A Phinney Ridge lot sliced by a driveway doesn't stop homeowners from getting an ultra-contemporary house, crisp, clean and great for a young family.
ASEEM AGARWALA, admittedly possessed with contemporary architecture, is filled with the can-do spirit.
He didn’t let the fact that he and his wife, Elke Van de Velde, lost out on three urban lots discourage him.
He wasn’t bothered that the plot of land they eventually did buy wasn’t for sale. Or that it had a driveway running through it.
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And, finally, he wasn’t overly concerned that the angled setback on the smallish, slopey 2,000-square-foot lot would in any way compromise the design of his family’s future home.
Instead, all of that has made their ker-pow of a house everything it is today: A shock tucked among the cottages and Craftsmans and Midcenturys of Phinney Ridge. The living room cantilevering out like a diver on the high board. The staircase, set over a window, transparent. Outdoor spaces, because the house filled the lot, connected to the structure; off the side, on the roof. White aluminum composite rainscreened panels paired with cedar rainscreen and stucco. And glass, glass, glass; the windows both fir and aluminum, depending on which exterior material they meet up with.
“Everybody assumes you can’t have a new house in a nice neighborhood for under a million dollars, but you can,” Agarwala says. “Well under.”
“But we were very strict,” says Van de Velde, a commercial fashion photographer. “And we researched everything ourselves.”
Agarwala, a thoroughly modern man and research scientist at Adobe, found the not-for-sale lot by searching satellite images online. And his architect, Chris Pardo of Pb Elemental, on Facebook. With the birth of daughter Zia, now almost 3, the couple needed more than their Fremont townhouse could offer. Besides, it lacked the contemporary design they craved.
“We’ve seen their stuff over the years,” Agarwala says of Pb Elemental. “We were linked on Facebook, and Chris is an avid poster. I wrote him and told him our budget and asked him how far off we were. He said we weren’t off at all.”
“We didn’t expect to build,” Van de Velde says. But here they are. The couple are naturally goal-oriented. They met 11 years ago in Belgium, and since then have finished school, launched their careers, started a family and built their dream house. Whew. And the house, 2,510 square feet, overseen by project manager Dave Biddle and built by Logan’s Hammer, was finished in nine months, March 2011.
“They asked us to make a folder of things we liked,” Van de Velde says.
“We have colorful furniture, so we didn’t want a super woody interior,” Agarwala says.
“We needed lots of windows,” she says.
“My kitchen is real important to me, and I have all the power I need here,” he says, patting the BlueStar cooktop. “Our only constraints were practical, not aesthetic. For instance, our backyard is on the roof.”
Now that it’s mostly over, except for a few pieces of art to be hunted down, the couple says the whole deal was fun. They would like to do it again, in fact, about 10 years from now.
“It’s hard not to look at Redfin and at building lots,” says Agarwala, who also found lots for, and shared his architects with, two friends.
“We were really concerned about the neighbors not liking it,” Van de Velde says of their perfect house/odd lot. “But we had a party and had them over. I’d say 95 percent like it.”
“We still have people come by, put on the brakes,” says Agarwala. “But it’s an eclectic neighborhood.”
More so now.
Rebecca Teagarden is associate editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.