“We wanted to buy the worst possible property,” says Jody Estes, reminiscing about the house hunt she and her husband began in July 2007.
Estes and husband Matt Wittman, of the eponymous Wittman Estes Architecture and Landscape firm in Georgetown (wittman-estes.com), knew they had the design skills to turn any nightmare property into their dream home while incorporating their love of indoor/outdoor living. A fixer-upper in West Seattle presented them with the perfect opportunity: a backyard that was really more of a junkyard at the time, but which they both envisioned as a courtyard.They transformed that “junkyard” into a multifunctional, multi-seasonal outdoor space, bookended by a guesthouse/workshop area they named Grasshopper Studio (a nod to the building’s brightness and the slender steel “legs,” i.e., columns, that support the structure).
Wittman and Estes’ children, Jacky and Remy, play in the courtyard outside their family's Grasshopper studio space. PHOTO CREDIT: Nic Lehoux
This cozy, 400-square-foot studio came together with the help of repurposed materials found on Craigslist and surplus supplies from other construction projects. It features steel columns sourced from a 1960s carport, wood from a 19th-century warehouse in Pioneer Square and a garage door salvaged from a Belltown construction project. Inside, the space is outfitted with a futon, and includes a study area, bathroom and laundry room. “We wanted the studio to provide a guesthouse for visiting friends and family and a workshop for home projects,” Wittman says.
Connected to the house by a covered breezeway, Grasshopper is also the setting for slumber parties hosted by the couple’s children, and provides storage space for in-progress design projects. Grasshopper’s courtyard, between the home and the studio, has become another “room” that can be used for all seasons. In the winter, strings of cafe lighting illuminate the space, and a fire pit provides heat. In warmer months, the family enjoys dinners at the courtyard’s outdoor table, a custom design from the Wittman Estes firm.
A covered breezway connects to the house so the backyard space outside the studio can be enjoyed year round. PHOTO CREDIT: Nic Lehoux
Estes and Wittman fell in love with indoor/outdoor living when they first met in California, and they continue to try to incorporate elements of that lifestyle into all their design projects. “We’re hoping this will be a model people in Seattle will adopt,” Wittman says. “As Seattle gets more dense and urban, outdoor living allows people to have more usable space, access to fresh air, sunlight and connection to nature.”