Seattle Culture

The Call for a Practical Rooftop Living Space

With yards shrinking, the rooftop deck answers the need for outdoor space

By Sheila Cain October 24, 2016


This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Seattle magazine.

As Seattle housing becomes more compact and dense, the expansive backyard with green grass, lawn chairs and a barbecue grill is fast becoming obsolete. To compensate, Seattleites are looking skyward for open space. With the proliferation of new, boxy “modern” homes, Seattle’s house parties are, literally, being taken to a whole new level.  

“That form of house [with its linear, simplistic design and bold roof lines] lends itself to these rooftop decks,” says Robert Humble, owner and principal of Seattle-based design and development firm HyBrid Architecture & Assembly, whose company has incorporated the spaces into homes throughout the city.

Those in the market for a new or remodeled home are increasingly asking for rooftop open space, says Humble. In neighborhoods such as Capitol Hill and Ballard, where space is tight, rooftop decks are particularly sensible. While a tiny front yard might be enough for a folding lawn chair, a rooftop deck provides plenty of space for entertaining. 

Image: John Victory
Home owner and principal of Seattle design firm HyBrid Architecture & Assembly, Robert Humble, cooks at the grill for family and friends

But be aware that your expansive party palace comes at a cost. Humble has a rooftop deck atop his modern-style Central District home, but admits that it took a few years and a significant amount of money to transform it into the entertainment space it is today. To turn a barren rooftop deck into a livable space means adding a number of elements including tables, chairs and comfy couches, as well as planters and plants.

Infrastructure is also important. Gas lines, water lines and electricity allow you to add a gas fire pit, running water or a small kitchen. Without these amenities, homeowners can find themselves shuttling food and drinks up to the roof from a kitchen. Gas fire pits can provide warmth when the sun goes down and are handy for toasting marshmallows. As for furnishings, many retailers offer modular seating systems made with materials designed to weather the elements. Humble says large tropical plants in equally large pots are also surprisingly amenable to rooftop living, thriving in direct sun and faring well despite winds. 

Creative plantings also can provide some privacy, but don’t overdo it. This is urban living, after all. “You can wall yourself off from your neighbors, but I don’t think that’s what city living is really about,” Humble says. “It’s nicer to create an inviting, open space on the roof that you and your neighbors can enjoy.”

Rooftop 101 
Hybrid Architecture & Assembly owner Robert Humble designs homes and multifamily residences with rooftop decks throughout Seattle, and has given considerable attention to decorating his own. Here are a few of his favorite things:

Image: Ecosmart
Brown Jordan EcoSmart Equinox fire pit $2,009.84, from Summer House. Bellevue, 1028 116th Ave. NE; 425.455.1500;

Image: West Elm
Cityscape planters $119–$299, from West Elm. South Lake Union, 2201 Westlake Ave.; 206.467.5798;

Image: Jim Bastardo
Eos Outdoor Furniture collection $190–$810, from Design Within Reach. Downtown, 1918 First Ave.; 206.443.9900;


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