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

Heliotrope Architects
5140 Ballard Avenue NW
Seattle, Washington 


Owner: Private

Heliotrope Architects
5140 Ballard Avenue NW
Seattle, Washington 

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:         
Mike Mora AIA

Architect of record 
Mike Mora AIA

Swenson Say Faget structural engineers

Jonathan Morley of The Berger Partnership

Jack Kearney / Company K for architectural metals design

General contractor:  

Photographer(s): Aaron Leitz

CAD system, project management, or other software used:

AutoCAD, SketchUp


Structural system 
Combination Steel and Glu-lam primary structure w/ some concrete structural walls supporting

Exterior cladding      



Entrances:  Custom walnut front entry door by O.B. Williams

Metal doors: 

Wood doors:  
Custom by O.B. Williams

Sliding doors: 

Special doors:  
frameless glass interior doors by Distinctive Glass

Upswinging doors, other:  
Roll-up garage door by Raynor



Colonial Bronze

Interior finishes
Walls: western red cedar
Countertops: Caesarstone
Casework: custom walnut by O.B. Williams
Fridge: Perlick
Cooktop: Wolf
DW: Fisher & Paykel
Bar fridge: SubZero
Washer/Dryer: Whirlpool
Custom metals: Company K

Custom by O.B. Williams 

Paints and stains:       
Sikkens stains, Sherwin-Willaims paints

Western Red Clear Cedar (custom)

Plastic laminate:         
Formica in laundry

Solid surfacing:          
Caesarstone countertops in kitchen and bar, White Thassos marble ctops in bathroom

Special surfacing:       
Blackened steel plate at bar and fireplace surround

Floor and wall tile:
Ann Sacks “White Thassos” marble at master bathroom
Ann Sacks “Trend” glass mosaic at spa and powder room

Resilient flooring:  
epoxy in garage

Special interior finishes unique to this project:
Polished ground concrete floors in kitchen, master bedroom
Pennsylvania Flagstone in living room

Provided by InForm Interiors

Interior ambient lighting:       
Bruck Lighting, Resolute Lighting


Task lighting:  

Winscape, Juno

Dimming System or other lighting controls:   
Lutron HomeWorks

Bathroom plumbing fixtures by Hansgrohe and Jaclo
Kitchen plumbing fixtures by Julien
Master bathroom sink by LaCava
Laundry sink by Blanco
Powder Room sink by Alape
Toilets by Duravit