Located on a steeply sloped, triangular lot adjacent to Me-Kwa-Mooks Park, this home framed territorial views over Puget Sound – but suffered from several ill-conceived additions and remodels. The clients, former circus performers with an adventurous spirit, contracted SHED Architecture & Design to create a coherent and hyper-efficient hillside home. The design improved access to the home, connecting better to views of the greenbelt and Puget Sound, improving interior flow and putting the home on track to achieve net-zero energy efficiency.
Both clients have lived in Japan, and enjoy both traditional and contemporary design elements from the concept of the tea room to Studio Ghibli to contemporary Japanese architecture. They sought a balance of old and new, crafted and minimal. Both had been professional circus performers, bearing an affinity for open, dynamic spaces. While the existing house contained the rooms they needed, the space was fragmented, compromised by successive remodels and not taking sufficient advantage of their surroundings.
The design solution coalesced around the idea of the ‘big top,’ the main tent of a circus. The solution was informed by designing around the central hearth and by reducing the jumbled exterior form of the house into two integrally linked volumes. Figuratively, the centrally located hearth served as the mast that pushed up a gable roof tent to create a large lofted space. Taking the analogy further, this tent sheltered three rings of program-dining room, living room and music room-under one big roof. Each space was organized around the hearth and corner windows that opened them to their immediate surroundings. The master suite sits in the upper atmosphere of the big top. In the office loft, one sits looking down over the three rings below and out to the forest and sea, the orange flue of the hearth expressed as the mast supporting the tent. Down the hall is a Japanese-inspired bedroom replete with tatami nook and Japanese soaking tub. Life as a three-ring circus!
On the exterior, the form of the house was distilled down into two intersecting forms-a metal volume and a wood volume. The intersection of the two occurs around the central hearth of the big top whose orange flue pins the two disparate forms together. Where they meet, metal-clad walls are pushed up to support the roof. A large, west-facing deck further stitches the wood and metal forms together, providing a social space to take in territorial views and connection to terraced gardens facing the forested park at the rear of the house.
A particular design challenge was posed by the entry sequence. Once a path without structure or clear organization, the entry was redeveloped as a sequence of interconnected spaces that brings a visitor from the street to the main level clearly, and with moments of movement and rest. At the street, an orange steel plate defines the first landing and start of the journey up the circular stair. At the top of the stair, one pauses before the next sequence of steps that arrive at a covered exterior bench where one can rest and enjoy the view. To create a sense of arrival within the home, a genkan (a traditional Japanese entry area) was located inside the front door with a bench and closet, with a clear view of the stair ascending to the main level of the house.
Photography: Rafael Soldi