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Seattle house styles - an unofficial tour

Nine house styles that call Seattle home

As if sorting through the housing listings wasn’t hard enough, there are more than enough styles of homes to pick from. Or not. If style didn’t matter, if we were all the same, then one style will be everyone’s solution. Welcome to the Seattle area where there are dozens of styles, and styles within styles. (By the way, if you want official definitions of these, go check with an architect. This is just something to get you started.)



The original house for many frontier families, built from logs, because there weren’t time or tools to turn them into lumber; and built small to meet the needs and leave the wants until later. A steep roof shed rain and snow. A covered porch meant a dry place to work. Heat and cook by burning wood, in a fireplace at least, in a wood stove at best. Running water and electricity showed up eventually. Now, they’ve grown into lodges ten times the original size.


Bungalows and Cottages

Whether as starter homes, vacation escapes, or something just right for a minimalist, bungalows and cottages are typically tiny and frequently cute. They’re easy to picture with flower gardens wrapped around them, maybe by the beach, with a bit of ornamentation. Nothing fancy, well, sometimes. If they have an upper story, its probably in an attic. Watch your head. Many of them popped up as people moved to Seattle during whichever boom you have in mind. In some regards, the ADU is the modern version. More services in urban areas, smaller families, and electronic lives make it easier to live smaller.


Houseboats and Floating Homes

We’ve got water, lots of it. Land’s frequently been an issue. First, it was covered with enormous trees. Now, it’s covered with neighborhood after neighborhood. One answer, take a cottage and build it on floats instead of a foundation. Want to make it even simpler? Buy a boat and live on it. Want a compromise? Build a boat that floats well, lives well, but probably only sails a few times in its life. They started small, but as Seattle becomes richer, more famous, and denser, floating homes become floating mansions.



A Craftsman sounds like a house that was built by a craftsman for a craftsman. Even when they’re small, they are known for displaying arts and crafts in as many aspects as possible without ostentation. Typically wooden, the woodwork is emphasized in the trim around the peaked roof, and columns on modest but useful porches. A fireplace bracketed by built-in shelves, maybe with some art niches, leaded glass, and a tasteful mantel fit the stereotype. The style is so appealing that Craftsmans are being built that no craftsman can afford, but can earn a lot by building them.


Ranches and Ramblers

Simple and effective, Ranches and Ramblers became popular after World War Two. One floor, maybe with a basement on a flat lot, maybe with a daylight basement on a sloped lot, a moderate pitched roof, they were typically larger than the bungalows. As families grew, that became an issue. Nice rectangles are easy to work with. Extend it a bit and create room for a one-car, then two-car garage. Carpeting becomes more common, even covering up hardwood floors. Build around modern appliances (of the time) and have lots of leisure time. Right?



A house named by where it sits in time can become iconic, but Midcentury will inevitably have to be renamed because we’re getting closer to the middle of this century. Thanks to the Baby Boom, a booming economy, new materials and construction techniques, and a more urban or suburban lifestyle, the Midcentury was born. A bigger family means a bigger house A roof could be shallower and still shed the weather. That may eliminate the attic, but open up the space for taller ceilings laced with exposed beams. Big windows are available, so floor-to-ceiling is more likely to happen. Open floor plans become more popular, maybe just to let the kids run around.


Northwest Contemporary

NW Contemporary is like the Midcentury, but emphasizes wood inside and out, and may even sit so close to the forest that it’s hard to see the house for the trees. The roof could be steep or shallow, but the expanses of windows remain. Sizes grew, too; just like the economy. More economical heating (at least for a while) meant even taller ceilings were manageable. Volume ruled. Being in the Northwest, however, also means more likely to be unconventional so there’s a great variety within the style. Some embody simple elegance in a Northwest style that they have aged well. Dealing with light bulbs near the rafters also means tall ladders and negotiating with spiders.


Split and Tri Levels

Want to fit more people onto a smaller lot? Start adding stories. Split the entrance. Formal spaces upstairs. Kids and the family room downstairs. Make sure there’s a door between the two to keep the noise down. Put the master over the garage, and the parents get more quiet time. Put the living room over the family room, and all the noise ends up at one end of the house. There’s room left outdoors, so tell the kids to go play outside.



Get real. The world has changed. We can use any material in any shape, and built it to be more efficient, resilient, and better for the environment while also being more comfortable. Metal, glass, concrete, something new next week, use them in combination and create a house that defies description; except that it isn’t like anything listed above. Given all of that opportunity, Modern houses tend to be angular stacks of boxes, maybe with each room defined by a different siding, giving each its own character. Leave the top box with a flat roof and there’s room for a private deck that has the best chance for a view, too. Inside, every appliance is getting smarter, is more likely to guess what you want, to talk back, and might already be ready for an upgrade. The irony, each of the styles listed above was Modern in its day.

Other Styles

Whether through nostalgia or a desire to be so unconventional as to be conventional, there are many other styles in the area: Tudor, Victorian, Foursquare, Georgian, Mediterranean, etc. They all have their histories and advantages - and will have to wait for their own post.