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Pacific Northwest | October 10, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineMONTH, DAY, home Home delivery

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Taste To Spare
Classical Modern
Uptown Downtown
Suburban Zen
Up and Over
New Meaning


Up & Over

An old condo gets a lift yet keeps its classic layers
The steep steel staircase to the roof deck features alternate steps, like some ship’s ladders.
Remodeling is sometimes a matter of jumping on opportunities. For Josh Brevoort and Lisa Chun, opportunity presented itself with the chance to buy on the top floor of their older red brick condominium building on First Hill.

The unit had roof rights, never exercised, and a 4-foot gap between the ceiling and the building's roof. This was remodeler's paydirt: extra space to work with and roof access. The two architects took creative advantage of both, giving license to their urbane imaginations and playful intellects. For their own home they had no reason to hold back. "You have the opportunity to experiment, to try ideas you couldn't with most clients," enthuses Chun.

Their first step was getting to the roof. That sounds easy, but in practice they had the challenge of making use of an unused chimney space, and various cables in the way, and getting 75 percent of the condo owners to agree, and lots of do-it-yourselfer's moans.
Josh Brevoort and Lisa Chun, both architects, took advantage of unused space above their top-floor condominium to create a living room with a high ceiling and distinctive proportions. They also designed the hanging light fixture.
When they did succeed, constructing a small roof deck, the urban view was glorious, taking in St. James Cathedral and downtown as well as the sunset. Now they carry food and drinks up a steep staircase at every opportunity. "It doesn't stop when the sun goes down," says Brevoort. "You think it's over, then the lights of the city come on."

In the second phase of the remodel, begun in early 2000, they put to use that bonus space overhead. They raised the ceiling height of the living room to 14 feet, creating a room taller than it is wide. It's an unexpected space, formal and extraordinarily refined yet not quite practical, and it makes you smile.
Josh Brevoort and Lisa Chun wanted to keep the charm of their older building while adding space and remodeling. The two architects have their own firm, zero plus, and most of their work is residential design.
They kept the ornate ceiling molding, putting a shelf on top of it so they could display industrial objects and architecture books. A deep niche high above, lit but somewhat hidden, presents an object d'art. In the kitchen they kept the building's period feel, adding a single-piece stainless-steel sink unit and new dark wood cabinets that integrate almost imperceptibly with the older ones.

Part of the inspiration for such careful blending came from a trip to Morocco and Spain. In those countries, they discovered a sensibility that valued continuity without disguising changes. "We wanted to show off the layers of history. Our intent was something new, but that fit in to the old place," explains Brevoort.

The bathhouses of Morocco also inspired their small, transporting bathroom. The Moroccan bathhouses were vaulted rooms of white marble, Chun recalls, with small vents that allowed for filtered light.
"We like living in the city, but being able to go outside is a nice thing," says Brevoort. Gaining roof access for a deck was one prime goal of the remodel.
They re-created something of that space and light in their condo bathroom. The walls and ceiling are waterproofed with a Venetian plaster-like product, the corners are rounded, and there is a floor drain in the middle of the room. This is a place more for splashing water than putting on makeup. A small soaking tub and a large shower head complete the "bathing room."

A shaft to a skylight takes advantage once again of that bonus space between the ceiling and roof. It lets in a moody brush of natural light during the day and artificial light at night.

"This is a fun bathroom," says Brevoort. "It makes bathing much more enjoyable."
With waterproof walls and a floor drain, this is a true bathing room. A trip to Morocco helped inspire the design. Too often, bathrooms get ignored instead of used as a place to celebrate, says Chun.
The couple, in their late 30s, are used to working as a team at their firm, zero plus. And they maintain that working together was harmonious even in this case, when they were their own clients. It's not about ego, says Brevoort, but working with the other person for the best idea.

"It's surprisingly nice working together," agrees Chun.

Their creative collaboration shows throughout the house. They made the dining-room table in a playful elbow shape, out of stained plywood. In their telling, they essentially designed the table in the aisle of the hardware store from the materials at hand. The house is decorated with abstract paintings by Brevoort's brother-in-law, as well as various industrial and architectural found objects, and vintage Asian clothing.
Chun sits at the table she and Brevoort designed in a distinctive elbow shape. The top is stained plywood. The painting is by the couple’s brother-in-law, J.B. Dickey.
The price tag was modest, about $50,000, though this doesn't count their design efforts and considerable labor. When choices came up between beauty and functionality, they generally chose beauty because that's what made the most sense to them.

They remain adamant that a person's home should be a customized castle, tailored precisely to fit.

"You don't realize what a drag it is to live in a space that's not made for you," Brevoort explains. "It's a health issue, to have a good designed environment."

David Berger is a Seattle free-lance writer.

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