The economic backyard studio, built with simple materials, can adapt as needed. It faces the sun to gather heat, has sun-shading devices for cooling and photovoltaic panels. It's a project that would work in almost any backyard; in the city as an urban ADU.

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ONE THING’S for sure, David and Cathy Hall have absolutely no fear of commitment.

They became friends in eighth grade, and that was it.

Bought their first house in 1974, and that was it.

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The Halls, now in their 60s, the girls grown and gone, still wake up every morning in the 1904 Queen Anne “fixer-upper” on their acre of rich, black soil in, er, downtown Edison.

But David’s an architect, and he gets these ideas. He’s had this particular one in the back of his head for a while now.

“One way or the other, I have always been working at home; and painting, photography,” he says. “Originally I was in the turret off the bedroom. Then I took one of the kids’ rooms.

“I thought about an Airstream trailer. And then I thought, let’s just put this here.”

So, in spring 2010, David committed.

“It’s something I always wanted to do,” he says of this very personal project, a 448-square-foot backyard studio, double-jointed and flexible. “We like where we live, and we don’t have any vacation property.

“There’s this dogleg in the property, and I wanted to put it there and really set it off from the house.”

STUDIOEDISON is not anything at all like the old farmhouse. The canted roof braces nine photovoltaic panels. South-facing, floor-to-ceiling, sliding-glass doors open to the backyard garden and those sigh-inducing Skagit Valley views. Outside, depending on the season, is a battalion of cornstalks, a tangle of pumpkins, sunflowers as big as satellite dishes.

The roof and southern exposure encourage the concrete floor to capture passive solar heat. A sunshade protects the studio from overheating, and the narrow floor plan allows for even daylighting and natural ventilation.

This is low country. Edison is a place 4 feet above sea level on one side of the street with saltwater on the other. And so the studio sits on salvaged cedar posts and a minimal concrete foundation. The underside is open, just in case.

Exactly what it is depends on how you look at it. This contemporary box on stilts is nothing if not flexible. Technically, it’s a detached bedroom. But sometimes it’s a guesthouse. Other times it’s an art studio. Exercise room. Reading room. And HQ, as David, long a principal at HKP Architects in Mount Vernon, transitions to his own practice focusing on smaller residential projects. Years from now? Perhaps assisted-living quarters.

Even before the little studio was finished it was featured in AIA Seattle’s FutureShack competition last summer. Blame that on the houseguest.

“Bob Hull (principal with the Miller Hull Partnership in Seattle) and I went to school together. Bob and his wife came up and stayed in the studio. He told me I should enter it, so I did.”

The judges jumped on it, saying the studio offered “interesting dialogue about climate; design could adapt to many situations without fancy finishes. It could be emergency housing in an era of climate change and rising sea levels. Responds well to solar orientation, sun-shading devices, roof form that integrates solar collector. Inventive use of materials. Economic, no extraneous moves. Lightness and playfulness without a bunch of extras. It opens up to connect the occupants with the landscape. Beyond rural location, this project could be discussed as disaster-relief housing or as an urban ADU. Small is beautiful!”

A small structure is an intimate structure by its very nature. And when David and Cathy Hall look out back they see nothing but possibility.

“We’re looking forward to snow. We’re going to take our quilts out there and bundle up,” David says.

Rebecca Teagarden writes about design and architecture for Pacific Northwest magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.

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