OUTDOOR ROOMS MAKE SMALL HOUSES LARGER: A dining table and chairs extend the living space to the garden. Buried beneath the patio, a 1500-gal. cistern stores runoff for toilets, laundry, and irrigation. The steeply pitched gable roof echoes those of neighboring houses. Photo taken at A on floor plan.
In Seattle, several small houses are popping up, but they are not where you might expect. Modeled on carriage houses of old, these backyard cottages are second houses on the same lots as primary residences. They offer occupants established, walkable neighborhoods, with the public transportation and local businesses sorely lacking in far-flung suburbs.
To keep the cottages in sync with neighborhood character, Seattle’s new zoning ordinance is strict: In addition to conforming to typical total lot coverage, setbacks, and off-street parking, a cottage can be no more than 800 net sq. ft., with a 23-ft. height limit. The net-square-footage rule means that the thickness of the walls is not included in the total amount of living space.
Our firm, CAsT architecture, was itching to design a house that would satisfy the city’s new rules and whatever needs a client might bring to the party. Enter Ken and Marilyn Widner. They had been thinking about downsizing after retirement, and having a new cottage seemed like the perfect solution to update their lifestyle without having to leave their beloved neighborhood. Instead of spending time cleaning the 3000-sq.-ft. house they raised their family in, they would be able to rent it and spend time traveling.
Their goals didn’t stop there. The Widners wanted to keep as much yard as possible for gardening, to build green, to harvest rainwater, and to make space for their vinyl LP collection and mementos collected from a lifetime of travel. The new house also had to be a good neighbor to the turn-of-the-20th-century bungalows lining the street.
We sat down with the site map, subtracted the setbacks, and calculated the available lot coverage. The maximum buildable footprint was 452 sq. ft. With a two-story house, we were in business.