Filed under: studio zerbey

studio zerbey / seattle house lift

We first met Paige and Evan last fall when we did a consultation for their small 1918 house in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. (They found us through our blog – yay!) They hadn’t lived in the house long, but knew they wanted to make some changes that would create more usable spaces and take advantage of an unfinished basement. The footprint of the house was approximately 783 SF, with a single bedroom and bathroom. A full basement below meant a lot of potential, but sadly the ceiling height was only 6′ or so.

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Above, the official “before” photo of the front of the house.

We discussed a few different options and ultimately decided that lifting the house made the most sense. So many houses in Seattle (whose housing stock is largely from the early 20th century) have this same short-basement dilemma, including ours. (We considered lifting but because we only have a half basement decided it wasn’t worth the effort.) Paige and Evan also planned on doing much of the construction themselves, so that’s something we took into consideration during the design process.

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Here are a few exterior photos from when we did the as-built measurements last January. (It has been HOT here the last week and looking at these photos made me a little jealous. I must be a true Seattleite now.)

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Aside from lifting the house about 30″, the design also included filling in the recessed portions at the front and back of the house (which provided a spot for the new interior stair) and adding a new covered front porch.

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Here are some side-by-side floor plans to give you an idea of what will be involved. (Click to enlarge.)

basement plan

The goal was to keep all the “public” spaces on the main floor and use the basement for bedrooms, bathrooms and a laundry space. To simplify the existing framing, we kept the location of the interior load-bearing wall and added several larger windows to bring more natural light into the rooms. Under the future front porch will be a large storage area accessed from the outside. (There is a small shed in the backyard, but no real garage.)

main floor plan

The existing bedroom on the main floor will become a more casual living space (with a larger opening and sliding door) while the front of the house will serve as dining area (something that didn’t really exist before). The kitchen will be reconfigured a bit to create a more functional space with better flow, as it will continue to be the “hallway” of the house. A small office nook will be added adjacent to the new stair. The small recessed porch will be enclosed to create a mudroom entry and a new covered front porch will be added to the front of the house.

Now, fast-forward to late spring when the building permit was issued and construction started! One of the first tasks was to demo the existing masonry chimney and patch the roof.

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As you can tell, it was a fun and clean task for Evan.

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To make way for the machinery needed to lift the house, they also had some clearing that needed to happen first.

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The general contractor is actually Paige’s dad, Michael, and she left her old job to be his right-hand man (err, woman) during construction. I love remodels, but even more so when they have an interesting side story like this one!

Before the house could be lifted, they had to move everything out of the basement, demolish the interior framing and remove the existing siding and sheathing at the basement level.

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Paige and Evan worked with Kunkel Moving & Raising, a local company that has been lifting, leveling and moving houses in the Seattle area for over 100 years! Without getting into too much technical jargon, the main gist of raising a house is to first build heavy timber structures (called cribbing) that will support the steel beams that the house will temporarily rest on while new walls are constructed.

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Next, a boom crane delivered the steel beams through openings cut in the temporary plywood sheathing. Those are the couple’s two dogs – Uki and Odo peering out from the temporary doggie gate above. (In most situations, it’s possible to live in the house after it’s raised which is what Paige and Evan are doing.)

Crazy side story: after visiting the house for the first time we realized that we actually used to live across the street, in a small house that we rented for a year before buying chezerbey in 2006! Even crazier, although Paige and Evan didn’t live there at the time, their two dogs did. The previous owner remarried someone with severe dog allergies and so the new homeowners adopted the dogs. Bailey was a puppy when we lived across the street, so very likely that they had met (or at least sniffed each other out) on a few occasions!

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With the cribbing and support beams in place it was time to LIFT! (Anything else tying the house to the basement – like plumbing and electrical, were also temporarily unattached.) A series of hydraulic jacks (four in this case) were used to do the actual lifting.

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The house was lifted about 12″ higher than its final location, but this allows for the new foundation and framing to be added more easily. Once that’s in place, the house will be lowered back down again.

