A Capitol Hill Couple Embraces Life in a Glass House

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“I like being high enough up that I live above the treetops,”says Andi Stevenson, gesturing down from her living room window to the row of sparse maple trees lining Pike Street on Capitol Hill. Stevenson, 34, and her girlfriend, Minan Ahn, 31, moved into their 900-square-foot fourth-floor unit in the Agnes Lofts last October with their two cats, Pepe and Vorgy, and dog, Mugsy. Along with an altitude change from their previous address at the north end of Broadway, comes an influx of light and neighborhood life.
“Windows are the eyes of the building, and define how open and friendly and connected a building is to the rest of the neighborhood,” explains the lofts’ developer, and the couple’s new landlord, Liz Dunn of Dunn &Hobbes. “So I put a lot of effort into making sure the windows are really generous and well received. You can live happily in a really small space if it has a big window.”
Inside, the fishbowl aspect of the windows is more subtle. Each unit is deeper rather than wide, allowing for a sizable area of living space that lies out of sight from the pavement below. The sleeping loft is stylishly shielded behind obscured polycarbonate panels, allowing for both light and privacy. The expanse of the windows captures a great deal of light from any direction, throwing sunshine much further back into each unit than one would imagine.
Stevenson demonstrates the fire-retardant, polyester-blend curtains with which each unit comes equipped: a sheer, tangerine-colored set of panels allowing filtered views, and soft, heavy, gray-colored drapes blocking out all visibility from the outside. “I didn’t want to be too exposed,” she says, “and we found that we can’t really be seen from the street at all.
In a city that has seen its fair share of quick-and-cheap development, the crop of new residential buildings on Capitol Hill has been watched with a mixture of hope and wariness. Hope, because much of the gritty but beloved neighborhood that conveniently saddles downtown has been remarkably underutilized, and wariness because the area’s diverse residents—a melting pot of gays, punks, professionals, free spirits and students—resent the often generic and expensive condominiums that threaten to create another Belltown: jacked-up rental rates, increased noise and crime spikes.
That’s why last autumn’s introduction of Agnes Lofts, a four-story mixed-use steel-and-glass cube on the corner of 12th Avenue and East Pike Street, has been so refreshing. The attractive, modern building houses the Balagan Theatre, the Boom Noodle restaurant and three floors of 24 individual rental lofts. The entire building flaunts 15-foot-plus floor-to-ceiling windows, a voyeuristic curiosity that at any given time causes awe-struck pedestrians to stop in their tracks in order to seek a glimpse of what sort of denizens would live so blatantly on display. In contrast to the imposing walls of cheap-looking siding often seen on quick-built condominiums, the Agnes Lofts rise gracefully from the corner, the pairing of transparency and brawn creating a handsome counterpart to the big-boned vintage buildings that it faces.
“More than anything else, the idea that people in the area—non-architects—have walked by and said that this building is an exception to the other developments they’ve been leery of in the neighborhood, is incredibly validating to hear,” says project architect Kevin Tabari of Weinstein A|U Architects + Urban Designers. “I think we achieved a spatial and aesthetic expression that reflects the more beloved buildings in the neighborhood. It’s great if the residents in this area agree with that.