OPTIONS WERE AN OBSTACLE from the get-go.
Chad and Wendy Lorentz were high-school sweethearts. He is an architect, with Urbal Architecture; she is an OB-GYN. They are now married, with two active young daughters (Siena, 8, and 4-year-old Ellie) and a cat named Rosalie who purrs as she curls on Siena’s bed.
True. None of those is an obstacle of limited options. But these were. This is our official get-go.
Obstacle No 1: Several years ago, many months’ pregnant and living in a Green Lake townhouse, “Wendy came home and said, ‘We have to move,’ ” Chad says. “Wendy and I wanted a place where we could raise a family and, eventually, enjoy retirement. She wanted three bedrooms all on one level. We had several requirements that eliminated most homes on the market.”
Solution No. 1: Blessedly on the market, in the peaceful, tree-full Broadview neighborhood, sat a distinctive midcentury-modern home built by Scandinavian carpenter Axel Fiksdal in 1952. “Our home is squeezed in atop a steep ravine at Carkeek Park,” Chad says. “When we walked into this treetop home, we knew immediately it was the one for us. … As an architect, the layout and design were as good as any I had seen. The house is split-level, of post-and-beam construction, with high wood [tongue-and-groove] ceilings and floor-to-ceiling glass out to the view.”
Obstacle No. 2: “It was so dated and needed so much,” he says.
Solution No. 2, a stopgap of sorts, started on a smaller scale of immediate priorities: “In the first few months of moving in, we did some limited work on the house — new finishes, new paint and other cosmetic touches. That was followed by a kitchen remodel a few years later to create a more current layout and look that gave us more space and better flow, especially for entertaining.”
Obstacle No. 3: “Still,” Chad says, “to stay here another 50 years, we needed a master suite with its own bathroom. Unfortunately, the home’s most distinctive feature, its perch atop a deep ravine, leaves it with no buildable space. We seemed to be stuck.”
Solution No. 3 (which, technically, would rank No. 1 in creativity and composition): “[It] struck like lightning one Sunday morning,” Chad says. “ … I watched the rainfall on the treetops just out our bedroom window, and it just hit me. I woke Wendy up and said, ‘We are going to cantilever over the ravine.’ ”
Obstacle No. 4: The first time Chad pitched his idea of a hovering haven to Brian Franey, of EDGE Design & Build, “It just went quiet,” Chad says. The two are friends — Franey was the builder behind the Lorentzes’ Green Lake townhome — and fellow University of Washington architecture alumni. “His understanding of architecture and skill as a craftsman were the perfect fit to carry out such an ambitious proposition,” Chad says. Backup options need not apply.
Solution No. 4: Franey was intrigued — “This house is so perfectly gridded,” he says. “It’s the perfect plan.” — so the quiet didn’t last. Especially once construction began. Chad’s vision — “a glassy bedroom with a double-sided fireplace that cantilevers out 15 feet over the ravine” — started to take shape, and took a lot of precision.
“We brought in a specialty welder,” Franey says. “There were very small tolerances, and the bracket downstairs is fairly complicated. The beams stick out — there’s so much weight. All of them had to be set to perfection. All the doors have to slide. The fireplace was one of the most challenging aspects, getting that thing in there and ultimately making it work. We had to finesse it.”
As wondrously as the cantilever idea materialized, every single other obstacle — to the flow of the home, to modern living, to private and active-family spaces — became a brilliant possibility of unlimited options and, in the end, creative, respectful solutions.
“The original bedroom was converted into a walk-in closet and a bathroom with a custom double vanity, a large two-head shower and a separate toilet compartment (with a Japanese toilet),” Chad says. “We filled in our steeply sloped driveway and took half of our two-car garage, converting it to a laundry room and gym.” (One of the bedroom’s two heavy-duty supporting steel beams is exposed in the gym; the other is in the garage.)
Four new skylights add luminous light. A new outdoor kitchen extends cooking, eating and entertaining options. In a repurposing DIY move, Chad adapted an old fence from the front yard into a slatted cedar accent at the entry. Downstairs, a softer “romper room” evolved around the brick fireplace — cracked, Chad says, from the original builder’s sons throwing logs. “We could have done so much, but the original character would be gone. We didn’t want to do that,” he says.
Instead, the Lorentzes opted for graceful solutions that extend — and honor — the history of a special home.
“Each morning waking up in our glass box in this dense forest is very inspirational,” says Chad. “The changes in program, in how light now floods formerly dark areas of the house, have made our family’s lives both easier and better … and will allow this house to be enjoyed well into the future.”