clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Seattle's Architectural History Comes Back to The Box

The Satterlee House in West Seattle, built in 1910.
The Satterlee House in West Seattle, built in 1910.


Ask someone to describe THE architectural style that defines Seattle and you'll probably get a dozen answers. Maybe more. Victorian, Tudor, Craftsman, Dutch Colonial, Mid-century, Northwest Contemporary, Modern...you could find enough examples of all of them. As the Curbed Network takes a look at architectural styles that define their specific city and region, we thought we might zero in on a style so specific that it's literally got Seattle in the name: The Seattle Box. It's not the prettiest but, dammit, it's ours.

So what is a Seattle box house and how do you spot one? It's fairly easy, really. This local subset of the foursquare home was all the rage in the early 20th century as Seattle was starting to come into it's own. Seattle box houses are almost always two-to-three-story single family homes with four main rooms (kitchen, living room, dining room and entrance hallway) on the first floor and three-to-four bedrooms on the second floor. The external giveaway? Extended bay windows on the second floor that sit over the facade, low angle hipped roofs and prominent dormer windows. Also, the front entrance is usually askew to the left or right of the massive front porch, but almost never centered.


A Seattle box with prominent second floor brackets and ornamental windows at 1514 Fourth Avenue N in Queen Anne [Joe Mabel]

Seattle boxes usually contain elements of other popular architectural styles of their day. You'll probably find a lots of details from Arts and Crafts, Prairie, Tudor, Victorian and Mission styles.

You can thanks architect Victor W. Voorhees for the popularity of the design. As Seattle expanded rapidly between 1900 and 1940, the simple design made life easier for builders. If they make you think of Capitol Hill, that's not a mistake. Entire stretches of the neighborhood were built with almost nothing but Boxes.


Seattle Box at 1017 23rd Avenue E in Capitol Hill [Joe Mabel]

Seattle eventually started downsizing and stylizing, but as happens with so many things, the style has come back around in recent years. The easy, familiar design made sense for developers looking to remake Central District in 2005 and you can find altered, multi-family versions popping up across South Seattle.


Craftsman revival homes built in 2005 in Seattle's Central District incorporating several architectural elements of the classic Seattle box. [Joe Mabel]

A pretty stunning example of the Seattle Box that's on the market is the Satterlee House currently for sale at 4866 Beach Dr SW in West Seattle. Situated on a landscaped acre with a gazebo and frog pond out front, this 1910 beauty has stood the test of time. Although there's some work to be done inside, the bones are still in place to revive what has already been named a historical landmark, one of only two in West Seattle. No wonder it's asking $1.075M.
· Seattle box [Wikipedia]
· Housebuilding in Seattle: A History [HL]
· 4866 Beach Dr SW [Estately]