A Seattle backyard cottage for empty-nesters | microhouse
With their children out of the nest, one Seattle couple was looking to downsize from the large home where they had raised their family. However they did not wish to leave the Tangletown neighborhood they knew and loved. Since Seattle now encourages accessory dwelling units (ADUs), the couple asked architect Bruce Parker of microhouse to design a small house to sit behind their existing one. As their name suggests, microhouse focuses on small-scale housing and backyard cottages in particular.
The new cottage has a floor plan of 800 ft2 (74.3 m2) over two levels, with an open plan living space on the lower floor and the private spaces up. As well, there is an outside storage shed incorporated into one end of the ground level.
The ceiling treatment on the main floor is a combination of white-painted exposed joists and clear-finished wood planks, helping to define the living and dining areas. Leaving the joists open adds height to a room without the complication of building taller walls. If you prefer that your joists have a clear finish, you can specify lumber with a “select” visual grade, or just go to the lumberyard and hand-pick the ones you want.
The concrete slab was troweled smooth and polished, making for an economical finish floor. A radiant heating system is embedded in the slab, providing most of the home’s heat.
You’ll notice that there are no upper cabinets in the kitchen. Instead, storage is provided by a pantry under the stairs. Leaving out the upper cabinets or using open shelves will make a confined kitchen feel bigger. Reducing the number of cabinets can also result in significant cost savings, particularly if the pantry is built as a normal closet with simple shelves rather than a specialized pantry cabinet with pull-out shelves and bins.
The master bedroom is on the upper floor, over the kitchen. At the other end of the house is an open study with a big window looking out into the treetops. A fold-out couch allows the space to double as a guest room.
The study could easily be converted into a second enclosed bedroom if needed. Between the study and the master bedroom, a shed dormer pops out of the main roof to make room for the bathroom. All of the upstairs rooms are bright with skylights bringing in extra light.
Because the property is fairly small, getting natural light to the lower level was more of a challenge. To maintain privacy between the two dwellings, there are no windows facing the main house. As well, the neighbor’s garage is close by on the south side. The architect’s solution was to use the staircase as a lightwell, placing windows high in the wall to capture light from over the garage. Key to this approach was locating the stairs near the middle of the house. Open risers allow some of the light to bounce back towards the kitchen.
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Photographs courtesy of microhouse.
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