Nothing worth doing is easy, right? Well, the limitations of this Seattle infill site would daunt most mortals: The steep urban lot is deemed a “critical area” in danger of mudslides. Its southern exposures—crucial to passive-solar benefits—face a freeway. And its stringent setback requirements trimmed the buildable envelope to 70 feet deep but only 18 feet wide. Nonetheless, within these parameters, designer, developer, builder, and homeowner Sean Bell managed to insert a sustainable, kitchen-centric, open floor plan without making his family's new home “feel like a bowling alley.”
Sixteen concrete piles driven 30 feet into the ground anchor the house firmly to its hill. Active energy-saving measures (including a tankless hot water heater, radiant heating, and energy-efficient lighting) help make up for the lack of southern exposure. The open floor plan allows natural light to pass unimpeded through the space.
Although Bell designed the kitchen, dining, and living areas as one big room, he orchestrated circulation to mitigate the elongated plan. A poplar wood screen shields the entry from direct view while providing support for stair risers as well as texture to the long expanses of wall. Twin kitchen islands with raised eating bars add vertical and horizontal layers. Imaginative use of cabinetry enlivens the galley kitchen. Hanging from glulam beams, one bank of cabinets has open storage below for a change in depth. Matching sliding doors flank the cabinets to help define the kitchen area. Behind one door is a pantry plus step-in phone nook with space for small appliances; behind the other is a coat closet.
The kitchen and adjoining living and dining areas appear warm and welcoming, thanks to materials chosen for aesthetic as well as environmental reasons. Poplar and virola woods for the cabinets and walls are fast-growing and responsibly harvested. Stainless steel on the countertops and island backs is recyclable, as are the lightweight concrete floors. A touch of mahogany for the island counters stands up to water and everyday wear and tear. Natural finishes used throughout reduce off-gassing. “I try not to paint anything,” Bell says. “Most materials have an inherent beauty that you don't need to cover.”
designer/general contractor: 360 Design Studio, Seattle