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(After the house lift was done, a temporary stair extension was added to the existing front steps.)

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Oh hey there, spacious basement!

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Todd Schlemmer (@theschlem on Twitter), a friend of Paige and Evan’s captured the entire 2 1/2 hour process. Using a Swann freestyle HD sports camera and OpenShot for Gnu/Linux, a picture was taken every 5 seconds and then assembled into this 3 minute video. Check it out!

On the left, a nerve-racking way to access the back door. On the right, the crew’s construction dog keeping an eye on things. (I don’t know what it is about contractors and small dogs but I love it.)

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After the house was up in the air, work got underway on demolishing the existing foundation.

It can be possible to work with a house’s existing foundation (just building a taller stud wall on top) but for this project the owners wanted to tear out and pour a proper foundation. The new footings were also designed to accommodate a second story if they decide to expand again in the future. We had originally planned to pour on top of the existing concrete slab, but it wasn’t very thick and mostly crumbled under the weight of the excavator.

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There’s Michael rocking the excavator above and the happy (although probably pretty tired) homeowners below.

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Formwork for the new concrete footings went in last week and next up is pouring the new foundation!

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During our own remodel, we used to always hope that we’d find some gold bars or just something interesting or unique. Paige and Evan didn’t stumble across any fortunes, but they did find these cool glass bottles, one of which was from the Keystone Liquor Company, a Seattle-based outfit that was in business from 1902-1914!

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We’re so excited to continue watching the progress on this remodel and see the interior spaces start to take shape (and sharing updates here). The usable space will more than double in size (going from a 1 bedroom/1 bath to a 3 bedroom/3 bath!), all while working within the footprint of the existing house (minus the new open-air front porch). As architects, it’s so rewarding to help breathe new life into an old house and even more so when the family behind it are energetic, smart and design-minded.

Kyle and I stopped by the house a few weeks ago to check out the progress and I may have had a tiny bit of remodel envy. Although we still have plenty of work to do here at chezerbey, I clearly remember the excitement (and sometimes fear!) that came with those big, game-changer projects. Paige and Evan – it’s going to be so great – hang in there!

Want to see more? Follow Paige’s Instagram account!

studio zerbey / montana residence

As architects, the most exciting aspect of our job is seeing a project physically come to life. We continue to be knee-deep in Studio Zerbey design work right now (hence the lack of home-related blog posts) – early summer is always a hectic time with many of our current projects being submitted for building permits or starting construction. So over the next few months, we thought we’d share a few that have recently been completed or are under construction as we write.

First up, a new custom home in Missoula, Montana that recently wrapped up construction. Thanks to Joe McMahon of McMahon Construction and his entire team for executing the design so well. Kyle started this project in 2008 while working with his previous employer, Balance Associates. It took almost three years and many trips to Missoula to work through the design with the City and acquire the necessary building and land use permits – as the site was a designated steep slope, flood plain and partial wildlife habitat area. Kyle worked with city environmentalists to restore the wildlife area and address their remaining concerns. (When Kyle joined Studio Zerbey the project had already started construction so Balance Associates and Studio Zerbey agreed to complete the project as a joint project.) Kyle was up in MT a few weeks ago and took these photographs of the exterior and main living spaces. More photos to come in the future, but here’s a glimpse for now:

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A view of the backyard grassy play area and outdoor kitchen with cantilevered deck and outdoor fireplace beyond. The cantilever was actually a design solution to the topography in this area, spanning across the slope rather than anchoring into it (which wouldn’t have been allowed anyway).

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The living room opens up to the outdoor area with a large sliding door. The door has 2 operable panels that slide to the right for an opening that’s about 14′ wide!

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You can barely see it in this photo, but beyond the trees there is a large creek that runs through the backyard of the property. Not only does it create a pleasant soothing sound when the doors are open, but the homeowners can also just walk out their back door and do some fly-fishing!

