste.
Tell us a little bit about the upside-down footprint (with the kitchen and living room on the top floor).
CP: We call it a reverse floor plan and find it to be a great solution on many properties in Seattle. In general Seattle lots are small, [and] have topography (slope) which leads to views, and Seattle is dark. In a reverse floor plan you capitalize on the positives of Seattle while minimizing the negatives. The majority of your awake hours are spent in what we call the public spaces of the home: the kitchen, the living/dining (great room) and usable outdoor space. [You usually spend times in bedrooms] while sleeping and almost always with shades drawn. Having the bedrooms on the lower level helps create a cooler sleeping area (during the two weeks it actually gets warm here), [and] creates spaces that typically have less [of a] view so [they] require smaller windows, which in turn creates darker spaces more fitting to sleeping.
Upper level living level capitalizes on light and privacy (when the living level is on the street, even though you may have large windows, shades are always drawn to create privacy) -- typically you can design privacy into a reverse plan with minimal or no window covering ([which also increases the] light). Additional benefits are capturing views and access to a roof deck that offers private, usable outdoor space within a stone's throw of your kitchen. We find roof decks are used more substantially when they're located just one level above the living level.
Was the small lot challenging, or did you have an idea in mind already?
CP: The lot was challenging in many aspects. [With] a small lot it's always a challenge to maintain light and privacy while maintaining an aesthetically pleasing design, but there were additional challenges. An access easement through the front third of the property made a[n already] small property postage-stamp size -- this challenge helped guide some of the thinking through design development. The upper cantilever gives [access over the driveway], just slightly above the [height] requirements for a fire truck. This allowed us to gain living space while orienting the home towards the view. The third challenge was topography -- the site is very steep, and the program needed to relate to the flow of the home. We were limited on access points and our overall buildable area.
What's your favorite aspect of the house?
CP: My favorite part of the design is the combination of the white metal panel skin wrapping the glass stair enclosure. This move really accentuated the movement occurring not only in the exterior form of the home but in how it functions as a whole, diffining the entry and egress route.