Remodeling projects are infamous for outgrowing their original scope, but architect Nils Finne and builder Paul Vassallo knew that wouldn’t happen with this 1920s Seattle home. “This was the fourth project I did with the owners,” says Finne, whose earlier interventions included a new kitchen, a remodeled living room and master bedroom suite, and a stone-paved backyard terrace that doubles as the roof of the home’s below-grade garage. This time around, the work would consist of a new study and master bath, a reworked stairway, and a reconfigured third-floor suite. That and no more, Finne says, “because we had done everything else.” Limited scope doesn’t always mean limited impact, however. This culminating project expands and enriches the owners’ experience of their house, rounding out its character with an Asian-inflected modernism that blends seamlessly with the original building.
To lighten the addition’s exterior appearance, Finne developed an innovative building section. Rather than cantilever the second-floor structure to support the bays, he directed Vassallo’s crew to suspend them from the roof’s I-beam rafters using steel structural tubes. “If we hadn’t hung them, the bays would be much heavier looking,” Finne says. “We had to put in some amazingly big steel headers,” he adds, but carrying the loads overhead allowed the carpenters to frame the bays’ undersides with floor structures shallow enough to hide within the cabinets’ kick spaces.
To make Vassallo’s life even more interesting, Finne specified custom recessed shades that disappear into pockets in the ceiling. “There’s an unbelievable amount of effort in planning for those shade pockets,” Vassallo says, “and it goes all the way back to the steel, to the early structural work. Then there’s wiring, tolerances, motor size and location, getting the shades to line up so there are no gaps, access to the pockets … and on a remodel, you don’t even have control of the original conditions; that adds another layer. We definitely scratch our heads to make those things come out right. ”