An Urban Home Nestled in a Thicket

When famous landscape architect Richard Haag along with his spouse, political activist Cheryl Trivison, were looking to move, they had several priorities and inspirations. They wanted to create a house they can live in for the remainder of their lives; they adored the calm spaces provided by Japanese houses; they desired to enjoy the sweeping views of the University of Washington campus, Mount Baker and the Cascades; they desired to use plants to display and enhance perspectives, as well as for sustenance; they desired rooms for entertaining; plus they desired space to host their large family, who visited often.

The few hired architect firm Studio Ectypos, whose team equipped with a very deep comprehension of the couple’s vision and way of life. I talked with architect Lucia Pirzio-Biroli about how she included universal design, maximized using natural light, made the most of the perspectives, provided flexible spaces and weaved together spaces for spaces and tranquil for actions, as well as private and public zones, into one harmonious home.

Before Haag and Trivison built this house, the lot contained a dilapidated ranch home that had been full of rowdy renters who pulled loud, wild parties — a source of controversy in the neighborhood. The new home sits atop the older footprint with one small addition, and the parties held in it today are family vacation get-togethers complete with skits, as well as political fundraisers and University of Washington college parties.

at a Glance
Location: North Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle
Who lives here: Richard Haag and Cheryl Trivison
Size: 3,500 square feet, 6 bedrooms/multiuse rooms, 4 bathrooms

Studio Ectypos

Even though the home is just about 10 feet from the pavement, the topography and landscaping provide solitude. The architects paid very careful attention to using natural light into the max. “Westerly light is deadly at the summer in Seattle,” states Pirzio-Biroli. She used deep overhangs to shade the home where needed and corner windows to provide the insides with natural light.

Studio Ectypos

A very long ramp navigates the 4-foot tier change from the street level to the front door. It is only one of the many universal design components. Others incorporate a very complete first floor that the few can live on when they ever want to, including a bedroom, full bath and a design with all the spaces wide enough to accomodate a walker. In addition, there is a basement apartment which could serve as a house for a live-in caregiver or provide rental income.

Studio Ectypos

Haag, a pioneer of urban landscape design, carefully planned the yard to develop into an urban thicket, shading the home and providing privacy where necessary, exploding with colour in the autumn and dropping leaves before winter to let in the light. He also planted many edible plants for humans and urban fauna alike.

Studio Ectypos

Within the front entrance foyer, a thick library wall divides the public areas from the personal areas, also known as calm and active zones. The side facing the front door is an art wall; the side facing the bedrooms retains hundreds of novels — which, Pirzio-Biroli points outside generates depth. “When you have to check at the conclusion of a lanky wall, it’s bad architecture,” she says.

“A hallway that just functions as a corridor is wasted space,” she adds. “We create spaces which do at least three things at once. For example, this hallway screens the private bedroom and toilet from the entrance foyer; it serves as a library and as a hallway.”

Studio Ectypos

Moving to the dining room and kitchen, an open bookshelf enables someone who is cooking to peek through and see who is coming in without being a wide-open floor plan. “A kitchen is part of this social area, but let’s face it, as soon as you’re finished cooking, there is a major mess that you want to be able to overlook — we wanted it to be open but not at the center of everything,” Pirzio-Biroli states.

An upstairs balcony connects the two floors and encourages conversation between the two. “This family loves to put on theater performances throughout the holidays, along with the balcony becomes part of the stage set,” she states.

Studio Ectypos

A thicket of deciduous trees provides solitude and creates a gorgeous fall perspective out this first-floor window.

The windows are commercial-grade aluminum, and the sills are easy maple. The fir and beech doors throughout the home are also commercial grade. “We use commercial grade a good deal; commercial grade signifies better immunity and a simpler aesthetic; it is not as gimmicky as a great deal of residential products,” Pirzio-Biroli describes.

Studio Ectypos

Part of this first floor appreciates a two-story volume, which lets in more light and perspectives and lends a very spacious feeling. This wall faces west and is shaded by a deep overhang, which forms a rain patio past the glass doors. “My clients had invested some time in Japan and enjoyed the notion of doors which opened into a secure outdoor room,” Pirzio-Biroli states. “Here in Seattle, it’s really quite pleasant outside when it’s raining provided that you’re covered.”

Eggshell-hued walls are punctuated by dark aluminum-trimmed windows. The door and baseboard trim is painted the same colour as the walls but at a semigloss, giving it a very subtle distinction.

Studio Ectypos

“My clients use the woodstove all the time,” Pirzio-Biroli states. “This is a good case of where the more public areas meet a more personal area, a cozy reading area.” The line between the two is demarcated by where the hardwood meets the tight, commercial-grade Berber carpet. Additionally, this calm, personal space has a lower ceiling and thus a cozier feeling.

The floors are oak.

Tip: Should you enjoy variant in your floors, do not splurge on a high tier. “Oak comes in various grades. We like to install the lower levels, since they have more life in them, whereas the higher levels are very consistent,” Pirzio-Biroli states.

Studio Ectypos

“You can observe that the master bedroom is a very easy room without a great deal of pretense,” says the architect. “It is composed to take in the stunning perspectives … and corner windows like these catch the light in various ways.”

She adds, “The home is quite flexible, and we designed the home to exactly how the clients desired to live. There’s a logic to the sequence of spaces, from public and active to relaxing and relaxing.”

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