YOU KNOW HOW it goes in a new relationship: slow and steady. Light and breezy. One tentative, exploratory step at a time.

Or, you know: You could build an entire house right off the bat.

Well. This is not a huge house. But Todd and Robbie Tradal did build it, and it is right in their own backyard.

The Tradals — with teenager Greta, toddler Olin and wee-little doggo Chewy — live in a classic 1904 home in Magnolia, overlooking a wide-open postcard panorama of Fishermen’s Terminal and Ballard. Robbie is a broker with Windermere; Todd is in construction, as a superintendent for Exxel Pacific. And, in a very foundational way, construction is in him.

“I was raised in a family that did a lot of remodeling,” he says. “I can remember riding my Big Wheel on plywood subfloors. I’ve done a lot of other remodeling projects. I’ve got it in my blood.”

The more he learned about detached accessory dwelling units (DADUs), the more potential he saw — for construction, and for relationship bonding.


“I love to build and thought our backyard would be a perfect place for a DADU,” Todd says. “Robbie and I were newly married and wanted to start with a small-scale project.”

The Tradals’ backyard house might be small — Todd estimates “maybe 1 square inch under” Seattle’s 800-square-foot limit for the gross floor area of a DADU — but “scale” is perhaps subject to interpretation.

“It did kind of feel daunting for a while,” Robbie says. “It started becoming something — to go from start to finish, from blackberry bushes to a structure. From concept to completion, it probably took three to four years. If you hired somebody, you could do it in eight months.”

The Tradals did hire a few contributors — architect Jim Replinger of rho architects did the permit drawings, Gabe Harder handled the siding and framing, and Garrett Kuhlman of Designs Northwest Architects and Wendy Kennedy of H2K Design collaborated on the interiors — but their DIY list is almost as big as their DADU.

“I did a great majority of the work myself,” Todd says, starting with clearing and prepping the site. “I did all the concrete work; it took 130 yards of concrete to support the backyard. I added a concrete wall, poured the concrete slab and formed and poured the concrete fireplace. I framed all the concrete by myself except on pour day. Then I had four buddies — for four pump days — with the pump sitting in the alley. Concrete, interior finishes, cabinet install, windows were by me. A lot of the electrical I did. I laid all the hardwood floors, set the door jambs. A lot of the things in here kind of became my design.”

The Tradals shared a vision for their DADU as clear as its view. “Neither of us had lived in a Northwest contemporary environment,” Todd says. “We knew we wanted simple, rustic-meets-modern: clean lines, a lot of wood, daylight openings.”


With sky-high ceilings, a lofted bedroom and bands of clerestory windows, the DADU is airy, open and fabulously bright, making it look, and feel, much roomier than it is.

“It’s a really thoughtful design,” Todd says. “There are a lot of subtle things: The windows upstairs are up high, so you don’t look right at the main house. It’s not just a box — there are staggered wall lines and tiered roof lines; the bedroom has a different-height roof. All the casing is clear fir, and the doors. We made use of pocket doors — a key for space — and the mechanical room is under the stairs, space-saving.”

The whole family lived in this special, personal, polished space for six months after Olin was born, while the main house underwent some upgrades of its own.

“There were four of us in here,” Robbie says. “It was like we were on vacation a little bit.”

Or — maybe — an extended honeymoon.

“[Building this] was a hobby,” Todd says. “It’s what I love to do. Some people love to golf.”

Says Robbie: “I’m lucky I married someone who loves projects.”