We started meeting and interviewing architects in late March. It was a tough decision to pick one architect as several are very good. We interviewed seven Seattle architects and we chose Miller-Hull.
We expect it to take a year to design it and another year or more after that to build it. So we’re just at the start of a very long process that will consume a large part of our time for a while but are excited to get into it. We wrote our “program”, which is a description of each room of the house and how the rooms should relate to each other, and, in our case, a 56-page document. We had our first meeting last week to go over it with the architect.
We picked Miller-Hull because we love their buildings, of course. They are, in our view, the inventors of the Pacific Northwest wood/concrete/steel style that we love. We also want an environmentally sustainable house and this is one of Miller-Hull’s skills (they wrote a book on it, in fact).
They have a very collaborative approach both within the firm and with the client. We knew we’d want to be very involved in the process because we appreciate design and we want to be active in the design and building of our dream house — the house our kids will grow up in and, hopefully, want to come back to when they’re older (and we’re very old). We wanted an architect that would put up with, maybe even appreciate, our meddling in the process.
As for our current house, we’ve always hated it. Not only is it ugly and not fit the surroundings at all, it’s incredibly inefficient space-wise. It has so many 45° angles that it has, by our measure, 20% wasted space. That’s space that needs to be heated and cooled yet can’t be used as living area. There’s only two small bedrooms for kids (one without a closet) and no way to add another without making significant changes to the structure. The kitchen is completely separated from the rest of the house so the kids can’t be seen from the kitchen and when we have guests over, everyone squeezes into the kitchen. The great view we have is only visible from two rooms in the house and most windows are oriented away from the view — it’s as if the house was designed for another property and then plopped here. It’s very difficult to walk through the house with all the crazy angled walls — it feels chaotic to be in it and new visitors tend to get lost. And there’s entirely too many stairs for no good reason — what idiot put a sunken living room in which puts the seating below the view?! We have a ridiculously large master bedroom, a room we only use when we’re sleeping, and a bathroom that is also too large with a big bathtub that we never use and creates an inconvenient walking path into the bathroom. The windows throughout the house are so poorly placed that the temperature can vary 20 degrees from one room to the next — the dining room is unbearable in the summer and, at the same time, the office is so cold I have to turn on the electric heaters. Argh, I could go on and on….
At first we thought we could remodel the house to fix the biggest problems but the more we thought about it, the more we realized that it’d take almost as much money to fix the major things yet, after spending lots of money, we’d still be stuck with a house we mostly don’t like.
We think we can build a much more attractive house, with a more simple and open design that fits our lifestyle, and a more efficient house — using passive heating and cooling — to keep our electric bill as low as possible. We have a south-facing property with good clearance to the sun so we should be able to get lots of effective solar glazing to heat the house passively. The current house doesn’t take advantage of this at all with poorly-placed windows and no internal thermal mass to store heat or transfer it to the rest of the house. Cooling the house should be trivial, just have some open windows to catch the breeze and passively cool the house during the warmer summer months.