Building a Glass House: A Modern Take on Home Redesign

Architect creates nature-inspired space for taking in the stunning Northwest scenery

Adrian Burton Jovanovic knew he needed to replace the decaying roof of his 1940s house, nestled on the hillside between Queen Anne’s Kinnear Park and Elliott Bay. But the music education software company founder, who has a penchant for hosting impromptu musical performances and parties, also wondered if he could maximize the space’s potential, with its 360-degree view spanning the bay on one side and lush urban woodland on the other.

Photo Credit: Piano Nobile. For further inspiration, Jovanovic and Robertson looked to their hometown New York City—specifically the elevated-railway-turned-park design of The High Line—for an innovative bench that swoops up from the wood planks of the patio (below). A tiny garden is planted in the deck under the bench

He turned to a friend, architect Nickolas Robertson, to collaborate on a glass-enclosed space for socializing, chilling out and taking in the scenery. Called the Semaphore Glass House (in a nod to the system of signal flags used for maritime communication), the structure has an angular shape that conjures the image of a sail tacking in the wind.

“I’ve always been interested in glass houses and the concept of captured nature,” says Robertson, who cofounded Ballard-based design firm Piano Nobile with his wife, Isabelle Grizzard Robertson.

Photo Credit: Piano Nobile. For more solitary moments, a hanging chair, warmed by a heat lamp or cooled by opened glass panels, is a perfect reading nook in any weather

“We like the idea that strong geometric forms contain a message, that a building or form is trying to tell us something.”

Creating a rooftop solarium that unites the industrial grain silos on the waterfront below and the untamed wooded landscape behind was what Robertson called a “dream task.” The sloping Spanish tile roof was demolished and replaced with a 1,500 square foot wood patio that can accommodate 40–60 people. At approximately 250 square feet, the solarium fits from four to six people comfortably.

Photo Credit: Adrian Burton Jovanovic. The new space includes a killer view for the owner’s impromptu parties

Robertson commercial building materials in new ways for the structure, including a retractable garage door turned on its side that slides closed to keep the glass house warm during the winter. Other touches include all-weather speakers on the deck, a book nook and stereo hub, and LED lights lining the patio railing. Future plans include a small outdoor grill and kitchen.

“It started out with ‘What could we do?’” said Robertson, “and the fact that we could do everything was very exciting.”


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