Architect Robert Zimmer's New Sustainable Live/Work Studio in West Seattle
It’s probably an occupational hazard, but, once upon a time, architect Robert Zimmer fell in love with a vacant lot.
The object of his affection resided in West Seattle’s North Admiral district, four blocks from his home at the time, two blocks from the burgeoning business core of California Avenue SW and Admiral Way SW and a short hike to the waterfront via a backyard trailhead. The property’s curb appeal might have escaped the typical real estate prospector. After all, it was in the middle of a zoning mash-up: encircled by multi-family zoning on two sides, a commercial spit (albeit starring a stellar Metropolitan Market) and some charming post-war single residences and the promise of views of Elliott Bay and downtown Seattle. It also was sited on a through-lot, allowing access on both sides. This seemingly hodge-podge configuration actually was veritable catnip to Zimmer and his wife, architectural photographer Lara Swimmer, who long had aspired to create the ultimate live/work studio, as well as a future-friendly structure. After several years of lot longing, when Zimmer at last spied a for-sale sign, the architect pounced.
His ambitious concept: to raise a “perpetually-adaptable infill building” that could do double duty as a live/work studio fit for his growing family (a second child is imminent) but, thanks to its diverse zoning, also could be adapted to myriad future uses. Plus, says Zimmer, “It’s likely to be rezoned in the near future and in the far future will likely be rezoned again just because of density in the city. In fact, it’s on the edge right now of urban village [zoning].” Its future forms are potentially limitless, he says, from a multifamily residence, such as a triplex, to a commercial property, such as a restaurant or small office or even a combination of the two. He adds, “This is a sustainable idea that you don’t get any points for, but in my mind it should be a building that never needs to be torn down.”
Zimmer’s linear three-level design places a premium on flexible volumes and orients the house to the north, thereby turning its back to the apartment building on its south and treating the homeowners to the run of large windows and downtown Seattle views. (Appealingly, the garage isn’t sited at the front, but tucked neatly on the home’s east side.) The material palette employed is simple, affordable and fairly green. The house’s exterior is clad in efficient SIPs (structural insulated panels) and hardy Hardie panels painted a warm brown. The home’s interior offers columns, joists and beams of engineered lumber, stained MDF wall panels and stairs of compressed scrap wood. “We spent our money on square footage,” says Swimmer. “There’s a lot of rawness: so it’s kind of got that high-low chic.”
The couple’s dual work sections are on the ground floor, separated by an open staircase, with Zimmer’s office located in the fully functional ADU (accessory dwelling unit), a handy hotel for his Las Vegas-based partner when he comes to town. Another of Zimmer’s future nods is an open core of rooms, fitted with industrial floor grating, that travels up all three levels. Currently serving laundry and storage needs, the core easily can be converted into an elevator. Zimmer wanted to make the “shaft” potential artfully apparent, so when you turn on the light on any floor the entire core glows green. Another bit of design flair is an alluring three-story polycarbonate wall, which provides the laundry and bathrooms with some dreamy daylighting. (Zimmer is thinking about making the wall a real piece of art by adding neon between its layers.)
The elevated main living level features a sleek kitchen, dining room and living room on one side of the staircase and a media room on other side. As well as serving as a music room for Swimmer to practice her cello and an art room for four-year-old Avery to perfect her paintings, a suspended HD projector points toward a dark wall so it can become a screening room. The top floor holds the bedrooms, baths and access to the roof deck and its payoff views, reached via a staircase subtly slanted toward the water and downtown views. The staircase angling also gives the master bath positioned beneath a cozy garret quality. “In so many houses every space is about the same size or there are two sizes,” says Zimmer. “To me that is just as monotonous as having the ceiling be the same height in every room, because without feeling compressed, you can’t experience expansiveness.”
As for the live/work experience? “It has far exceeded my expectations,” says Zimmer. “I used to fill up my car weekly with gas...now I fill it up about every six weeks. I walk to the bank, I walk to the grocery store, we can walk to a movie theater, we can walk to restaurants, we walk to the playground for my daughter to get her exercise. And it’s only going to get better."
