Sunday, May 16, 2010

Why build?

I have long had a love of modern design and architecture, and thankfully my wife shares those tastes. So, after several years of an unsuccessful search for a modern house that fit our criteria, in August 2009 we started exploring the possibility of creating one ourselves. That exploration brings us to today, May 2010, and it's actually happening: we own a piece of land, and have contracts with a builder and architect as well as a construction loan. This blog will chronicle the progress of permitting, design, and construction, but I will start with several posts on the efforts required to bring us to this point.

First of all, why build? Everyone knows housing inventories are incredibly high. None the less, we had a simple set of criteria that we just couldn't satisfy:

  • A single-family house with roughly 2000-2500 sq ft. We currently own a townhouse, and it is a great home for a couple, but it doesn't accommodate children very well. Likewise, a huge house doesn't seem like a great use of resources.

  • Modern. To me, modern can include a full range from mid-century modern to 80's modern to today's modern architecture; we were open, as long as the house had open spaces, clean lines, and minimalist finishes.

  • Within the region of a good elementary school. (I used the overly simple metric of a school in the top 100 out of the 1008 in Washington state on SchoolDigger).

  • Within a couple miles of the Fremont area of Seattle, where I work, since I want to avoid commuting by car. This limited us to Ballard, Phinney Ridge, Magnolia, Wallingford, and Queen Anne. (Fremont, where we live now, doesn't have a school that makes the cut.) These are well-established and desirable neighborhoods, i.e., expensive.

  • On budget. I won't give specific numbers, but our price range is substantially south of the 7-figure mark. High for most of the world, but not unusual in Seattle.

After several years of watching Redfin listings, I found that a house meeting the above criteria didn't exist. The world of modern houses seemed to have a big gap; there were plenty of modern townhouses, and plenty of huge modern houses that were well north of one million, but almost nothing in-between. What did exist was usually in a neighborhood like the Central District, whose schools and distance were not acceptable. This gap is a product of the economics of development. Land in Seattle is expensive, so building an economical house doesn't leave much margin; building four economical houses, or an expensive mega-mansion, makes the land a much smaller percentage of the overall project.

I simply assumed that building a custom modern home was outrageously expensive. So, for a while I hoped to buy a mid-century-modern house that was outdated, and renovate it to my tastes. However, most people don't seem to think their interior is outdated, so the pricing never left much room for a renovation budget.

That left us in a conundrum. In the next post I'll describe the beginnings of the solution.


  1. Cool blog and project. House looks awesome. We are also documenting our project, a longer timeline but nonetheless an exciting project. You can friend us on facebook: Maxon House or check out

  2. I actually friended Maxon House several weeks ago after seeing it in the Build blog! Looking forward to seeing it go up.


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