Faster, cheaper and green, it works hard for a busy Kirkland family

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THE GUCKENHEIMERS have lived there, loved that: A colonial in Boston, a town house in London. Plus, Monica grew up in Japan and Hawaii, Sam in Louisiana.

But the one place they had never lived was in a new house. So when the family moved here in 2003 for Sam’s job at Microsoft, Monica started looking for their piece of earth in Kirkland.

“We’ve always had old houses,” says Monica, scratching Nellie’s belly on the Ligne Roset sofa. Not to be outdone by a Lab-mix, Bella, the family’s Staffordshire bull terrier, wiggles her way onto my lap.

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That’s better. Everybody’s comfortable. Just the way the Guckenheimers, the two grown-ups and two dogs, plus three kids, like it.

“I really wanted to have a cottage you could sweep out and hose down, nothing too precious,” Monica says. “I wanted all the kids to come to my house after school. We’ve got the pool, volleyball, soccer, Wii, the computer, food, drink.”

The Guckenheimers admit they wanted a lot out of their home. But when their architect, nice guy, drew it in 5,400 square feet, they said “whoa.” Too much: space, time and money.

That’s how Monica came upon the prefab PLACE houses, a partnership of PLACE architects and DLH builders. Contemporary designs to go, built in half the time, at a savings and conceived to be as green as new construction can be. The Guckenheimers ordered a Large (there are four sizes, starting with Tiny), and it was built in seven months.

In this case, prefab stands for pretty fabulous.

The Guckenheimer house is 2,800 square feet of hardworking, double-duty spaces in four bedrooms, 2 ½ bathrooms. The main room is dining, kitchen, living. Dining table is on industrial-strength casters. Throw open the nearby garage door, roll it outside by the pool, and now it’s a picnic table. A central computing/lounging space upstairs keeps kids happy (TV, video games), contained and close to their stuff (the bedrooms).

The home (PLACE house No. 1) is constructed of structural insulated panels, layers of oriented strand board and insulating foam, and came ready to assemble — an Erector Set of construction. Interior elements were built off site to cut waste and simplify work on the site.

There are solar panels for hot water and to help heat the pool, radiant floors, strategically placed windows for ventilation and rainwater collection. Upstairs floors are cork, paints are low-VOC and cabinetry is formaldehyde-free. An old fir that was removed for solar gain is now dining table, stair treads and window sills. Groundwater is contained on the property via rain gardens, a driveway that permits water to pass through, grass pavers and rain barrels.

The contemporary exterior mimics the surrounding flora: green panels recall treetop leaves. The cedar below, a contemporary expression of bark. Accents, such as Sam’s office over the garage, are an industrial standing-seam metal.

“Houses do speak to you. And this house calms people down,” says a grateful Monica, mom to Eli, 12, Gracie, 13, and Zoë, 14. “I think that’s because the builders really put their heart into it. I’ve heard so many stories of the nightmares of building. This was a cakewalk.”

And, yes, the pool, which does double duty as an adult lap pool with extra space for kid play, was a splurge. But as Monica puts it, “We don’t have a second home. This is our summer home and our winter home.

“This is our home.”

Rebecca Teagarden is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.

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