AIA Home of Distinction: Leschi House Gets an Eco-Friendly Addition

Five years after moving into their dream home, a Seattle couple builds a backyard dwelling with benefits

By Jennifer Pinto


March 4, 2019

This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Seattle Magazine.

This article appears in print in the March 2019 issue. Click here to subscribe.

Adding a detached accessory dwelling unit (DADU) to your property may sound great in theory: more space for family and guests or some extra cash from an Airbnb or VRBO side hustle. But for Seattle homeowners weighing the pros and cons of building one in their backyard, the cons can quickly add up. The answers to practical questions such as “What if it costs too much, takes up too much space or invades my privacy?” may make it more palatable to stick with the real estate they already have.

In such a small structure, every inch counts, which is why the owners opted to build part of the cottage into the hillside to allow for this tiny kitchen. The concrete retaining wall doubles as the backsplash behind the sink. 

Martin and Shelley Criminale had spent nearly five years weighing those questions while living in their Leschi home—a modern three-story building designed by Lisa Chadbourne and Daren Doss of Chadbourne + Doss Architects and completed in 2012. But the couple couldn’t shake their dream of adding a backyard cottage, which they thought could potentially increase the value of their long, narrow property, as well as accommodate extended family members or bring in a rental income. In late 2016, with Chadbourne + Doss having signed on for the new task, the couple pushed aside lingering reservations and went for it.

The owners’ trip to Finland inspired the minimalist approach taken in the interior design

“We had a great experience with Daren and Lisa when we built our house several years ago, and when we were finally ready to put something in the back, they seemed excited about the project,” says Martin. “We didn’t know exactly what we wanted, but we love their style and trusted them to guide us through the process.”

To help them narrow down a vision for their new space, Chadbourne and Doss drew up several design schemes, each with a unique take on how the cottage would relate to the existing residence. After careful consideration, the Criminales chose a plan: a 540-square-foot structure, 10 feet back but directly behind the shed roof section on the northwest side of the main house, with a roofline that visually integrates the two properties. 

Chadbourne and Doss positioned the cottage so that a portion of it was built into the hillside at the back corner of the lot. While this approach added expense for the project, Doss says, the Criminales decided the extra cost was worth the benefits. This strategy gave the cottage enough square footage for essentials like a kitchen, bathroom and places to lounge, while helping to preserve as much of the backyard as possible. And it also allowed a concrete retaining wall to serve a dual purpose: A structural necessity, on the interior-facing side, the wall also serves as a backsplash for the kitchen and bathroom shower wall at the back of the cottage.

This loft bedroom benefits from a skylight that adds natural light to an otherwise dark space; a shade is available, though, when Airbnb guests want to sleep in

Inside, opposite the kitchen and bathroom, is a small living room and, above that, a loft bedroom at the roof’s tallest point. The cottage’s metal roof, cement board siding and cedar paneling are identical to materials used for the main house and connect to the property as a whole.

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