Fences might make good neighbors, but neighborhoods definitely benefit from good architects.
Luckily for one quiet section of Madison Park, and for the young couple who hired him, it got Eric Cobb. The architect not only raised a dwelling that appealed to his clients’ sense and sensibility (a distinctive modern home suited to two tall adults, twin toddlers and two cats), but one that aesthetically involved its kitty-corner neighbor, a midcentury modern house designed by famed Seattle architect Roland Terry.
“It is an incredible house,” remarks Cobb, gazing across the street, “and what we’ve done is very respectful, but in a different way.” While the one-story neighboring house is very layered, low and horizontal, with a simple overlapping of planes, he explains, his design echoes that approach, but in a vertical fashion that exposes two of its three stories to their shared street. Says Cobb, “Really what’s going on here is a midcentury modern language seen in all of our work.” (Cobb’s house soon will have another nearby modern companion, a house designed by architect Tom Kundig.)
Cobb’s layering effect begins at the sidewalk, where an inventive mix of natural landscape and built elements provide an interesting visual interplay, as well as layers of privacy. “There isn’t a clean, dumb distinction between architecture and landscape…they engage each other,” Cobb says. Given that the relatively tight building site, set back just 10 feet from the street, essentially ruled out a typical front yard, he explains, “Separation and privacy were created with a loose set of layers, working together to form multiple thresholds before reaching the front door.” So there are connections of steps, gates, planters, and concrete and natural walls (such as a large corner-wrapping cypress hedge) that dynamically yet discreetly lift up the house so that the main living space can exist on an elevated plane above the street. (A semi-covered dining terrace off the main floor is one of three built outdoor spaces that sync up with key interior rooms.) The structure’s most striking layer is a detached concrete “monolith” that effectively serves as a big front door, shielding the actual door from view, and underscores the house’s vertical reach. “It doesn’t even touch the house and has zero structural responsibility, but it is every bit a part of the house,” Cobb explains. The sleek slab contrasts with, yet complements, the glass, rain-screen siding and black-bar grating that wrap around the house. “It really is a landscape element that happens to be the most architecturally substantial element on the entire site,” Cobb says.
The most eye- and light-catching interior element is an exposed, articulated steel staircase dropped right at the entry. It is central to the home’s interior concept and comes capped by a full skylight, ensuring that daylight pours into the middle of the house. “It’s a really complex piece of unbelievable specificity,” says Cobb of the staircase, giving much credit for its unique detailing to project architect Jacek Mrugala. The first run of steps are suspended to create a floating corner. “The light coming in, flooding underneath the stair, is part of the drama of the entry,” says Cobb. As well as providing plenty of air space so that the tall homeowners can comfortably access the different levels of the house, “The stair also ends up being a separator,” he explains. “We chose not to open up the kitchen and dining room fully to the stairs...and that gives you a little bit of acoustic separation upstairs and downstairs.” (Enjoying even more acoustical protection is a full office that is sunk off the other side of the stairs.) The kitchen and great room boast south-facing glass walls (the house takes in light from three sides) and an abundance of custom cabinetry, which comes with a cat ledge to make aerial work easier for the resident felines (one of several cat paths that, at the owners’ request, Cobb cleverly insinuated into his design). As the staircase weaves its way up, it creatively lands at the second-floor living quarters, with a large central playroom and kids’ rooms on one side, and, on the other, the parents’ master bedroom and bathroom. Then, the final step leads, somewhat unexpectedly, to a rooftop deck.
Once topside, Lake Washington comes into full view. As does the neighborhood, which this new house, without a doubt, has handsomely enhanced.
To take the full photo tour, click here.
Open House Info
Edition 9 :: Number 50
Architectural firm :: E. Cobb Architects
Cost :: Approximately $455 per square foot for an 3,300-square-foot house
(total project cost might include additional fees for services not reflected)
Tour it :: Sunday, July 21 (see details below)
Our 50th Open House Tour
We invite you to explore, for free, our 50th tour home, designed by Eric Cobb, AIA, of E. Cobb Architects, located in Madison Park at 4100 E Highland Drive on Sunday, July 21, from noon to 3 p.m.
