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In Seattle, An Urban Landscape Designed for Privacy and Indoor/Outdoor Flow

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In Seattle, An Urban Landscape Designed for Privacy and Indoor/Outdoor Flow

October 29, 2021

When a young couple found an aging, one-bedroom cottage for sale on the east side of Seattle’s desirable Capitol Hill neighborhood, they looked past its flaws and instead at its generous, 4,800-square-foot lot—and began to imagine making a permanent home there.

First, the flaws: The couple required three bedrooms, not one, and wanted an “efficient, low-maintenance, and modern” house. The pair also missed the courtyard-style homes of their native South Africa, and prioritized indoor-outdoor flow above almost all else. Last, the lot was flanked by multiunit rental buildings (with heavy foot traffic) on both sides, and was sited on a busy arterial street with a city bus line.

The pair engaged Shed Architecture & Design to reinvent the narrow lot, so they replaced the cottage with a 2,450-square-foot, three-bedroom home with a concrete terraced front garden and privacy features at every turn. Concrete walls in front and a detached garage at back block views of the house from passersby. On the sides, which face the rental buildings, windows were added only where needed, and a concrete wall and cedar fence shield the backyard from prying eyes. The planting scheme, developed by Williamson Landscape Architecture, was designed to reference South Africa by “evoking California native shrub land, but with plants that thrive in the Pacific Northwest,” says Shed architect Thomas Schaer. Let’s take a closer look.

Photography by Rafael Soldi, courtesy of Shed Architecture & Design.

For a modern take on a traditional Seattle house (per the clients&#8\2\17; request), Shed designed a concrete terraced front garden with a front door painted in Pure Orange. The exterior paneling is corrugated black metal and white, painted Hardie board.
Above: For a modern take on a traditional Seattle house (per the clients’ request), Shed designed a concrete terraced front garden with a front door painted in Pure Orange. The exterior paneling is corrugated black metal and white, painted Hardie board.
Though the front landscape is one of two usable outdoor spaces, the concrete walls provide complete privacy for the homeowners. The front will be further screened as the grasses and Portugal laurel trees grow.
Above: Though the front landscape is one of two usable outdoor spaces, the concrete walls provide complete privacy for the homeowners. The front will be further screened as the grasses and Portugal laurel trees grow.

The clients “miss living in a warm climate,” says Schaer, which motivated their desire for California-style plantings. The landscape architect used low-water plants where possible.

Shed took cues from South African houses built around courtyards and designed two courtyard-style outdoor spaces at the front and back of the house. The front courtyard terrace is sited to the right of the front door, just off the living room. It&#8\2\17;s filled with three-quarter-inch clean crushed rock—a temporary solution until the homeowners have pavers installed.
Above: Shed took cues from South African houses built around courtyards and designed two courtyard-style outdoor spaces at the front and back of the house. The front courtyard terrace is sited to the right of the front door, just off the living room. It’s filled with three-quarter-inch clean crushed rock—a temporary solution until the homeowners have pavers installed.

“Creating comfortable outdoor spaces with free-flowing connections to the interior living areas was paramount,” Schaer says.

A built-in concrete patio bench extends inside the house, where it is polished and functions as a plinth for the living room entertainment center. The outdoor furniture is Hot Mesh by Blu Dot.
Above: A built-in concrete patio bench extends inside the house, where it is polished and functions as a plinth for the living room entertainment center. The outdoor furniture is Hot Mesh by Blu Dot.

“The front terrace provides a nice position from which to survey the streetscape, while its wall shields those seated on the terrace from pedestrians below,” Schaer says.

A view through the eat-in kitchen to the back patio. The detached garage is visible at the back.
Above: A view through the eat-in kitchen to the back patio. The detached garage is visible at the back.

Due to the rental properties on either side, the house is designed for interaction with the outdoors only on its ends—both the front and back walls have floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors.

A small seating area on the back patio has two Eames Wire Chairs flanking a small table made of Douglas fir framing scraps. Star jasmine climbs the cedar fence.
Above: A small seating area on the back patio has two Eames Wire Chairs flanking a small table made of Douglas fir framing scraps. Star jasmine climbs the cedar fence.
The clients designed a side pathway of black river pebbles and concrete pavers, reused from the previous landscape, bordered by a fence of horizontal cedar boards. The path links the detached garage to the house; the door at the end of the path opens onto the home’s entry foyer.

The exterior wood siding and window trim is made of vertical-grain Douglas fir and western red cedar, with panels of half-inch fir plywood. The patio is made of water-resistant ipe wood; left unfinished, it has turned a silvery gray over time.
Above: The exterior wood siding and window trim is made of vertical-grain Douglas fir and western red cedar, with panels of half-inch fir plywood. The patio is made of water-resistant ipe wood; left unfinished, it has turned a silvery gray over time.

The clients love to cook and they entertain frequently; the kitchen opens immediately onto the back patio for easy outdoor entertaining in good weather.

The back patio is framed in concrete benches, bordered by Calamagrostis x acutiflora &#8\2\16;Karl Foerster&#8\2\17;, feather reed grass. A tall concrete wall at left provides complete privacy from the neighbors on that side.
Above: The back patio is framed in concrete benches, bordered by Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, feather reed grass. A tall concrete wall at left provides complete privacy from the neighbors on that side.

“The back deck surface feels great underfoot, and the concrete bench provides seating for a long outdoor table,” says Schaer. “The tall concrete wall extends the kitchen outward, soaks up and reflects the sun, and walls off the neighboring apartment building.”

The light-filled home is both private and open to the outdoors.
Above: The light-filled home is both private and open to the outdoors.

For more elegant privacy solutions, see:

N.B.: This post is an update; it was first published March 2018.

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