Seattle architecture firm SHED designed this compact home for a couple who wanted to live in a smaller apartment on their own property.
The project called Alley Cat was started for a couple who live in an artisanal house in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle.
As customers travel frequently, they have decided to rent out their main residence and create a “compact base” for themselves in the backyard.
They reached out to local firm SHED Architecture and Design to create what is known as a freestanding version of an additional residential unit (ADU).
The customers had several inquiries for their small residence. They wanted it to have a separate identity from their primary residence, a strong relationship with the existing garden, and easy access to an alleyway. In addition, they demanded that it be low-maintenance and be able to accommodate photovoltaic modules.
“In addition, the customer was hoping for an indoor space that was open to the sun and had primary rooms on one level so they could age on site,” said SHED.
The team designed a modern apartment with a total area of 74 square meters. The building is located on the east side of the customer’s property between the garden and a legally required ADU parking lot.
The building has a rectangular floor plan and an asymmetrical gable shape, which is scaled according to the neighboring houses.
“In appearance, the building is reminiscent of a cat with its back flattened to the ground and ready to pounce,” said the studio.
The outer walls are clad with standing seam aluminum panels in a dark gray shade that the studio selected to create a “durable, maintenance-free skin”.
SHED updates the Seattle mid-century modern home with “strong bones”
The front door is on the southeast corner of the building. This is cut away to create a sheltered space with caramel colored cedar and potted plants.
Inside the house there is a living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom on the ground floor. Overlooking the double high living area there is an attic that is used as a den. A steel ladder leads into the room and is bounded by a steel cable handrail.
The windows have been carefully placed based on natural light and privacy needs. A vertical peek-a-boo window lets in light in the kitchen.
The main living room has a sliding glass door that lets in plenty of natural light and allows the house to connect to a terrace. Skylights provide additional lighting in the compact apartment.
“Four parallel skylights in the attic provide daylight from above and enable night stargazing,” said SHED.
Pine plywood was used for wall cladding and closets. A radiant concrete slab ensures warmth and visual uniformity.
The house’s range of materials is meant to be “elementary and purposeful,” the studio added.
The rooms are outfitted with contemporary and contemporary decor such as a black futon, wooden coffee table, reclaimed chairs, and a saucer-shaped pendant by American industrial designer George Nelson. A slim desk is lined with a pair of Eames Wire Chairs.
The house should have a cozy interior and a tough exterior. “Tough outside, warm inside, Alley Cat is a street-smart, modern apartment curled up in the corner of town,” added the studio.
ADUs have become increasingly popular in cities with housing shortages. Also in Seattle, Best Practice Architecture turned an unused garage into a little black house for an older family member, while Wittman Estes and NODE created a prefabricated unit that runs on solar energy.
Founded in 1998, SHED has completed a number of Seattle housing projects, including a renovated 1950s apartment originally built for cartoonist Irwin Caplan and converting a horse stable into an art studio and guest house.
The photography is by Mark Woods.
Architect: Shed architecture & design
Structural engineer: Todd Perbix
Metal cladding: Nu-Ray
Windows: Anderson, Fakro
Sliding door: The cellar
Lighting and furniture: Modern forms, Herman Miller
Kitchen countertops: IKEA
Match pairings: Hansgrohe
Bathtub: Charcoal burner
Fan: Big Ass Fan