The Seattle architect helped a young family create a private yet affordable contemporary house they could all grow up in for years to come.
GREG BOWEN and Joelle Chizmar had a problem on their hands.
A 1912 Wallingford farmhouse, well-worn, used up and, beneath the surface, a little odd (when the builders ran out of timbers they used tree branches as floor joists). But the couple liked the neighborhood, wanted to grow themselves a family and, in 2001, that was the house they could afford.
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So old, weird farmhouse it was.
They lived there for three years, planning for the kids and hoping for an architect to remake and expand the original farmhouse — important because it came set back into the rear yard and, thus, was as secluded as a house in Wallingford can be. (A new house would not be permitted so far back into the property.)
Son Kai arrived right on schedule in 2002. The architect came by a more circuitous route.
“We had two architects come and tell us to just tear it down; there was nothing we could do,” Bowen says.
“Then one day Greg got a flat tire. He was in Ballard on his bike, so he started walking,” Chizmar says.
Where he walked was into David Coleman Architecture on Ballard Avenue.
“David came over, and he didn’t say tear it down,” Bowen recalls. “He said, ‘I see two buildings connected by a glass hallway on two levels.”
It was not only a solution but cool beyond expectation. A match was made. When Coleman asked the couple what they desired within, they offered to him those three little words every architect dreams of: “Go for it.”
“As soon as he said we didn’t have to tear this down and ‘I have a vision,’ we trusted him,” Bowen says. “But our budget was small.”
“Tight,” says Chizmar.
“I did all the demolition myself,” Bowen says. “It was a lot of weekends.”
What has risen from the old foundation now stands straight and tall with a three-story tower and rooftop deck — like a glass-and-steel heron craning its neck to see what it can see, which is plenty. The tower doubles the home’s square footage to 2,086. Only the deck and streetside address numbers give the tucked-back house away.
Concrete and steel and tall glass walls are married to the old, found in the oak kitchen floor. High-end design, built by Norm Gove and Cambridge Custom Homes, is tempered with off-the-shelf cabinetry, Milgard windows and well-placed Ikea. Always design choices meeting budget restrictions.
“David’s favorite line is, ‘Well, you know what you could do.’ Then you knew you were dead, because you knew you were going to love it,” says Chizmar, speaking, in this case, about the frosted-glass panel across the dining-room-window wall, solving a view problem.
“But we also discovered every cheap, inexpensive building material we could find,” Bowen says. “The Ikea cabinets in the bathroom and entry, David came up with that.”
Coleman’s design also created two outdoor courtyards, room to play for what has become a family of four (Luka came along in 2007), and surprise views that sweep from the Cascades across Lake Union to downtown Seattle.
Interior spaces (with three bedrooms, 2 ½ baths) are no larger than needed, and highlight the couple’s art collection, gathered during Bowen’s previous career in Illinois as an art-museum curator. The family convenes in a compact but filled-with-light sunken living room. The rich Weimaraner-gray leather sofa matches the family’s dog, Lola.
The family unpacked in 2005, but always mindful of their budget, work continued here and there until the landscaping was completed in 2010.
“It’s not huge,” says Chizmar, “but it lives big.”
Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific Northwest magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.