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AIA Home of the Year

The sunken living room features a concrete-block fireplace.
BUILDING A 'SPEC' HOUSE is an exercise in hope. The builder hopes he's anticipated the features that will sell — at a price that will sell.

Thus speculative housing, which is most of what gets built, tends to be safely predictable, and that doesn't leave a lot of room for high-quality architectural design. Indeed, new-home buyers these days are far more likely to get a much-copied arched entry and prominent garage (think resale) than they are to get a unique home conceived as four contemporary pavilions clustered around a sunlit courtyard (think creativity and originality).

That's unless they choose the work of Seattle architect Tim Rhodes, of Rhodes Architecture+Light.

Given the go-ahead by builder Chris Coddington of Gabrielle Homes, Rhodes so successfully turned his pavilion concept into a three-bedroom Bothell-area house that it sold twice. Even before it was completed, it went to a young family. The second time it sold a panel of judges, becoming what may be the first spec house ever to win The Seattle Times/American Institute of Architects Home of the Year award in its 47-year history.

Rhodes' design was chosen from the 14 AIA Open Houses featured last year in The Seattle Times' Home/Real Estate section. The award was presented Friday at a ceremony at the University of Washington. On hand were judges John Eggleston and Peter Stoner, both Seattle architects, and Karen Guzak, an artist active in developing artists' housing.

"What's really appealing is this is a very intelligent spec house, especially with the additional space," said Eggleston, mentioning one of the home's unusual features: 500 square feet of detached flexible space perfect for a home office, guest room, studio or suite for an owner's parents or teens. "Our lives, as we move into this century, will need more spaces like this," Eggleston predicted.

Tim Rhodes used a flat-roofed interior room, at left, and closet, at right, to break up the main living space, which is seen here looking from the dining room to the living room. The stairs lead to the second-floor children's bedrooms.
Stoner praised the home's unpretentiousness, its strong indoor-outdoor spaces and the architect and developer's willingness to take risks.

Rhodes and Coddington are both young men with young families and small, growing businesses. They've worked together on various projects since 1994. (A University of Kansas architecture grad, Rhodes also designs homes for other clients.)

According to the AIA, just 20 percent of spec housing is designed by architects, yet to Coddington it's entirely logical to pay an architect rather than buy less-expensive stock plans.

"I'm a little guy, and I look at all those big guys," Coddington says. "To be competitive I have to have something different, so that's my niche."

His orders to his architect: Design a simple yet well-detailed house that's flexible and open to the land.

As for Rhodes, he says "I really want to challenge people to see a spec project can be as personal and interesting a house to live in as a custom home. The kind of people who might buy the house was considered, and their needs and lifestyles discussed and recorded."

The prize-winning house is one of four Rhodes designed for Coddington's seven-acre parcel in Bothell's Norway Hills neighborhood. Formerly an apple orchard, the development is called Tate's Orchard. Each house is unique yet stylistically compatible.

Before designing these houses, Rhodes drove around the area gleaning inspiration from what he terms "the simple, honest rural buildings indigenous to Bothell."

His construction budget was $450,000, or a relatively modest $115 a square foot, including the garage, which isn't figured in the home's 2,952 square feet. (The sale price was about $800,000.)

"This house is all about something you discover slowly as you settle in," Rhodes explains. "It's not about 8,000 square feet of opulent rooms and balconies."

In designing the home he began with its relationship to the land, a gently sloping acre-and-a-half lot offering territorial views. "The basic house plan had to work on all four sides, but show different sides to the common road" that meanders through the project, ending in a cul de sac.

Farmhouse-style rectangular sinks, a heated tile floor and sunken tub are three of the master bath's features. The owners added the bamboo screen.
"Most important, Norway Hills would emphasize the interior and exterior spaces created by the houses, the land and the experience of living there. The front door, street facades and the superfluous trim and detail required to give the houses status were not important," he says.

Instead, the first thing visitors see is not the three-car garage — it's hidden to one side — but a semi-circular gabion wall 6 feet high and 3 feet wide. It's a type of wall seen on mountain passes — unmortared stones enclosed in a metal cage.

The wall also encloses one of the home's integral features: a spacious courtyard with outdoor fireplace. "I wanted to create a relatively small house that felt large, emphasize the landscape and nature and allow different rooms to look into the courtyard and through the courtyard to other spaces," he explains.

On the west side of the roughly C-shaped home is the detached bonus room. On the east side facing the courtyard is the home's only two-story element: two children's bedrooms (one with a loft over the closet) and a shared bath above a main-floor master suite.

Facing south onto the courtyard is the heart of the house: the living room, dining room and kitchen, which is connected to the garage by a family-friendly hallway/mudroom with built-in benches and storage. One major design element is basically never seen in stock housing: a room within this room that acts as a space divider. Under the vaulted ceiling with exposed metal roof ties is the flat-roofed internal room. It contains laundry facilities and a powder room, which receives plentiful, natural south light despite being landlocked. That's thanks to skylights exposed to the roof skylights above.

Light is very important to Rhodes, whose wife Susan Rhodes is a Seattle lighting designer. He placed industrial wall sconces throughout the house to create indirect lighting that's reflected from the vaulted ceilings. And he teamed high-efficiency and low-voltage lighting to reduce electricity use.

Finishes are sturdy but stylish: honed granite kitchen counters, a scored-and-stained concrete main floor, aluminum-framed glass walls that provide courtyard views and passive solar heat. The indoor and outdoor fireplaces are simple concrete blocks; doors and trim are clear-sealed birch.

"Smart house" wiring and a zoned in-floor hydronic heating system were employed. Features such as these were what sold the buyers, a couple with two preschoolers who prefer to remain unnamed. "We were thinking of building a house," says the wife, "but then we found this house when we were just out looking around. It feels like a house we would have had someone build."

That's exactly what Rhodes hoped. "This project is a gamble that a home buyer will respond to openness, simplicity, honesty and space that strongly relates to the land," he said at the outset.

Now with his Home of the Year award, it can safely be said that gamble has paid off.

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Elizabeth Rhodes, no relation to Tim Rhodes, covers residential real estate for The Seattle Times.

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