FOR NINE YEARS the Lagerbergs — architect Eric, homemaker Park, and their two daughters, Greta and Ivy — were shoehorned into...

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FOR NINE YEARS the Lagerbergs — architect Eric, homemaker Park, and their two daughters, Greta and Ivy — were shoehorned into a 1950s Roman-brick rambler in Madrona. The girls split one bedroom, a home office filled the other, and Mom and Dad slept in the basement.

Yet, when the Lagerbergs decided it was time for a less-confining arrangement, they didn’t think they needed more space, just better-used space. In fact, their first instinct was to tinker with the rambler to see if a reconfigured floor plan might do the trick.

Soon enough, though, strategically reshuffling rooms became a frustrating mental exercise. It was time to start over.

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So Eric, who designs commercial buildings and retail spaces, consulted friend and residential architect Eric Cobb. The two met at the University of Washington School of Architecture more than 20 years earlier as undergraduates; Park, then a business major, knew them both from her work-study stint as a barista.

Decades later, what began as a casual “we should work together sometime” grew into a collaboration that has yielded a Modernist-inspired, light-filled house borne from a dialectic between innovation and restraint.

“We wanted an emphasis on spatial effect, and something not decorative,” says Eric Lagerberg. He also wanted to take advantage of the site’s promise.

Today, the new, three-bedroom, two-bath house sprouts from the rambler’s foundation. Greta and Ivy have their own rooms; Mom and Dad sleep upstairs. And “what was once just one southern exposure with a deep overhang now has four or five opportunities for sun to come in from the south.”

With a footprint that’s, significantly, 100 square feet smaller than the original house, the new house is, with two stories, 400 square feet larger. Construction costs came to $426,000.

The Lagerbergs “did not measure the quality of their home by its number of square feet,” says Cobb of E. Cobb Architects, Seattle. “Spaces here have multiple uses.”

Cobb is a master at leveraging resources. On credit earned through the tactical use of square feet, Cobb financed a near-obsessive treatment of details, materials that will last, a curious pattern of structural load displacement — cantilevering — and a positioning of windows that keeps a casual observer guessing as to how the building is supported.

In fact, cantilevering can serve as a metaphor for the entire design: Just as this structural technique requires a designer to find equilibrium asymmetrically, the house asymmetrically allocates value for effect. For instance, the kitchen is a work space and a computer station, while built-in cabinets store media components as well as everyone’s daily briefcase, back pack or purse.

Yet, while each space is precisely programmed, some materials seem unexpectedly rough. Custom-fabricated, raw steel brackets that connect the stairs’ stanchions to its single, steel stringer reveal traces of the processes that made them. “We didn’t go out of our way to make a phony aesthetic out of raw metal,” Cobb says.

Besides spatial negotiations, the house also features some inexpensive materials judiciously used and shrewdly procured. For instance, a mortuary supplied the wide, elegant precast-concrete stair treads that lead to the home’s front door. Typically used for crypts, the treads cost about $12 each. If custom made, they would have cost at least 20 times more.

One of the last-minute innovations struck by the two architects will be most enjoyed by the Lagerberg girls: A swing dangles two stories from the house’s roof, which cantilevers at a severe and unsentimental 180 degrees.

Attention to detail created singular effects

While Eric and Park Lagerberg saved on some materials in their new home, they splurged on details. But details do not mean ornament; in fact, they signify a deliberate lack of it.

Throughout the house, for example, baseboards are not nailed over the drywall to hide unsightly seams; instead, they are positioned flush with the drywall for a completely smooth plane. This requires a more complicated construction method, which comes easier when teaming with the same general contractor, Ainslie-Davis, for several projects, as architect Eric Cobb has.

On the home’s exterior, Cobb specified that typical, 1-by-4-inch cedar siding be installed vertically and backward to hide the pattern formed by the siding’s tongues and grooves that is inherent when installed the “right way.”


Rosemarie Buchanan writes about architecture from her home in Redmond. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.