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Transforming an Overgrown Backyard

Backyard Reading Retreat

A relaxing backyard oasis away from the noise and chaos of the city.

Even those who adore city life need a place to unwind away from the hustle and bustle. It certainly doesn’t hurt to relax alone with a good book in a backyard reading retreat, or to hang out with friends and family around the fire pit or with a dip in the hot tub. This urban oasis — though small — offers space to satisfy all those needs: the introverted and extroverted.

Before this project came to be, the back door of this Seattle home opened to a maze of overgrown plants — it was hard to even visualize how much space there was hidden under all the vegetation. The homeowners hoped to transform their lot into a unified, beautiful, indoor-outdoor oasis linking their home, yard, and a new backyard shed in a designed experience where every detail would come together to compose the many smaller sub-spaces into an integrated whole.

And, what better way to do that than with a tightly integrated team! From day one, this project not only incorporated all three of our studios — architecture, interior design, and landscape architecture — but also incorporated the close care and collaboration of the homeowners, and the contractor, Proform Construction.

Backyard Reading Retreat – Architecture, Interior Design, and Landscape Architecture byBoard & Vellum
A Backyard Transformation

Once overgrown and unruly, this backyard’s limited footprint has been maximized to utilize every square inch available, all without feeling cramped or stuffy. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

A Backyard Transformation

Once overgrown and unruly, this backyard’s limited footprint has been maximized to utilize every square inch available, all without feeling cramped or stuffy. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Backyard Reading Retreat – Board & Vellum
Blending Indoors and Out

Floor to ceiling windows and overhead skylights fill the backyard cottage with soft, natural light, and a feeling of closeness to the lush greenery that surrounds the retreat. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Blending Indoors and Out

Floor to ceiling windows and overhead skylights fill the backyard cottage with soft, natural light, and a feeling of closeness to the lush greenery that surrounds the retreat. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

For inspiration to launch the project, the homeowners envisioned a “found shed” with a modern twist featuring plenty of glass to help blend the spaces. Everything in the shed would be meaningful and have a purpose, and every framed view – both from within and without – would be intentional.

Design for the project was also greatly inspired by the site itself. Just over the neighbor’s fence, a massive tree shades the yard, with its branches hanging deep into the property. Designated as an “exceptional tree” by the city, its presence and precise location dictated how we could alter the property.

One of the reference datums that define how, what, and where you can build near an exceptional tree is the tree’s dripline. Rather than merely comply with this invisible line, we instead decided to make it a design feature of the landscape and site design. The graceful ovoid arcs through the site, and the wood deck, concrete pavers, and a custom-fabricated black steel planter all curve as they meet the line. The shed itself tucks into the arc by only a very specific amount, a glowing anchor point in the yard.

The multi-functional backyard shed can be a reading room, a guest suite, or an entertainment space. Outside, it features an additional shower for an easy rinse heading in or out of the sauna or hot tub, and a wrapping deck and patio connect it to the fire pit and the main house.

Backyard Reading Retreat – Board & Vellum landscape architecture, interior design, and architecture.
Small Space, Many Functions

Who would have imagined such a small exterior space could comfortably contain a reading retreat, hot tub, fire pit, sauna, outdoor shower, and a tranquil mix of flora? Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Small Space, Many Functions

Who would have imagined such a small exterior space could comfortably contain a reading retreat, hot tub, fire pit, sauna, outdoor shower, and a tranquil mix of flora? Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Backyard Reading Retreat – Board & Vellum
Day Shift to Night Shift

Imagine how this yard could transform from a quiet reading sanctuary in the afternoon to a lively gathering of friends in the evening. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Day Shift to Night Shift

Imagine how this yard could transform from a quiet reading sanctuary in the afternoon to a lively gathering of friends in the evening. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Backyard Reading Retreat – Board & Vellum
Surrounded by Green

Even with the removal of the overgrown vegetation this space was designed to bring a clean and green feel to it, aided by the towering nearby trees and strategically placed lawn and planting beds within the backyard. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Surrounded by Green

Even with the removal of the overgrown vegetation this space was designed to bring a clean and green feel to it, aided by the towering nearby trees and strategically placed lawn and planting beds within the backyard. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Backyard Reading Retreat – Board & Vellum
Tying it Together with Details

No detail has been overlooked, from the detail of the stepped fencing to the drop chain downspouts. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Tying it Together with Details

No detail has been overlooked, from the detail of the stepped fencing to the drop chain downspouts. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Inside the shed, one of its eye-catching features — the wallpapered ceiling — was actually an unplanned solution to a design problem that arose during construction. The homeowners wanted to have speakers in the shed, but didn’t want to see them, nor was there space to spare. So, we found speakers designed to be hidden behind drywall and mounted them in the ceiling, under the loft.

