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The Seattle Times | Pacific Northwest
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Northwest Living David Berger

An Art-Full Solution

With modest means, and needs to match, a sculptor gets creative

Like many people of a certain age — with kids transitioning to college, successful careers — Peter and Esther Reiquam were ready to create the right residential situation for the second half of their lives.

"Our goal was to simplify so we could enjoy our lives and go places," says Peter.

Peter, a sculptor and fabricator, and Esther, who teaches French at Bush School, wanted a low-maintenance, low-cost, environmentally sensitive house. Peter needed a large studio for his shop and art-making gear. Esther needed a small office. Other than that, their needs were modest.

They didn't want a lot of living space, even with two sons, 18 and 19, both about out of the house. They didn't want a lawn. They'd rather ride their motorcycles than spend time fussing with the house or elaborate entertaining. What with Seattle's hot real-estate market, they thought they had two options: Find a cost-effective lot and be thrifty in building a new house, or move to Enumclaw or some other distant location, like so many of their artist friends had done.

The decision was easy. "We were determined to stay in the city," the couple says. Peter didn't want to lose his involvement with the arts community. Esther didn't want commutes. They ended up finding a corner lot not far from where Peter was renting a studio, in the Georgetown neighborhood they both found so welcoming. They bought the lot from a friend.

Structural insulated panels are a plus, but . . .

The Reiquams decided to build with structural insulated panels (SIPs) because they wanted outstanding insulation. The custom-designed SIPs are fabricated in a factory, then assembled on site.

As a do-it-yourselfer, Peter found numerous challenges; for example, getting the SIP engineers and the fabricator to communicate well. Peter and Esther had been warned that the city of Seattle was not so familiar with SIPs; they followed a suggestion to permit the house with conventional framing, then make a revision for the SIPs. That turned out to be bad advice, which delayed the project and cost extra. In the end, Peter estimates SIPs cost them 10 to 15 percent more than conventional framing as far as raw material, but figures they will make that up quickly in saved energy costs. Plus, they have superior sound insulation.

Peter set to work designing the house himself, then collaborated with an architect to polish the technical drawings and prepare it for permitting. The two-story house is in a modern style, with commercial materials that fit the no-nonsense industrial aesthetic that Peter prefers and is part and parcel of Georgetown's charm. He calls the house his largest sculpture ever.

The house is clad in steel, shiny, corrugated and horizontal around the house, and factory-painted a flat green and installed vertically around the studio. The first-level floors are polished concrete. There is a small living room and kitchen, and one bathroom, deliberately without a bathtub. An elegant metal spiral staircase connects to the two upstairs bedrooms. The studio is about 1,300 square feet, while the living area is just 1,000 square feet; another 700 square feet offers garage space and an office loft.

A large patio directly off the living area helps keep it from feeling confined. "We tried to simplify as much as possible," says Esther. "No yard, no roses. It's a small footprint on the inside; there's very little house-cleaning. No exterior painting — no time, no costs, no solvents." Energy consumption is low as well. They used structural insulated panels, or SIPs, instead of conventional framing. They also installed radiant heat under all the floors, combined with a hot-water-on-demand system. Although the total square footage is nearly triple that of the 1950s ranch they left behind in Rainier Beach, their utility bills have dropped to little more than half.

As an artist and fabricator, Peter was able to embellish the house with his distinctive style. The kitchen countertops, for example, are made of cold-rolled steel notable for its appealing dark-bluish color. Many of the chairs and tables are art objects Peter created for gallery exhibition.

The house project took about three years and $400,000, including the lot. Peter put in much sweat equity and was the general contractor. Esther was project manager. "This is the house that Peter built," says Esther, "and it suits us."

David Berger is a Seattle freelance writer. He can be reached at dab20@aol.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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