Wants Vs. Needs: Tips for Your New Home

    Building a new home? It’s exciting stuff I know! However along with all of the excitement and fun that comes with designing and building your new home, is the initial nitty gritty detail of site and lot selection. It may sound like a minor aspect, but in reality it’s a major first step to your overall home building process. I’m going to share with you 6 key components for you to keep in mind throughout.


   Wants vs. Needs

1. Your Priorities

    Remember this new home belongs to you, so it’s very important that before you go scoping out potential locations to figure out what you really want to gain from the location. Is your commute going to be an important factor? Or would you rather have amazing site views from your new home? Go through your particular lifestyle and decide what exactly is a must, and what things could fall a bit further down the wish list.

2. Site Evaluation / Current Conditions

    Once you’ve determined what features are most important to you and you’ve begun looking at locations, be sure to really evaluate the site for what it is. Look at the current conditions of the land and note how much upkeep it would initially require to bring the lot up to your standards. Note what kind of native vegetation is there, considering if there are any rare plants or animals in the area.

3. Zoning / Buildable Area

    Zoning is actually a big deal in this business. It’s crucial to know what exactly comes with your piece of land and being aware of the rules and regulations that come with it. You wouldn’t want to accidentally overreach into your potential neighbors or city property. That often leads to future headaches dealing with legal matters, so to avoid any mishap it’s always best to know what belongs to your land and what you’re allowed to do with it. Also knowing what your buildable area on your site is major. There are codes and setback laws that essentially set up rules for how much you can legally build on your site. Getting familiar with those initial conditions is a huge benefit, prior to purchasing the property. 

4. The S’s: Slope, Sun, and Soil

    Slope is a critical piece of information in any building project. The steeper the slope, the costlier it will be to construct on it. There are so many things to consider, especially cost which comes hand in hand with how well the site will play with your design. Building a safe structure should be the first priority in any design build project, therefore being certain that the slope of the selected site is capable of building your newly designed home. Sun exposure is a huge component in every design. By considering the sun angles of your site will help enhance your gains from the design. Your new home is designed to either keep heat in or out depending on the time of year, so by analyzing those angles, it could really help cut costs on your heating and cooling bills throughout the coming years. An energy efficient home has many benefits but they all come from how well your design and utilize the opportunities presented with your site. Soil conditions of your site is another driving factor of construction cost. Whether your new house will rest on a bed of soft dirt or hard rock, preparing that land for future construction is a costly process. In addition, you want to design a drainage system that is strong enough to handle the water runoff on the existing soil. Scoping out these details are a crucial part of selecting your building site.

5. Outlook for Future Growth

    When considering building locations for your future home, think about your selected neighborhood. Are there any good school districts? What businesses prosper here? What’s this area going to look like 5 years time? Are there solid opportunities for future growth? These aspects will all affect your cost and overall value of your future home.

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Let's Talk Mini [houses]


Architecture is complicated. One would think that you could simply dream up some crazy design and plop it on a land, but often times that is not the case. Designs are driven by so many elements - the land, the codes, the weather, etc. But isn't that what makes the 'problem' so fun to solve? 

Jim's initial notebook sketches. From the beginning, we knew we  would need to bury the house into the ground in order to achieve multiple floors with the city's height restriction. 

Jim's initial notebook sketches. From the beginning, we knew we  would need to bury the house into the ground in order to achieve multiple floors with the city's height restriction. 

One of our recent projects came with a very unique 'problem'...... a plot of land that is only 25' wide. You might be thinking, "well, 25' is still pretty wide!", and that is very true. Unfortunately, there are city codes (laws) in place that turn that 25' into 15' wide build-able area. A 15' wide space is not very large to fit all of the spaces of a modern day home, especially if you want to squeeze in three bedrooms! Adjusting the plans to have one continuous path of circulation on the eastern side of the house allowed more space for bedrooms, while also bringing lots of daylight into the hallways. 

North and South elevations showing 'pop-out' boxes that were added to maximize square footage on the small lot. We really took advantage of every bit of city code to make the most of the land! 

North and South elevations showing 'pop-out' boxes that were added to maximize square footage on the small lot. We really took advantage of every bit of city code to make the most of the land! 

On top of the minimal width of the land, there was also a very short height restriction on the plot - just 18'! We knew from the beginning we would need to bury the house in order to create multiple stories. We took this as yet another challenge. Why not make the most of the so-called 'basement'. As seen below, we decided to dig out the majority of the lower level to create a garden room. Although buried, the space feels light and gets plenty of sunshine - with the added bonus of lush landscape all around! 

East Elevation showing the buried house with the dug out land. Quite the opposite of a basement!

East Elevation showing the buried house with the dug out land. Quite the opposite of a basement!

I guess the moral of the story is - sometimes the most difficult of problems are the most fun to solve! Your land may direct the design, but there is always a solution! While these were early sketches, the design concepts stayed intact throughout the process. If you want, feel free to go drive by the house under construction! Here is the address:

4843 South Lucile Street, Seattle, WA 98118

Feel free to share your thoughts!


Environmentally Friendly Architecture


Look out! There is a new wave of environmentally friendly materials being produced!

As a team, we at Castanes are always on the lookout for sustainable and earth-friendly materials to be integrated into our projects. From geo-thermal heated flooring to solar paneled roofing, we enjoy the opportunity to introduce sustainable products and processes into the world of residential architecture! 

We recently came across a new material being used as flooring and walls- Cross Laminated Timber (CLT). To give you a brief understanding, the Engineered Wood Association defines CLT as, "a large-scale, prefabricated, solid engineered wood panel." So, what does that actually mean?? The timber is cut into 2x4s, laid together, and alternates directions each layer. See the image above to get a better picture!

What does all of this 'archi-talk' mean for you?? It means our taller mid-rise - and potentially even high-rise, buildings can be made using wood instead of concrete or steel! Crazy, right? Not only are the CLT panels as strong as concrete and steel, they are a renewable resource. The panels are also faster to construct and can be sourced locally, so all of you owners and developers out there can probably already here the 'cha-ching!' in your pockets. 

We'll be posting on a more regular basis, so feel free to give our blog a follow if you would like to stay up to date with us!




Our Smith Tower Apartment goes viral!


Our Smith Tower Apartment was recently featured on Evening Magazine. NBC picked up the video and is broadcasting it nationally. It now has more than 3,000,000 views and is being called "the coolest apartment you've ever seen!". We certainly think it is! Before Petra and her kids moved in, the space was nothing but unused storage. In 2000, we fully transformed the tower into a magical place to experience urban living. Take a peek inside! 






On December 15th, 2015, Councilman Tom Rasmussen held a meeting at the Seattle city council chambers to discuss the concept of 'lidding' Interstate-5! A lid would reconnect the surrounding neighborhoods that were divided when the interstate was constructed, as well as create space for the community. the meeting covered the costs, resources, and overall possibilities. Emphasis was placed on the urgency of beginning this conversation now, while the Convention Center addition is going through its beginning design phases. Below is the concept vision of where the lid will be located. 

Image by The Northwest Urbanist at https://thenorthwesturbanist.com/2014/07/05/lets-bury-i-5-redux/

Image by The Northwest Urbanist at https://thenorthwesturbanist.com/2014/07/05/lets-bury-i-5-redux/

Please read Scott Bonjukian's, one of the speakers at today's meeting, article HERE for more information on the Lid concept, as well as examples from other cities.