Secrecy and privacy. Hiding in plain sight. These are themes Mike Mora of Heliotrope Architects toyed with while drawing up the designs for this Portage Bay residence, a 2,500-square-foot home for a bachelor that replaced an existing structure. “The client is a very private person,” explains Mora, “and, because the house is tucked behind the properties running along the street, it’s not visible, except on the water side.”
Located in Seattle, the loftlike fortress sits absurdly close to Portage Bay—in fact, it’s so near the water’s edge, city codes would have prevented the residence from being built had there not previously been construction on the site. “The house could be mistaken for some industrial marine building, the kind you find throughout the city’s waterfronts,” Mora says. “We wanted it to convey similar qualities, because our client has boats and planes—but they’re work boats and work planes, not luxury machines.”
From the cedar paneling, quartz countertops, Pennsylvania flagstone, concrete floors, and glass mosaic tile, this no-nonsense theme playfully runs through every architectural choice. “We made the street side of the house very introverted,” Mora says. “There’s only one narrow window next to the front door.” Meanwhile, the primarily glass water exposure of the house is considerably opened up, allowing for gasp-inducing views of the water and landscape, and plenty of natural light.
The kitchen, living room, and office niche are all one room, clad in cedar on walls and ceiling. “There’s only one bed,” Mora says. “The home feels like a studio loft, with very little in the way of excess space.” The kitchen exploits the idea of a boat’s galley: streamlined and stripped down. “The owner has been a boater his entire life, so we liked the idea of a minimal kitchen,” Mora explains. That boils down to an under-counter fridge, half a Fisher & Paykel dishwasher drawer, a 30-inch gas cooktop, a small sink, and a wine fridge. There are no upper cabinets, just a long blackened-steel shelf with integrated cooktop exhaust.
On the other hand, the house includes three different places to bathe: a glass-tiled underground spa, a luxurious master bath with a Japanese-style cedar hinoki tub (which overlooks the bay), and a simple outdoor shower.
The resident travels frequently and wanted to live somewhere that requires very little maintenance, so the exterior is constructed out of zinc and aluminum; there’s a smattering of glass and concrete, but very little wood, which would require finishing. “The idea is that it reads as a modern house,” Mora says. “Machinelike and industrial on the exterior but organic, warm, and cozy once you get inside.”
Size: 2,800 square feet
Completion Date: November 2014
5140 Ballard Avenue NW
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Architect of record
Photographer(s): Aaron Leitz
CAD system, project management, or other software used:AutoCAD, SketchUp
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