After finding a steep lot that nobody had been able to build on, a Seattle couple built their dream house with salvaged and sustainable materials and called it "Treehouse" for its place among the leafy branches — visible thanks to skylights and windows in all the right places. Cork floors, plywood ceilings and homemade furniture...

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photographed by Benjamin Benschneider

IT’S FUNNY how things happen.

For years Prentis Hale and his wife, Tracy Edmonds, rented on Capitol Hill and farmed a piece of P-Patch in Colman Park. Hale designs houses for a living, and he and his wife wanted one of their own. But, as he says, “We weren’t dot-comers during the heyday, and we felt left out” during Seattle’s housing-boom years.

So, as a joke, Edmonds looked online and typed “lots from $0 to $50,000,” expecting to find nothing.

And there it was, in all its improbably steep-sloped, wooded glory: $19,000. And not 200 feet away from their Mount Baker P-Patch garden. The couple couldn’t believe their luck. They offered $15,000, got it and thought they were on their way to building their first home.

And then, sometimes, it’s not so funny how things happen.

“The guy who previously tried to build here angered all the neighbors. Then he had a heart attack,” Hale says. “We bought it from the title company. They were looking to dump it.” The couple’s permitting process, beginning in 1999, took 2 ½ years. Then the structural-steel fabricator ran off with their money.

But here we sit today, nestled in the result of 10 years of planning, designing and sweat equity (heavy on the sweat).

Twin daughters Pippa and Maisie, born halfway through the whole thing, color with fat markers, seated at a little table just their size. Orange Formica top on the table, pink dresses on the girls. The grown-ups take tea nearby on the sunflower-yellow Formica kitchen bar.

“We’re happy we built the space we wanted and shied away from making it too fancy,” says Hale, a principal at Seattle architecture firm SHED. “We chose space over expensive things.”

Take the kitchen, for example: $4,700. Total. Including appliances. From Ikea. And that includes the butcher-block counters.

The home — 1,644 square feet with two bedrooms, 1.5 baths on three levels — is open and bright. Kitchen, living room and dining room are one, the ceiling high above and encompassing a lofty studio space upstairs. Overhead is big-sky country via a central skylight and windows in all the right places. Outside are treetops all around. White walls inside magnify available light. Floors are cork. Plywood can be found on ceilings, in stairways and on shelves. It was also used to make much of the furniture; beds, tables, chairs, sofa.

Bright punches of color, like the cobalt rug in the living room, add a big smile to the interior face of this house — a place where it’s OK to leave out the rocking horse, the puzzles and the Mickey Mouse telephone.

The exterior is a contemporary quilt of camouflage and accent. The steel-framed carport is orange. The home is wrapped in multicolored asphalt roll roofing, a reference to the gray-green bark of surrounding trees. The skylight is clad in galvanized metal. Materials were chosen for affordability and durability, and were salvaged and sustainable when possible.

Sweat equity kept costs at $149 per square foot; the grand total — for the lot, access, home and furnishings — was $501,541.48.

“There’ve been numerous, numerous people who’ve tried to build on this lot,” Hale says of the inventive family home he calls, appropriately, Treehouse.

But only one did.

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