Case Study: The Perch by Chadbourne + Doss Architects

In the midst of Seattle’s dense Queen Anne neighborhood, the Perch forms a quiet sanctuary, floating above the street in its own private realm. The client’s brief was a tall order for Lisa Chadbourne and Daren Doss, AIA, who designed the 5,500-square-foot house. While the lot has coveted western views of the Olympic Mountains and the Salish Sea, the client didn’t want to feel exposed on the high corner lot. What’s more, the building had to be tall to include everything in the program, which included an accessory dwelling unit. And in potential conflict with their privacy concerns, they wanted thin volumes for cross-ventilation to eliminate the need for air conditioning. “They wanted to be inspired by the surrounding region, and to include materials and ideas and views that reference the water, sky, and forest,” Lisa says.

The infill site had a few other assets. The existing house was not one of them; it was so decayed as to be uninsurable, so was taken down. But mature conifers screened the north side, and the lot was flat, inspiring a design that allows the owner to occupy the landscape. Lisa and Daren, who are married as well as business partners, proposed replacing the existing house with three thin, triple-story volumes that wrap around a north-facing entry courtyard. This U-shaped arrangement would divide the above-the-garage apartment on the east with the owner’s realm on the west containing a bedroom suite, office, and sleeping porch at mid-level, and an open kitchen, dining, and living room on the top floor, as well as access to third-level decks on both west and east. The ground-floor south side—the short side of the U— would hold the service functions: a mudroom, laundry, gym, and spa. 

There were no variances to clear because the original house occupied most of the site. However, the design involved a high level of craft and custom detailing, in collaboration with builder Chad Rollins of Dovetail Construction. “Every square foot and cubic inch of the site was densely packed with a tremendous amount of detail,” Chad says. “Our industry often talks about price per square foot as a metric to gauge the value of a build. We like to think price per cubic inch, and the value is there, all day long. It was like playing chess, three layers deep.”

In the finished house, its relationship with the Pacific Northwest is apparent in both the spatial orientations and rich, warm materials. As the design evolved, the courtyard came to include an 18½-foot-by-26-foot pool with a sinuous green island and maple tree, and two walnut swings suspended over the water. Approached through a large cedar pivot gate in the board-formed-concrete perimeter wall, this is the physical and metaphorical heart of the house. It reveals, through a three-story wall of glass between the two wings, an open-tread walnut staircase suspended from the third floor and lit by a linear skylight. 

“The stairway is one place where we wanted the experience of the courtyard to be consistent” all the way up, Lisa says. “It’s a public space, a backdrop to the courtyard. Sliding glass doors on that wall open and conduct cooling air upward, and the sound of water rings throughout the house, muffling urban noise.”

Of Its Place

Wood—walnut in particular—plays a prominent role, a nod to the region’s old-growth forests. On the second and third levels, walnut flooring moves out to ipe decks, and walnut bridges float in the stair hall between the two wings. The architects incorporated other artful Pacific Northwest touchstones in this vertical circulation zone. The stair is suspended on steel tubes running down through the floors like sheets of rain. This space was also designed around an owner find—a Bocci light fixture by a Vancouver, B.C., company, featuring random balls of glass that poetically evoke raindrops. Hung in the gap between the stair and glass wall, “you can see it from the street at the top levels,” Lisa says. 

For the interior ambience, “the client was interested in small, contained spaces of different character; they were coming from a Craftsman house,” Lisa says. The rooms are a wood sandwich of walnut flooring and western red cedar ceilings that continue outside on the soffits. The top floor is the entertaining space, open to sweeping views but divided into discrete zones. Here, white Corian casework counterpoints the warm wood. A Corian sofa base is built into a corner of the living area around the hearth—“a protected pit where people can enjoy coziness, set back a bit from the edges, more private,” she says. Kitchen cabinet fronts are solid Corian, as is the island, which has a marble countertop and waterfall edge. On the kitchen’s back wall, the countertop and shelving are stainless steel. Behind it is a scullery, also accessed through a sliding glass pass-through at counter level. 

Despite Seattle’s often overcast skies, the middle floor is luminous. The bedroom and office occupy the entire west-facing façade, stepping out to a full-length terrace and sleeping porch. In the main bath, frosted glass planes admit diffused sunlight and reflections. Dark sintered stone on the lower walls, combined with white sintered stone above, create a datum line that echoes the distant horizon. 

