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A dining area with large windows, a table, chairs and multiple framed works of art on the walls.

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Here comes the sun

Shed Architecture & Design renovates a unit in a 1970s condo to bring light into dark, low-ceilinged interiors

Craftsman-style homes dot Seattle’s emerald landscape, and are instantly identifiable by their extended eaves, colorful exteriors, and exquisite artisanship.

The houses have been synonymous with the city for over a century, and were originally designed to provide a streamlined, less-ornate housing option for families moving west in the earlier half of the twentieth century.

But that wasn’t what Pam Austin sought when she set out to find a new home in 2013. Her target neighborhood was just north of downtown in Green Lake—with its eponymous body of water—where she had long lived. But, as a community with mostly single-family dwellings, there were few condos in the neighborhood from which she could choose. Apartments in newer buildings offered small footprints, while ones in renovated older buildings had no personality. Austin was resigned to the fact that she would most likely have to leave the area, until she and her local broker started looking at older unrenovated units.

A living area with two blue chairs, a tan rug, a glass coffee table, and floor to ceiling windows looking out towards a yard with trees.
In the living room, two Petit Plateau lounge chairs by Erik Magnussen for Engelbrechts sits atop a jute Driscoll Robbins rug, with a Cappellini Bong Table between them. The coffee table is from Scandinavian Designs and the Arc Stool is from Ash NYC.

The condo Austin ended up moving into was in a 1972 luxury development, and the apartment had only previously been owned by one woman, who lived there for 40 years. It had never been updated; its fixtures and details were very dated. But Austin found that, after she thought about it, it checked off several boxes: The spaces were relatively large, with a scale akin to a house; it had secure parking and storage for her bike; and the lake was within eyeshot.

“It met every single need—except the ceilings weren’t high enough for my grandfather clock,” Austin says. “So I just sold the clock.”

She decided to live in the condo for a year before making any major changes to the apartment, so she could better figure out how she used the space. In 2014, she was ready, and went looking for someone to orchestrate a gut renovation.

“I knew I wanted [something] contemporary,” Austin says. “I interviewed Prentis and I knew I was going to hire him.” She’s referring to Prentis Hale, a principal at Shed Architecture in Seattle. Hale was excited to take on the project because of its smaller scale and Austin’s excitement about the process.

A living room with a white couch and table in the foreground. In the distance is a white wall with a piece of art hanging on it. There is also a door looking into the kitchen.
A Cassina sofa in the living room. Austin’s office is visible in the background, seen through one of the apartment’s new translucent-glass doors.
Acrylic shelves in the hallway hold mementos from the childhood of Austin’s two sons.

While Austin worked with Hale to redesign every inch of the condo, there were three main aspects of the space that both Hale and Austin were focused on enhancing: creating a perception of higher ceilings in the space, bringing more natural light into the space without adding windows, which wasn’t an option; and revamping the deck, which looked onto Green Lake.

Originally, the apartment’s deck had been closed in with a glass partition to help with sound insulation and weathering issues. Hale felt the deck lacked any real connection to the interiors, and wanted to integrate the two for a more indoor-outdoor living experience.

Austin pushing the full-height, slide-fold door, which opens out onto the condo’s deck.

“We incorporated the deck by inserting a full-height, slide-fold door on the south side,” Hale explains. “That opened up the living room side of the unit to the exterior.” The design team then flipped the orientation of the living room so that looks out toward the lake, added a built-in banquette to create a dining nook in the kitchen, and inserted a smaller hinge door to the deck. That door opens out onto a section of the deck with low-profile furniture, so there are unobstructed views through whichever window Austin might be looking.

Hale rotated the kitchen 90 degrees—the original was a dead-end galley with a bar that faced toward the park—and, with Summers Studio, installed a sleek Siematic system, complemented by marble, stainless-steel appliances and a sculptural stainless-steel hood and backsplash.

“I just fell in love with [the Siematic system],” Austin says. “I’m a really organized person and the attention to detail about storage and how it all worked...I just love that really cleaned-up, not-a-bunch-of-drawers look.”

The kitchen is outfitted with a Siematic system, and complemented by marble, stainless-steel appliances, and a sculptural stainless-steel hood, and backsplash.
“When I entertain, if somebody is sitting in the banquette, you can swivel [a] chair [in the living room] to have a conversation,” Austin says of the home’s newly multi-functional spaces.

There was, of course, still the matter of the apartment’s low ceilings, and attempting to create an illusion of height in the space. “The idea was to make openings in the walls that were full height,” Hale says. “We obviously weren’t going to change the ceiling height of this apartment, but we could play around with one’s perception” with doors and walls “between spaces go full height,” adds Hale.

Bringing natural light into rooms in the home that previously had little was both a challenge and an opportunity. Hale calls this effort an “essential” theme of the project: While it seems like an easy enough request in a standalone home, they weren’t able to add new windows or change the location of existing ones in the apartment. So, Hale and his team designed screen walls made of red oak and translucent glass and placed them throughout the home to create the illusion of natural light in spaces where it hadn’t before reached.

In the master bedroom, Tolomeo wall sconces light the bed, which is fitted with a Room & Board coverlet. An Adjustable Table E1027 by Eileen Gray stands beside the bed.
Austin’s master bathroom, with cabinetry by Beech Tree Woodworks in Olympia, Washington. The flooring is from Mission Stone & Tile.
Austin’s building, in the Green Lake neighborhood of Seattle.

“We made an opening in almost every wall in the apartment, and we put in one of these screen elements that had translucent glass, that had a full height door, and that was detailed to make it look like it was sort of infilling a void in the plan,” he says. They had to “borrow” light in some spaces through adjacent rooms, and added a mirror at the end of the unit’s hallway, near Austin’s bedroom, to reflect light and offer a view of the park. “That brings the outside deep into the apartment,” says Hale.

For the apartment’s decor, Austin worked with interior designer Jennie Gruss, who helped Austin elevate the largely black-and-white color palette with textured furnishings in muted colors. Her choices enhanced the architectural details Hale incorporated, and worked harmoniously to create a sense of peace in the space, Austin says.

“When you have a condo,” says Austin, multifunctionality is key. “I hired two great professionals between Prentice and Jenny. This condo is basically a box, and what they did with this box is pretty amazing.’

For Hale, the hallmark of a successful project is as simple as a client sharing images of the space with him long after it has been completed.

“What has stayed with me the longest, and this is often true, is [if a] client still sends me images of her apartment when the light comes in in spring,” he says. “That usually comes out of the sense that the collaboration worked well and we had a good time.”

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