What’s Coming Next
As part of our mission to bring the best of local residential design to our readers, our ongoing partnership with the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Seattle Chapter is evolving. We are excited to announce our first Explore Design Home Tour, which will feature from six to eight architect-designed homes. Since 2005, we have partnered with AIA Seattle to present a bimonthly open house tour to showcase one home selected by AIA Seattle and Northwest Home. While we will continue to feature a selected home in every issue, there will no longer be a coinciding tour. We invite you to experience the possibilities of residential architecture on September 14 via the new Explore Design Home Tour, a component of the annual Seattle Design Festival, the area’s largest interdisciplinary design event. For more details, visit aiaseattle.org/hometour.
Find It Resources
Home of the Month: Architects: Eric Cobb, principal in charge, Jacek Mrugala, project architect, Josh Johns, architect, E. Cobb Architects, Pioneer Square, 911 Western Ave., No. 318; 206.287.0136; firstname.lastname@example.org; cobbarch.com. Structural engineer: Harriott Valentine Engineers, Queen Anne, 1932 First Ave., No. 720; 206.624.4760; harriottvalentine.com. Builder: Thomas Jacobson Construction, South Lake Union, 2618 Eastlake Ave. E; 206.720.1800; thomasjacobson.com. Concrete subcontractor: Mike Rust, Concrete Traditions; 206.794.5806. Structural steel (railings, brise soleil, guard rails, entry gate): JAS Steel Fabricating; Woodinville, 425.424.2107. Steel fabricator (playroom jungle bars, kitchen island wrap): Mike Rathke, Studio 23 Metalworks, Olympia; 360.705.0770; email@example.com; olymetal.com. Steel fabricator (dining tabletop, planters): Mark Whitten, Twisted Metalworks, Georgetown, 5840 Airport Way S; 206.763.0651; firstname.lastname@example.org. Landscape plants: Ragen & Associates, Capitol Hill, 517 E Pike St.; 206.329.4737; ragenassociates.com. Cement-board siding: DM Siding; 253.632.1002. Exterior sliding/swing doors: Fleetwood; fleetwoodusa.net. Windows: Marlin Windows; marlinwindows.com. Garage door: Northwest Garage Doors; northwestdoor.com. Cabinetmaker (kitchen, bath vanities, master bedroom closets, office desks, wall paneling): Robert Toombs, Whidbey Designworks, Clinton; 360.341.4849; email@example.com; whidbeydesign.wordpress.com. Countertops: Chroma Stormy Sky (pentalonline.com/pentalquartz-2/), Pental Granite & Marble, Georgetown, 713 S Fidalgo St.; 206.768.3200; pentalonline.com. Tile (entryway, bathrooms): LEA Ceramiche Basaltina Stone Project in “Lappata” (ceramichelea.it); Pental Granite & Marble. Plumbing fixtures (bathrooms): California Faucets Avalon 62, oil-rubbed bronze (calfaucets.com/series/Avalon), Duravit Starck 3 toilet and Kohler Ladena vanity sinks, Seattle Interiors, Wallingford, 3822 Stone Way N; 206.633.2900; seattleinteriors.com. Appliances: Miele, except for Sub-Zero refrigerator. Cabinets/wall paneling finishing: Bleached white oak, LC Jergens Painting Co., Seattle; 206.329.4033; jergenspainting.com. Kitchen island: bleached white oak, blackened steel and Chroma Stormy Sky. Interior door hardware: Emtek “Helios,” oil-rubbed bronze; emtek.com. Light fixtures: RAB, Lucifer, Juno, North Coast Electric; 206.442.9898. Carpets (playroom, master bedroom): “Modern Mix,” Flor, Belltown, 2000 First Ave.; 206.448.3365; flor.com.