Across the walnut bridge to the east lies the one-bedroom, 590-square-foot apartment. Access is through a locked door on this level but there is a dedicated front door, up a staircase along the outer courtyard wall. In addition, the resident has a parking space in the shared three-car garage at the bottom of the stairs. “The client wanted a home to age in over time,” Lisa says. “The one-bedroom attached ADU is a flexible space that can be used as a rentable apartment, for visiting family, or a caretaker.”

Exterior materials express the environmental vibe too. The house is covered in vertical zinc panels, interspersed with black-painted aluminum on spandrels and next to windows to extend the openings. In addition to the cedar soffits, the cedar-wrapped outdoor patio off the courtyard glows in the western light, amplifying the warmth in that space. Here too, the garage’s board-formed-concrete back wall extends into the courtyard, defining the entry wall. 

Future Proof

“The project was built in 19 months, which is a swift clip for a project of this caliber,” Chad says. Often using CNC templates, Chad’s company fabricated custom pieces such as the Corian casework, metal stair rods and treads, and the serpentine portions of the concrete and aluminum formwork for the courtyard water feature. 

“Our contractor brought a lot to the table, figuring how to finish pieces and put them back in a purposeful way for maintenance,” Lisa says. The suspended stair system was perhaps the most triumphant achievement. It is supported by a concealed steel plate on the wall side, and on the opposite side with chromoly steel tubes. “There are hidden connections that we engineered in-house to facilitate the best outcome for installation purposes, as well as providing a lens toward long-term maintenance for the homeowner,” Chad says. “Should any of the treads need to be removed, they can be, individually, due to the way the components work together.” 

The stair’s custom Douglas fir handrail references the owner’s collection of bones. “We wanted a light handrail that blends with the white plaster, so we created this shape that reminisced bones,” Lisa says. “The wood is bleached and sandblasted and shaped for the hand on the top. LED wire was piped through steel tubes, and the bottom flares out to aim the LEDs at the wall in a nice way.” 

Rooftop photovoltaic panels supply the home’s electricity needs. And thanks to the design’s cooling chimney effect, even through last summer’s “heat dome” event in Seattle, when outside temperatures briefly reached 108 degrees, the house “was comfortable for them, though hot,” Lisa says.

On better days, the multiple decks offer places for outdoor rest and relaxation. But no matter what the weather, the house puts nature on daily display, whether it’s the view or the material surfaces, an echo of Puget Sound forests, snow-capped Olympic Mountains, and the sky over the Salish Sea.

Image Gallery

Plans and Drawings

Project Credits

The Perch

Seattle, Washington

Architect: Lisa Chadbourne and Daren Doss, AIA, chadbourne + doss architects, Seattle

Builder: Chad Rollins, Dovetail Construction, Seattle

Interior designer: Lisa Chadbourne, chadbourne + doss architects, Seattle

Landscape architect: Land Morphology, Seattle

Project size: 5,500 square feet

Site size: .17 acre

Construction cost: Withheld

Photography: Kevin Scott

Key Products

Cabinetry: Corian, Neolith sintered stone

Cladding: VM Zinc, Richlite, western red cedar, board-formed concrete

Cooktop/range: Miele

Countertops: Bianco Treviso Marble; stainless steel; Neolith

Dishwasher: Miele

Drywall: TJI

Entry doors: Panoramah! Doors & Windows

Faucets: Brizo, Samuel Heath LMK

Fireplace: Ortal Heat

Flooring: Engineered walnut with Pallman Magic Oil finish

Garage doors: Northwest Door

Hardware: Blum

Home control systems: Control4

Lighting: Juno

Lighting control systems: Lutron

Paints: Sherwin-Williams

Passage doors/hardware: Rejuvenation Tumalo

Photovoltaics: LG

Radiant heating: Warmboard-S, Viessman Boiler, Uponor Hydronic Manifolds

Refrigerator/freezer: Sub-Zero

Security system: Honeywell

Sinks: Julien, TOTO

Skylights: CrystaLite custom

Thermal and moisture barriers: Prosoco

Toilets: TOTO

Tub: Kohler

Ventilation: Panasonic

Water filtration: 3M

Windows: Panoramah! Doors & Windows

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