But, the loft is constructed with 2x4s, so there was some slight deflection that was creating cracks in the drywall where it met the speakers. The homeowners suggested wallpaper to hide them, and we sourced a pattern from a local company, Abnormals Anonymous, to complement the rest of the design.

The graphic print is at once bold and organic: its whimsical pattern plays off of the more ordered, tessellated array of the tile in the bathroom. Once it was in place, none of us could imagine it missing – it was another great case of the fun and value of working with an integrated team.

Backyard Reading Retreat – Board & Vellum
Options for Rest

Every corner of the retreat is utilized — an armchair with accompanying footrest, a sun-filled window seat, and even a loft bed for afternoon naps or overnight guests. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Options for Rest

Every corner of the retreat is utilized — an armchair with accompanying footrest, a sun-filled window seat, and even a loft bed for afternoon naps or overnight guests. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Backyard Reading Retreat – Board & Vellum
Maximizing a Small Space

Built-in, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves use the space more efficiently than furniture could, maximizing the space available. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Maximizing a Small Space

Built-in, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves use the space more efficiently than furniture could, maximizing the space available. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Backyard Reading Retreat – Board & Vellum
Everything You Need

Overnight guests have everything they need in a bright, inviting bathroom with a walk-in shower. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Everything You Need

Overnight guests have everything they need in a bright, inviting bathroom with a walk-in shower. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Backyard Reading Retreat – Board & Vellum Interior Design
Floor-to-Ceiling Tile

The drama of a geometric tile pattern is balanced out with its classic black and white color palette. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Floor-to-Ceiling Tile

The drama of a geometric tile pattern is balanced out with its classic black and white color palette. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Backyard Reading Retreat – Board & Vellum
Wallpapered Secret

The wallpapered ceiling is hiding a little secret: a built in, invisible sound system, allowing visitors to listen to their favorite tunes while curled up with a good book, the sound simply falling out of the ceiling overhead. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Wallpapered Secret

The wallpapered ceiling is hiding a little secret: a built in, invisible sound system, allowing visitors to listen to their favorite tunes while curled up with a good book, the sound simply falling out of the ceiling overhead. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Backyard Reading Retreat – Board & Vellum
Collapsable Custom Ladder

A custom ladder to the loft folds into itself, sticking with the theme of using efficiency, while staying true to the aesthetic. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Collapsable Custom Ladder

A custom ladder to the loft folds into itself, sticking with the theme of using efficiency, while staying true to the aesthetic. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Backyard Reading Retreat – Board & Vellum
Ladder to the Loft

When folded out, the ladder carries you to a dreamy loft bed, complete with a full view of the stars above on clear Seattle nights. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Ladder to the Loft

When folded out, the ladder carries you to a dreamy loft bed, complete with a full view of the stars above on clear Seattle nights. Backyard Reading Retreat | Photo by Andrew Giammarco.

Recognition
This project was honored as a Dwell Best of Design 2018 Awards Nominee.

Notes & Credits
This project was built by Proform Construction.
Photography by Andrew Giammarco Photography.

Want to learn more?

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Services

Our design services encompass architecture, interior design, and landscape architecture, with teams specializing in projects across the spectrum, from single-family homes to multifamily and mixed-use buildings, and from boutique commercial spaces to civic spaces, like parks. We love designing the integrated fabric of structures, spaces, and places that create vibrant neighborhoods.

Portfolio

Our portfolio of work spans across a spectrum of project types and scales. We don’t have a particular “style” either: we love traditional, modern, contemporary, you name it. Our goal is to work with you to design a project you love.

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