Kevin Eckert is the founder of a company that creates ‘Case Study Houses’ to test cost-effective concepts. Eckert and his family moved into a ‘built laboratory’ last year.

Share story

RIGHT SMACK DAB in Seattle’s Roosevelt neighborhood, BUILD LLC is conducting an experiment in modern architectural design.

The Eckert family is living in it.

Aidan Eckert, 10, descends a set of stairs bordered by a basement-to-rooftop tree mural painted by Erika Eckert’s college friend. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Aidan Eckert, 10, descends a set of stairs bordered by a basement-to-rooftop tree mural painted by Erika Eckert’s college friend. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Kevin Eckert is the founding partner of BUILD, which since 2011 has created “Case Study Houses” to test new cost-effective concepts, materials and methods — and to demonstrate them, in their real-world application, to clients. Eckert and his family (wife Erika, an artist, and their 10- and 13-year-old sons) moved into this 3,442-square-foot “built laboratory” in April 2015.

Or, as they call it: home.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

The experimental abode (“a mini-MoMA,” Kevin says) certainly stands out — and up — with its “very unforgiving modern exterior,” all shiny, glassy and boxy.

“When I’m in the kitchen looking out the window, I see people slow as they drive by,” Erika says.

Variable No. 1: That kitchen? It is not on the main floor, where kitchens typically live. Instead, a reverse floor plan sites the kitchen, dining room, family room and Erika’s purposely girlie pink-wallpapered powder room upstairs for ultimate privacy, light and views.

“I don’t understand spending the best floor on where you sleep,” Kevin says. “We don’t mind getting exercise, so it doesn’t bother us to go up two flights of stairs to get here.” (He’s counting the outdoor, concrete-then-wood tiers to the elevated front door as the first, “hidden,” flight.)

Three southern-facing decks on three levels (including one on the roof) overlook the art studio and the backyard the Eckerts are “still contemplating.” The cantilevered master bedroom allows for a little smaller footprint, Kevin Eckert says, and space underneath for ferns. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Three southern-facing decks on three levels (including one on the roof) overlook the art studio and the backyard the Eckerts are “still contemplating.” The cantilevered master bedroom allows for a little smaller footprint, Kevin Eckert says, and space underneath for ferns. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

In the dining area, three-panel, 10-foot-tall sliding-glass wall panels by LaCantina Doors glide open to maximize the southern light anytime the weather is even halfway decent. They did not get to “glide” without a little heave-ho trial and error: “We had to re-engineer the whole system,” Kevin says. “The earlier ones took a running start.”

Up another level, and a steeper, ship-ladder staircase, a green rooftop deck accessed by a hatch has evolved, as science will do, from a conceptual outdoor dining space into a more pragmatic gathering lounge. “We realized that right away,” Kevin says. “It wasn’t very realistic to think of dining and living up there.”

Light pours into the upstairs dining area and kitchen, where experimental limestone counters serve as a barometer of time, and taste. “They’re beautiful, but they sure do weather fast,” Kevin Eckert says. “We think it’s telling the story of our lives, but most people won’t embrace that.”  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Light pours into the upstairs dining area and kitchen, where experimental limestone counters serve as a barometer of time, and taste. “They’re beautiful, but they sure do weather fast,” Kevin Eckert says. “We think it’s telling the story of our lives, but most people won’t embrace that.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Throughout their home, the Eckerts opted for light rift-sawn white oak cabinets and flooring rather than the conventional contrasting colors. “We wanted everything else to pop more,” Erika says — such as the custom dining table in rich American walnut, and the home’s especially meaningful artwork.

This, then, is where art meets science — inside and outside and upstairs and down:

• Erika created the citrus-bold velvet pieces in the family room.

• The grandly horizontal Alden Mason painting in the dining area is on loan from her parents.

• Erika’s father, Gary Anderson, created the artwork in the main-floor master bedroom.

Slatted cabinets in the family room store games, a stereo and yoga equipment. The chrome-plated  at the kitchen island, with backrests in Kavat white, are by Ikea.  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Slatted cabinets in the family room store games, a stereo and yoga equipment. The chrome-plated at the kitchen island, with backrests in Kavat white, are by Ikea. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

• In a sweet symbol of symmetry, Erika’s college friend Mindy Barker created an art installation all through the homesite’s original structure (a teeny, foundation-less cottage that had teetered way past its useful life) before its demolition — and then painted a towering tree mural on the central walls of the Eckerts’ new home, from rooftop to basement.

• And outdoors, a detached art studio fashioned from an existing garage has proved wildly successful. “I’m in here two or three times a week,” says Erika. With a place for everything — a family-heirloom Necchi sewing machine, a substantial sink pulled from their old house, more giant glass walls, and bins and bins of creative inspiration and output — Erika says, “This is a dream space.”

The Eckerts’ last space was a 2,000-square-foot town house in BUILD’s Park Modern building in the University District, where they had no basement and no yard but plenty of neighbors below and on both sides. And two sometimes-bouncy kids.

“It feels like the perfect time with boys this age to have a house this size,” Erika says.

Now, for the first time, the boys have their own bedrooms and bathroom; a roomy backyard; and a sprawling basement rec room outfitted with a green-taped practice soccer “goal” on one wall, a comfy futon, a TV and, because even the most modern home needs at least a touch of retro, an original Atari game system.

Ten-year-old Aidan Eckert and a friend watch soccer in the family room. “We are unapologetic TV-watchers,” Kevin Eckert says. “We’re not going to try to hide it.” The below the TV “kicks out a ton of heat,” Kevin says, “which Erika loves.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Ten-year-old Aidan Eckert and a friend watch soccer in the family room. “We are unapologetic TV-watchers,” Kevin Eckert says. “We’re not going to try to hide it.” The below the TV “kicks out a ton of heat,” Kevin says, “which Erika loves.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

“We’re just getting going on teenager-land,” Kevin says (speaking of enlightening whole-family experiments). “We’re hoping all the kids will hang out here in high school.”