An innovative, energy-efficient house achieves a nautical, relaxed, woodsy vibe.

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IT WAS GETTING a little crowded — and loud — in the downtown Seattle condo of Susan Jones and Marco Zangari. For one thing, their kids, as kids do, were growing into full-size roommates. For another, someone was building a giant city seawall, all day, every day, right outside their windows.

“With four people in 1,000 square feet, we were living in Tokyo standards,” Jones says. “(Marco and I) slept in the loft right over the top of the kitchen. And there was a period of time when nobody slept.”

As much as they love downtown — and that’s a lot — they simply needed more space. And because Jones is an architect (with atelierjones LLC), they wanted to build the space themselves, sustainably.

Jones turned to her client, AKA her husband, and asked him his dream.

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Zangari said: an urban beach cabin.

Jones said: How do we create that?

“I grew up in the Northwest, with small, modest beach cabins on Orcas Island,” Jones says. “You take a ferry, a highway, a winding gravel road, and you walk inside and get a feeling of relaxation: the smell of the wood, wood on floors and ceilings, very much integrated with nature. We wanted ours to be an example of how to build lightly with wood in the city and still capture that.”

Light pours down the second-floor birch ply stair treads from an overhead Solar Innovations skyhatch that leads to a rooftop deck and garden. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Light pours down the second-floor birch ply stair treads from an overhead Solar Innovations skyhatch that leads to a rooftop deck and garden. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

During the economic meltdown, they lucked into a tiny, triangular, affordable lot in Madison Park that once had been underwater. Not in a metaphorical post-Recession sense — but really, truly, wetly underwater, as in 9 feet below Lake Washington, before the Montlake Cut debuted in 1916.

Now, a century later, after upcycling and recycling as much as possible of the site’s original stucco-clad brick house, Jones and Zangari live with their two teenagers in an innovative, efficient and decidedly dry 1,486-square-foot home that uses widely accepted passive-house techniques — and a much rarer type of construction.

Jones says their home is the first permitted building in Seattle, and one of the first multistoried structures in the country, to use cross-laminated timber (CLT), highly energy-efficient, layered engineered wood panels oriented at right angles and glued into bigger, stronger structural panels.

Susan Jones works at the dining-room table under a dangling seaglass light. She brought much of the home’s furniture back from an architectural stint in Vienna; other pieces came via her grandmother. Most are a darker reddish wood to contrast with the CLT, and most have a curved linear quality to contrast with the home’s straight and strong boards.  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Susan Jones works at the dining-room table under a dangling seaglass light. She brought much of the home’s furniture back from an architectural stint in Vienna; other pieces came via her grandmother. Most are a darker reddish wood to contrast with the CLT, and most have a curved linear quality to contrast with the home’s straight and strong boards. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

“This product originated in Austria and Switzerland in the ’90s,” Jones says. “Europeans have been doing this for decades.”

All told, 67 prefabricated CLT panels were delivered from British Columbia; they act as both structure and interior wall finish. The home’s exterior is strikingly charred shou-sugi-ban Douglas fir; inside it’s luminously light and open. The white pine CLT is raw, textured and only slightly whitewashed — six months after completion, it still smells like freshly cut wood. (Jones says approximately 20 sustainably harvested regional trees were used for construction; to even the forestry score, her family planted 20 western white pines and Douglas firs on her grandfather’s land on Orcas Island.)

Cranes erected the panels in just 12 days, Jones says and, in an ingenious (and serendipitous) touch, Philips Ledino LED light fixtures now perfectly fill the holes used to hoist the panels.

Susan Jones, Marco Zangari and their two teenagers moved from a 1,000-square-foot downtown condo, and say while their new home might not seem big by Seattle standards, it feels huge and luxurious to them. “We went from no master to a suite,” Jones says.  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Susan Jones, Marco Zangari and their two teenagers moved from a 1,000-square-foot downtown condo, and say while their new home might not seem big by Seattle standards, it feels huge and luxurious to them. “We went from no master to a suite,” Jones says. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Upstairs, sunlight slices through two CLT panels where the manufacturer carved a design Jones created to evoke the wood’s pine knots; the result is both natural and somewhat nautical.

Nautical references pop up like bobbing buoys throughout the home — it is a beach cabin, after all — and a simple grace moors it all.

Marco Zangari cooks in the home’s galley kitchen, with its cool, utilitarian concrete floor and quartz-finished countertops. All the appliances, except the stove, were upcycled from the site’s previous home.  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Marco Zangari cooks in the home’s galley kitchen, with its cool, utilitarian concrete floor and quartz-finished countertops. All the appliances, except the stove, were upcycled from the site’s previous home. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

“The first thing is to let the wood speak for itself,” Jones says. “We wanted to express the volumes of the wood, to let the grain move with the space — not decorate it, just let the light fall across it.”

So this, then, is how you create an urban beach cabin: relaxed vibes, lots and lots of wonderful wood and a purposeful sense of peace amid bustling surroundings.

“It’s quiet,” says Zangari, who teaches in the history department at Seattle University. “The walls are so thick that for as open a house as it is, there’s a lot of privacy.”

The 1,486-square-foot CLTHouse in Madison Park, clad in charred shou-sugi-ban Douglas fir, follows the triangular angles of its “leftover” 2,500-square-foot lot. The home has three bedrooms and 2.5 baths.  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
The 1,486-square-foot CLTHouse in Madison Park, clad in charred shou-sugi-ban Douglas fir, follows the triangular angles of its “leftover” 2,500-square-foot lot. The home has three bedrooms and 2.5 baths. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Then there’s the beach part. You can see it, 2½ blocks away, from the cedar rooftop deck — and you can sense it everywhere.

“Over the summer, we had lots of friends come swim,” Zangari says. “We’d leave towels at the door, and they’d come in and drink something and leave.”

“It feels like we’re on vacation,” Jones says.