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Originally published Friday, March 29, 2013 at 12:00 PM

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Architect Shea Bajaj opens a box of a home for lighter, greener livin'

"Since I've moved in, just about every house has sold or been torn down," homeowner says of his Central District neighborhood.

Pacific NW associate editor

Renovation fair

Meet experts in historic preservation, restoration and renovation at Historic Seattle's Building Renovation Fair, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 13 at Washington Hall, 153 14th Ave. Architects, contractors, engineers and trades people will be available to talk about all things "old house." Also, presentations will be held throughout the day. Tickets are $5; students free. For more information go to www.historicseattle.org.

LOU'S A TOUGH interview.

Sure, he's welcoming at the front door and eager to have his guests seated comfortably on the sofa. But then he goes and bites the top off my pen.

Now what?

"Lou! Stop that!" says Melissa Glass, Lou's mom. The enthusiastic French bulldog, however, is undauntable. And now Bodie (Chihuahua) wants some, too. Time for the humans to go for a walk.

First it's over to the kitchen, a few steps from the airy living room, open to the loft and plywood ceiling above. Lively prefinished hickory floors below, Paperstone counters, cherry-stained cabinets. Big windows to a wonderland of a backyard garden, jampacked with tranquility in its long, narrow Central District lot.

"The old place felt really dark, because it was just a box, and a picket fence, with a roof on it," says Alex Glass, Lou's dad.

Alex paid $200,000 for that 900-square-foot box in 1999 on a street of residential redos. "Since I've moved in, just about every house has sold or been torn down," he says. After living there five years, and working from a teacher's salary, he put on a deck and new doors.

Then he thought it would be nice to get the bathroom out of the kitchen. And to be able to enter the basement without having to go outside. "But it didn't make sense to stop there," he says. "I wanted to know what could we do inside the box of the house."

Which brings us to architect Shea Bajaj of Viridian Architecture & Design and the 1,600 square feet of modern, lean living we present today, two bedrooms, one bath now three and two.

"One of the cool things about Shea was, he didn't ask us what we liked. He asked, 'How do you live in the house?' " The answer is ... an open living-dining-kitchen, spaces that make it easy to have people over. An upstairs more private: A loft den, bedrooms. A walk-through closet that connects master bedroom and bath. An on-demand water heater for long, hot showers on occasion. A craft room for Melissa and her vintage and textile efforts on Etsy. And, not the least, big walls for art.

"This sounds pompous, but I wanted the downstairs to be like an art gallery," says Alex, who comes from an art-loving Portland family.

Throughout the project, though, the concern was for the budget, even after Alex left teaching for high-tech.

"I think I drove the contractors (New Lines Construction) crazy. Every conversation I asked, 'So where are we with the budget?' Also, Shea follows the Eames dictate that good design comes from restraint, and that's what I wanted."

The finished product came in within $10,000 of the goal and at $150 per square foot. Products recycled and sustainable wherever possible. The new interior stairs to the basement, for example, are from Second Use, reclaimed wood from a school. And the A-grade plywood ceiling with dark trim lends a lodgelike feeling to the whole deal. "The contractor kept saying it would look like a gym," Alex says. But he persisted.

Out back is Melissa's work: urban plot transformed.

"I had cancer in 2010, and during chemo I was bored stupid," she says. "I found that digging out the grass with a shovel and putting plants in the ground by hand ... there was something about it. I think it was the idea that something was going to live and last."

Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.

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