ROBERT HUMBLE’S Capitol Hill bachelor apartment, one bedroom in 700 square feet, worked just fine. When Humble was a bachelor.
“Then I met Nicole,” he says. “And then we got a cat. Then we got another cat. Then we got Rufus.
“At that point it got kind of crowded.”
Hearing his name, Rufus, a black-and-tan Affenpinscher that looks like he came out of the pages of a children’s book about a mischievous little dog, hops off the couch to see what’s up.
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What’s up is the couple’s prefab, greenfab, budgetfab and just plain old fab Central District house. A three-story nest designed by Humble, its architect owner, and a delight for Nicole Johnson, his ICU-nurse wife.
“I like contemporary, but I wanted a home with a warm feeling, a home we could really live in,” says Johnson. Doug-fir windows and ceiling beams send just that message. Plywood ($1 per square foot from Home Depot) floors and stair railings ditto that. “And if you bung it up,” says Humble, also a contractor, “you unscrew the plywood and pull it out.”
“Rob’s all about being flexible,” Johnson says. By that she means, for one thing, the wall upstairs in their possibly three-bedroom, three-bath home. It is made up of three Ikea storage wardrobes, movable for when the master must become two sleeping rooms. Below is the main living space; kitchen, dining, living. And below that, a mother-in-law apartment with separate entrance.
“We’re about smaller homes that can adapt, not homes as throwaway commodity,” says Humble, of HyBrid Architecture/Assembly. “My grandparents never moved. My parents lived in the same house for 30 years.”
The couple’s home is 1,750 square feet with city and Puget Sound views that improve by the floor. But these highlights are only the beginning. There’s also the bit about how the house even got here to begin with.
By way of Snoqualmie Pass. In December.
“The boxes were made by Guerdon Enterprises in Boise,” Humble says of the prefabricated modules (his sixth such project). “They trucked it, six pieces, in two truckloads. Then we set up a crane in the street and craned it up in one day.”
Once the modules were anchored onto the concrete foundation, Humble laid a Grasscrete driveway and fashioned gabion-wall frames. Then he and Johnson filled them with recycled concrete.
The backyard was also largely concrete (OK, all 2,000 square feet of it, 5 inches deep). They broke it up, used some of it for a patio, and turned their yard into an oasis of recycling, fitting in a koi pond, vegetable garden, wild plants, rain garden and room, on the side, for three cisterns holding 2,000 gallons of rain water (for laundry and toilets).
Gray water (from laundry, sinks and showers) is treated on-site and drains into the rain garden as the state’s first permitted residential gray-water system. “First you capture, then you treat it, then you release it back into the wild,” Humble says. “It’s like fishing!”
The stoop, steps, siding and a recessed front porch are a nod to the traditional homes around them. The couple furnished the home themselves — found pieces, Ikea — and moved in March 2011.
“We spent money on things that mattered, permanent things,” Humble says. “Aluminum-clad fir windows, insulation, the mechanical system.”
The couple love their home for what it is, prefab, green and built for as little as possible. They not only don’t mind if any of that shows, they want to show it off.
“I love our house. I feel very blessed. Thank you, Rob,” says Johnson, planting a kiss on her flustered husband.
Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.