Standing Tall: A Modern Seattle Remodel

A modernist Seattle remodel—a risky speculation home—is a testament to integrity and intention.

| September/October 2006

  • Seattle architect David Vandervort designed a house that complements—but doesn’t overwhelm—its corner site in the city’s historic Magnolia neighborhood.
    Photos By Michael Shopenn
  • This deck off the stair core offers a stunning view of the shipping canal below. The decking is made from recycled rubber.
    Photos By Michael Shopenn
  • The kitchen cabinets are crafted from FSC-certified, formaldehyde-free wood. Open shelving helps keep the room spacious and
    Photos By Michael Shopenn
  • A nod to lighthouses and tugboats—vestiges of the working canal it overlooks—the home makes elegant and efficient use of a triangular lot.
    Photos By Michael Shopenn
  • The master bath is clean and uncluttered, keeping with the home’s modernist design.
    Photos By Michael Shopenn
  • Clerestory windows in the living room bring Seattle’s weak northern light deep into the room; the home remains bright even on overcast days.
    Photos By Michael Shopenn
  • Solar panels provide 15 to 20 percent of the home’s electricity needs.
    Photos By Michael Shopenn
  • Richard’s favorite room is his office at the top of the stair tower.
    Photos By Michael Shopenn
  • A dropped ceiling provides a sense of enclosure in the entryway, while taller ceilings and clerestory windows open up the living room.
    Photos By Michael Shopenn
  • Architect David Vandervort (standing, left) found the perfect buyers for his eco-home in Richard, Charmaine and Michael Angino.
    Photos By Michael Shopenn
  • Owner Richard Angino and son, Michael, stand in front of the "eco-roof," planted with native flowers.
    Photos By Michael Shopenn
  • Richard built a modular playhouse for Michael, who can move the boards to suit his needs.
    Photos By Michael Shopenn

Seattle’s historic Magnolia neighborhood sprawls across a peninsula just south of the Ballard Locks, offering sweeping views of the Cascade Mountains and the busy shipping canal connecting Lake Union to Puget Sound. Architect David Vandervort has lived atop a hill in this community for 22 years, and he’s watched with some trepidation as massive homes have gone up on lots where much smaller houses once stood, shifting the neighborhood’s character and scale. So when the generic post-war house next door went on the market, Vandervort saw an opportunity. He could showcase his firm’s commitment to solid, sustainable design and help preserve his neighborhood’s character and integrity.

"I wanted to do something in my neighborhood that was different from some of the spec houses going up here, which are less than high quality," Vandervort says. "I wanted to create a site-sensitive, modern house. And at the same time, I could make sure that the house wouldn’t overwhelm my own yard or block our sunlight and views."

The house, which the same family had occupied since it was built in 1952, was solidly constructed but hardly a match for its fabulous site, a south-facing corner lot overlooking the canal and the Ballard Bridge. "I wanted to build a house that appreciated the land and reached out to the views and the light—without overwhelming the community," Vandervort says. A fan of the Northwest’s distinctive mid-century modern architecture, he set out to design a home that would honor "the historical architecture of the place."

Pushing the limits 

Working with Paulsen Construction, Vandervort took the home down to its concrete foundation and main floor joists, letting a few of the original walls stand and recycling much of the wood back into the new construction. He added a wing with a living room and family room, a master bedroom suite, and a stair tower that pulls in light and ventilates the home. The tower also plays with the idea of lighthouses and tugboats, an ode to the active canal below. In the living room and the master bedroom, high clerestory windows bring the low, flat Seattle light deep into the house while protecting the residents’ privacy. Terraces, decks and patios provide ample outdoor space for relaxing or entertaining.

"I wanted to play out the whole sophisticated modernist statement in its extremes," says Vandervort, who also pushed the limits on sustainable materials—which is especially risky when building a speculative house (even in progressive Seattle). "Without going over the top, we tried to use certified green materials whenever they were available."



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