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Backyard Reading Retreat

Even those who adore city life need a place to unwind away from the bustle. It certainly doesn’t hurt to relax alone with a good book in a backyard reading retreat, or to hang out with friends and family around a firepit or with a dip in the hot tub. This urban oasis — though small — offers space to satisfy all those needs: the introverted and extroverted.

Before this project came to be, the back door of this Seattle home opened to a maze of overgrown plants – it was hard to even visualize how much space there was hidden under all the vegetation. The homeowners hoped to transform their lot into a unified, beautiful, indoor-outdoor oasis linking their home, yard, and a new backyard shed in a designed experience where every detail would come together to compose the many smaller sub-spaces into an integrated whole.

And, what better way to do that than with a tightly integrated team! From day one, this project not only incorporated all three of our studios – architecture, interior design, and landscape architecture – but also incorporated the close care and collaboration of the homeowners, and the contractor, Proform Construction.

For inspiration to launch the project, the homeowners envisioned a “found shed” with a modern twist featuring plenty of glass to help blend the spaces. Everything in the shed would be meaningful and have a purpose, and every framed view – both from within and without – would be intentional.

Design for the project was also greatly inspired by the site itself. Just over the neighbor’s fence, a massive tree shades the yard, with its branches hanging deep into the property. Designated as an “exceptional tree” by the city, its presence and precise location dictated how we could alter the property.

One of the reference datums that define how, what, and where you can build near an exceptional tree is the tree’s dripline. Rather than merely comply with this invisible line, we instead decided to make it a design feature of the landscape and site design. The graceful ovoid arcs through the site, and the wood deck, concrete pavers, and a custom-fabricated black steel planter all curve as they meet the line. The shed itself tucks into the arc by only a very specific amount, a glowing anchor point in the yard.

The multi-functional backyard shed can be a reading room, a guest suite, or an entertainment space. Outside, it features an additional shower for an easy rinse heading in or out of the sauna or hot tub, and a wrapping deck and patio connect it to the firepit and the main house.

Inside the shed, one of its eye-catching features — the wallpapered ceiling — was actually an unplanned solution to a design problem that arose during construction. The homeowners wanted to have speakers in the shed, but didn’t want to see them, nor was there space to spare. So, we found speakers designed to be hidden behind drywall and mounted them in the ceiling, under the loft.

But, the loft is constructed with 2x4s, so there was some slight deflection that was creating cracks in the drywall where it met the speakers. The homeowners suggested wallpaper to hide them, and we sourced a pattern from a local company, Abnormals Anonymous, to complement the rest of the design.

The graphic print is at once bold and organic: its whimsical pattern plays off of the more ordered, tesselated array of the tile in the bathroom. Once it was in place, none of us could imagine it missing – it was another great case of the fun and value of working with an integrated team.
Project Year: 2018
Project Cost: $500,001 - $750,000
Country: United States
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