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Kyle worked with the homeowners and Melissa Leadbeater at Seattle’s Design Within Reach to select all the furniture for the home. (Obviously, our clients have excellent taste.) They’re now working together again to pick outdoor furniture for summertime.

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This view is from the creek looking back towards the house. Originally the yard had a steep slope area that was redesigned into a terraced walkway with Corten steel retaining walls.

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The entry side of the home is designed to have a low profile and hug the earth.

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Kudos to Andy Lennox of The Lennox Craftsmen for the well-crafted sapele cabinetry with integral lighting that can be seen throughout the home.

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Stay tuned for upcoming posts highlighting construction progress on the Olympic Forest Cabin, Alaska Surf Shack and Missoula Mixed-Use Remodel. In addition to two new custom homes, we also have several residential remodel projects that will begin construction this year – a few of which will include good ol’ sweat equity from the homeowners themselves! We can’t wait to share the transformations with you (because if we can’t work on our own homes we might as well live vicariously through others, right?).

playing catch up

Hello!

I didn’t really intend to take this little break from blogging, but these last few months have been busy. I know, that word is almost trite these days, but it’s true. Busy (really busy) with work, busy with life. Although we have a few post ideas in the hopper, the blog has been like that stack of magazines on my nightstand that I just can’t seem to get around to.

My thoughts on blogging have also changed a bit since I got back from the Alt conference and I’ve been trying to process what that means for chezerbey. Expecting to come back re-energized about the direction of the blog, I instead felt a bit underwhelmed and unmotivated. The conference itself was great – very well organized and orchestrated, especially considering how many people (I heard somewhere between 600-700) were there. I also finally got to meet Jaime, Nicole and Dana! Dana and I shared a room and stayed up way too late each night, mostly talking about things outside of our blogs.

That said, I was a little disappointed by the seminars and presentations. Perhaps it’s because ours is somewhat of a niche blog (in the greater “design blog” sphere at least) or because it’s one that isn’t monetized, but I felt like most of the topics didn’t really apply. It also made me realize how much blogging has changed in the last several years and maybe that wasn’t a direction I wanted to go. (I went to a seminar about how to monetize your Pinterest account and it left me so overwhelmed that I had a Pinterest nightmare a few days later and haven’t logged on since. Seriously, I had no idea what a juggernaut it had become for some people.)

So, here we are. Our blog has been personally and professionally valuable to us and we have no intention of stopping. But moving forward, we are going to reevaluate a few things. In the beginning, I mostly blogged about what I wanted to, when I wanted to. The last few years brought more of an agenda though, with intentions to blog twice a week, to do more quick posts, to go outside our normal focus…to do more. But here’s the thing, once a week is challenging as it is and even my “quick” posts take at least 2 hours to write. So I’m going to abandon my previous ideas of what I think I should be doing and instead focus on what I want to do (realizing that this is what got people reading in the first place). Without the pressure to make money off the blog (something I’d been considering off and on for a few years), I want to instead focus on the opportunities it can afford and the relationships we’ve made and can continue to make. Since we started our architectural firm, Studio Zerbey, almost every single remodel project (we do about 50% remodels, 50% new construction) or consultation has come to us through the blog. People have hired us not just for our design aesthetic but because we’ve gone through (and documented!) the experience first-hand. This has made us more relatable and approachable and guys, that feels pretty good. That’s where we want to be, the kind of architects we want to be.

So we’re going to keep pushing in that direction and maybe we won’t post as often as we’d like, but we hope each post is interesting and well-done. Also, we are still not done with this house! Although our DIY accomplishments this year have consisted of 1) fixing the bathtub drain, 2) lubing the door locks and 3) repairing the screen on our return grill, our to-do list is more ambitious. In fact, we have a few deadlines in the next several months (including a photo shoot and an expiring construction permit) that will mean some serious PROGRESS on the home front!

Finally, thank you to those who have stuck with us through the years, offering your continued support and encouragement. Even if the blogosphere feels a bit different these days, I continue to be inspired by so many of you – whether it’s the comments you leave or the posts you write.