Blogger and tech geek Mike Davidson logged every moment (and dollar sign) of the design and building of his new contemporary home in Seattle's Magnolia neighborhood.
I CAN’T say it any better than this:
“The Property: A 10,000-square-foot lot 10 minutes from downtown Seattle facing west toward Puget Sound.
“The Project: To build a sustainable, energy-efficient Northwest modern home capturing the full potential of the property without spending an arm and a leg.
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“The Problem: I’ve never done this before.”
Meet Mike Davidson, new homeowner and tech geek. Not in that order. And this is the beginning of his own rollicking, bare-all story about the birth of his contemporary home designed and built by Andrew van Leeuwen and Kevin Eckert of Build Llc. Every detail chronicled, photographed (including a live cam he installed at the neighbor’s) and raptly followed by his many blog faithful since Davidson started ahousebythepark.com in October 2007:
“Today, the startup I founded two years ago (Newsvine) was acquired. Thousands of hours of hard work paid off in the form of a few bucks, and we’re all extremely humbled to be among the small percentage of startups that haven’t fizzled out and died.
“I’m not a big spender . . . but this is the first time in my life when I’ve been able to even think about buying or building a house. I’ve been living in apartments and condos since college, so the prospect of actually owning some land is starting to look more attractive.”
That was then. This is now.
“Did I demo the induction cooktop for you yet?” Davidson says, already pulling a little frying pan from a drawer. He pours water into the pan, puts it on the cooktop and begins counting. The water is bubbling by the time he hits 10.
“I do this for all my friends. They can’t believe it.”
“All in all, we’re very happy with all of the appliances we’ve chosen. Thanks also to Albert Lee Appliance Company for providing all of the non-GE appliances (I get an employee discount for the GE stuff since I work at msnbc.com). They matched or beat all online prices that I quoted over the phone to them, and as a result, got all of my business (hint: Do this!).”
After that he can’t wait to show off the shower head, the Kohler Flipside, “$71 at Home Depot!” he says. “It’s the best shower head in the world. I know. We returned six others.”
“Since we did electric radiant heating pads underneath the tile in the master bathroom, Build surprised me and ran the pads right underneath the shower tile as well. Very, very awesome. No more curling of toes in the morning while inching into a cold shower. If you’re already doing radiant in the bathroom, there is no reason not to run it into the shower as well.”
Davidson, his girlfriend, Chelan, and their cat, Chloe, are settling into their private lives after the very public construction of their Magnolia bluff home.
Outside are intersecting boxes of glass, wood-veneer Prodema, cement board, cedar and steel. Inside, the home is spare. Two contemporary sofas facing a live-edge coffee table in the living room. Beds in bedrooms. Table in the dining room. Like that. The tech-geek side of Davidson shows in the home’s automation: a whole-house sound system, contact sensors for doors and windows; motion sensors to turn on lights; motorized skylights and blinds. There’s a master panel in the kitchen, or Davidson can control the house from his iPhone.
Davidson wanted a nice home, but not an opulent one: “The location and the view are so nice the architecture just needs to get out of the way,” he says. A home as sustainable as possible, but big enough to live a lifetime in (4,800 square feet with the finished basement). He’ll tell you anything you want to know. The RE Store in Ballard deconstructed the old house, a 1953 rambler: 40 percent of it resold, 50 percent recycled, 10 percent off to the dump. And, oh yeah, the effort got him a $17,000 tax deduction.
There’s more. The house cost him $230 per square foot; $343 a foot figuring in appliances, permits, design fee, electrical, plumbing, taxes and landscaping. For a total of $1.1 million.
“One of the nice things about Build is that Kevin Eckert and Andrew van Leeuwen — the principals — are very transparent . . . When I went in to sign the contract with them, Kevin gave me a spreadsheet of where all time and money was expected to go . . .”
Davidson is honest and funny. He’s delighted by the landscaping, done by Alexandria’s Creations of Bellevue, and addresses it in the blog: “This stuff is called ‘Blue Star Creeper.’ Sounds smokable.”
Then there’s the discussion of the fan over the cooktop: “Kitchen hoods can be the biggest ripoff of all household appliances. It’s basically a fan surrounded by some steel and these things can get into the $5,000 range. Rubberduckulous.”
What you see is what you get with Davidson, but what you can’t see, at first glance, is his favorite part of the house, the rooftop deck and hot tub.
“I don’t understand why everybody doesn’t build one of these. Flat roofs with rooftop decks are so much more useful and fun than sloped roofs with, uhhh, shingles. If you have any sort of view whatsoever, you should have a rooftop deck.”
“We can hear seals barking. We get eagles,” he says. “And we can see all the weather systems come through.”
Davidson is resting his eyes on the navy-gray waters waving past his house. Overall, “I would rate my experience a 9.5 out of 10,” he says. “All it takes is for one thing to go wrong and your budget is blown. If your foundation is cracked, that’s $50,000.”
But that didn’t happen. Or he would have told you.
Rebecca Teagarden is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. Mike Davidson is a designer and author of the blogs www.mikeindustries.com and www.ahousebythepark.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest staff photographer.