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Tangletown's FlipFlop House Offers Multi-Family Unit Alternative

Saturday's upcoming "Explore Design" home tour -- put on by the Seattle chapter of the American Institute of Architects -- promises to "challenge the public to re-think how design can impact and influence one of our most personal spaces – the home."

It's exactly what architect Rick Mohler wanted to address in 2002 when he set about designing his home on the Tangletown plot he'd purchased back in 1991. He wanted to take the opportunity to play with the idea of a multi-unit property after Seattle's recent passage of the accessory dwelling unit ordinance.

"It just seemed to me that on a 6100 square-foot in-city corner lot -- with access to transit and that stuff -- more than one household should be able to live on the property," said Mohler, who also serves as an associate professor of architecture at the University of Washington.

The result is his aptly named "FlipFlop House" on 1st Avenue NE, whose design pushes to the boundaries of the lot and defines the outdoor living spaces for each of the two attached dwellings on the property: a 1950-square-foot, three bedroom, two-and-a-half bath unit where Mohler lives with his wife and son, and a 1000-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath rental unit.

The home features diagonally opposed yards and entrances as well as elements that allow for close living while maintaining a high degree of privacy, a concern for many homeowners considering a additional unit. "The number of accessory dwelling units built to date has been really modest, and I do think part of that is, what a lot of people are interested in is -- in terms of single family dwelling -- is some extent of privacy, that you kind of have your own space," said Mohler. "I was particularly interested in this dilemma of people not choosing to do these, and to see if there was a model -- at least for a corner lot -- that would allow you to really provide two dwellings with their own spaces, their own entries; a sense of kind of independently functioning units."

The homes, completed in January 2005, feature identical detailing from a bevy of local companies, including engineered floating bamboo floors by Bamboo Hardwoods and Lindal windows. The open floor plan in the main living area -- with access to an exterior room of the same size -- give the main unit a sleek, modern feel. Stairwells also serve as light-wells, allowing natural light to fill the interior space. And a metal-and panel-siding exterior lends itself to a contemporary take on Craftsman style.

Mohler calls the FlipFlop house the first and only design he'll do for himself. ("You don't have the excuse of, 'Oh, the client wanted that,'" he said.) And he hopes he's given people a glimpse of a new kind of model that could keep Seattle from becoming a place where only millionaires can live.

"We need to come up with innovative strategies to figure out how to increase density in the single-family zones but still maintain the sense and the quality of single-family dwelling," he said. "I think it's absolutely key that we have tenants who are not wealthy -- kids, youngsters kind of getting on their feet -- who can live in the neighborhood. And it makes it more affordable for homeowners as well."

Find out more about the Explore Design home tour and the other homes included here.
· 2013 Explore Design Home Tour [AIA Seattle]