Open House Stats
Edition 7 :: Number 36
Architectural Firm :: zimmerraystudios
Cost :: Approximately $205 per square foot for a 4,248-square-foot house (total project cost might include additional fees for other services that are not reflected)
Open House Tour
Our ongoing partnership with the American Institute of Architects Seattle Chapter (AIA Seattle) continues our commitment to bring the experience of Puget Sound–area residential design to our readers. Each issue, we showcase an architect-designed home, selected by AIA Seattle and Northwest Home, which will be open to the public for a Sunday-afternoon viewing. We invite you to tour this issue’s featured home, designed by Robert Zimmer of zimmerraystudios, located in West Seattle at 2514 41st Ave. SW, on Sunday, March 20, between noon and 3 p.m. For more information on the tour and the Open House program, please visit nwhome.com or aiaseattle.org; 206.448.4938.
FIND IT RESOURCES: Architects: Robert Zimmer, AIA, Doug Drape, Kevin Robinson, zimmerraystudios, Seattle and Las Vegas, 206.937.3579; www.zimmerray.com. Structural engineer: Jay Taylor, Magnusson Klemencic Associates, Seattle; 206.292.1200; mka.com. Misc. general contractor: Albion Group, Seattle; 206.498.5815. Concrete foundations/walls: CMT Concrete, Eatonville; 360.832.8208. Slab-on-grade/living level floor: Kimball Concrete, Inc., Puyallup; 253.846.5188. SIPs: Big Sky Insulations, Belgrade, MT; 406.388.4106. Roofing/flashings: Loberg Roofing, Lynnwood; 425.481.1064; lobergroofing.com. Structural steel fabrications: Seidelhuber Iron & Bronze Works, Seattle, 206.767.4321. Exterior rain screen: James Hardie panels and lapped planks; jameshardie.com. Engineered lumber: PSL beams/stair treads, LVL joists; Weyerhaeuser.com. Plumbing/hydronic heating: Bain Plumbing & Heating, Bothell; 425.486.5963. Radiant heating: Buderus, Londonderry, NH; 603.552.1100; buderus.us. Electrical: Smart Homes Electric, Lakewood; 253.582.4663. Security Intercom system: Siedle USA, Broomall, PA; 610.353.9595; siedleusa.com. Garage door: Cressy Door Company, Shoreline; 206.632.0533; cressydoor.com. Windows: Marlin oversized windows, Fleetwood sliding glass doors, Milgard windows, Goldfinch Bros., Everett; 425.258.4662; goldfinchbros.com. Appliances: Jenn-Air refrigerator/dishwasher, Viking range with Zephyr hood, Bosch washer/dryer, Wiseman’s Appliance, 2619 California Ave. SW, Seattle; 206.937.7400; wisemanappliance.com. IPE Hardwood flooring: Continental Hardwoods Co., Kent; 253.872.8100; continentalhardwood.com. Plyboo Neopolitan flooring: Smith & Fong Co., San Francisco 866.835.9859; plyboo.com. Wood stairs: Abacus Fine Carpentry, Seattle; 206.730.2771; abacuscarpentry.com. Stair railings: C&J Iron Works, Renton; 206.349.6501. LED step lights: Fisheries Supply, 1900 N Northlake Way, No. 10; Seattle, 206.632.4462; fisheriessupply.com. Unassembled cabinets: Casequick, Port Orchard; 360.674.3122; casequick.com. Custom closet doors, 3-story polycarbonate wall, hardware, special finishes: Sean Aydlott, Cut It For You, Bothell; 425.483.7364. MDF wall panels with oil-wax stain: Robert Zimmer. Countertops: Pental Chroma Quartz, Pental Granite & Marble, 713 S Fidalgo St., Seattle; 206.768.3200; pentalonline.com. Bath fixtures: Duravit, Toto, Ferguson, 4100 W Marginal Way SW; 206.767.7700; www.ferguson.com. Dining Table: Henrybuilt, 997 Western Ave., Seattle; 206.624.9270; henrybuilt.com. Sofa: Neo by Bensen, Inform Interiors, 2032 Eighth Ave., Seattle; 206.622.1608; informseattle.com. Dining chairs: Arne Jacobsen by Fritz Hanzen, Inform Interiors. Bar Stools: AVL by Moooi, Inform Interiors. Track lighting: “Juno,” Northcoast Lighting, 2450 Eighth Ave. S, Seattle; 206.624.7357; northcoastlighting.com. Landscaping: courtyard, gabion wall, Steve Jaramillo, West Seattle; 206.719.0459.