side by side

Developers are often accused of myopia—of ignoring how their projects relate to the community at large. Geoffrey T. Prentiss, AIA, was not about to make that mistake for this small residential/commercial project near downtown Seattle, in the largely residential neighborhood of Queen Anne Hill.

“It all started with an existing 1910 building that had gone through many iterations,” Prentiss says of the structure, whose ground floor he rented for his practice. “It was a grocery store with an apartment above, an animal clinic, a clothing store, and a travel agency.” But when a developer, citing cost concerns, abandoned his plan to raze the building and put up a new one with four residential units atop one commercial space, Prentiss bought the property.

“The anticipated expense at that time exceeded $1.6 million, which was significantly more than [the developer] had planned to invest in the property,” Prentiss explains. So, figuring that the developer's biggest cost was in demolishing the structure as well as providing nine parking spaces, Prentiss pursued a different approach.

“Instead of looking at the maximum allowable development, I wanted to work with the existing framework to maintain the sense of history,” he says. He renovated the building and attached a simple concrete block volume, locating his firm on the first level and an apartment above. “Instead of building up to the street, we pushed [the building] back 20 feet to create a small courtyard,” he says. “There is a gain of aesthetic instead of a financial gain.”

The new building has a window grouping similar to that of the old structure, but it's decidedly modern. A wood-framed, copper-clad bay volume creates shadows and texture on the upper portion, and its windows flood the two-level apartment with southern light. A blend of the modest and the moderately expensive, the unit is outfitted with blue laminate kitchen cabinets and countertops and a granite-topped island made of walnut. Bamboo covers the floors in the main living areas; the laundry room has linoleum. Prentiss' office downstairs is a large open space with plywood floors and a half dozen French doors. “We don't have to use any artificial light, because daylight is so plentiful,” the architect says.

Queen Anne Hill is desirable for its proximity to the city center and its remove from other commercial establishments, Prentiss explains. Preserving its genteel appeal, therefore, was important. The first floor of the existing building is now an organic coffeehouse, a new gathering spot for locals. (The new structure also has a rooftop terrace available to all tenants.)

“Working with what was there made the project less expensive, but it also made it easy to get the project approved,” Prentiss says. “Now you have the old with the new, and it adds character to the neighborhood.”

Mambo Palazzo, Seattle

architect/general contractor:
Prentiss Architects, Seattle

project size:
6,158 square feet (includes interior and exterior)

site size:
0.08 acre

construction cost:
$161 per square foot

Michael Cole