Small is the new green

Increasing environmental awareness along with economic and demographic trends favor smaller house sizes. Many cities are doing their part by updating zoning codes to allow cottage housing and small backyard cottages (detached ADU's) on residentially zoned lots. Seattle and Portland are two cities which allow backyard cottages up to 800 sq. ft. in size. These small houses provide opportunities for families, while increasing housing stock, density and affordability. Continue reading for more information about small house design and Seattle's backyard cottage ordinance or contact us to find out if your lot is eligible for a backyard cottage.

Wednesday, August 24

backyard cottage code changes

Wondering how the machinations of the Seattle City Council and the Queen Anne Community Council will impact your backyard cottage plans? Well frankly, so are we. Join us for a discussion on October 6th at the Phinney Neighborhood Association. 

Bruce Parker, Microhouse and; Stefan Hansmire, Ncompass Construction
Thursday, Oct 67-9pm
PC Blue Building, Room 3
$15 PNA member, $25 Public
 Register or 206.783.2244

Wednesday, August 10

backyard cottage proposed changes appeal - august 30th

The Office of Planning and Community Development released proposed code revisions to encourage the development of more backyard cottages on May 19th At that time, the Office of Planning and Community Development for the City of Seattle issued a determination that the legislation would not have significant adverse environmental impacts (DNS). The Queen Anne Community Council is challenging that determination and will appeal to the Hearing Examiner. The hearing date is now scheduled for August 30th.  

If the appeal is successful, then the city must complete a full environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed changes. The EIS document is a collection of professional and expert studies and analysis, city department review and input, citizen review and input, multiple open and transparent public hearings, multiple drafts, and final approvals after public engagement.  

If the appeal is not successful, then the legislation is anticipated to come to the Council’s Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee before the end of the year for discussion.

Tuesday, July 26

backyard cottage recording studio

Jon and Rita wanted to build a recording studio that would also serve as a guest cottage for friends and family.  We worked with them and an acoustical engineer to create a simple yet elegant backyard cottage. The cottage contains the recording studio, a kitchen, bath and a loft like bedroom.

For the most part windows were kept high in difference to acoustical considerations but the cottage opens up towards the house with a cafe style table facing the windows.  During recording, acoustical panels cover these windows and movable panels are positioned on the floor and fixed panels are positioned on the ceiling.  

The kitchen window faces the house and an outdoor patio (still under construction). Exposed car decking opens up the kitchen ceiling and serves as the floor to the bedroom above.

A narrow stair serves the kids bedroom. A murphy bed on the ground floor accommodates their adults.

Thursday, July 21

tangletown backyard cottage embraces natural light

Natural light was a driving factor in the design of this small cottage in Seattle's tangletown neighborhood. 

Now that their children are grown, the cottage owners wanted to downsize from their beautiful but too large house but they didn't want to leave their neighborhood and friends. So they contacted Bruce Parker of microhouse to assist in the design of their new small dream home behind their current house.  The lot is small, less than 4,000 sq ft and the cottage had to take advantage of every available square inch, of the allowable 800 sq. ft., and work with limited opportunities for light and views. 

The stair is located on the south wall adjacent to the neighbors garage. High windows were used to let in natural light from up high above the garage. The kitchen is on the east wall facing the primary residence so no windows were placed on that wall the outside of which is now much needed storage for bikes, and garden tools. 

The kitchen is dead simple and takes advantage of an adjacent pantry.

A combination of wood soffit and exposed floor joists add richness and a feeling of openness to the living and dining rooms.  These areas open directly onto the alley and parking pad so frosted glazing was used to provide privacy while allowing in the maximum amount of light.  The primary heat source is radiant heat in the concrete floor. 

The limited allowable height meant that we had to use vaulted ceilings with low perimeter walls which was done to dramatic effect.

The stairwell while not counting towards the allowable square footage provides natural light to the fist floor.


The light filled study with its tree top views and large skylight is their favorite room in the house. A fold out sofa provides a place for guests to sleep.

Now that the cottage is complete the owner's are moving in and will rent out their lager primary residence.

Bike and garden storage is located to the back of the cottage facing the garden.

Monday, July 18

backyard cottage workshop postponed

Due to the delay in the Seattle City Council timing to debate the proposed land use code changes affecting backyard cottages we are going to postpone the workshop scheduled for September 22nd until October 6th. 

In the mean time, to find out how these changes might impact your specific plans feel free to contact us. We look forward to hearing how you plan to use our cottage. 

Monday, June 20

read about one families backyard cottage adventure

Drew, Jacob, Meredith and Elyse are building a backyard cottage and a muli-generational household. You can follow their progress at the following link.

the beginning

Friday, June 10

backyard cottage legislation update

The legislation encouraging more backyard cottages has been delayed due to an appeal filed by Marty Kaplan of the Queen Anne Community Council. Seattle City council is now hoping to vote on the legislation by the end of the year.  

When the legislation was made public, the Office of Planning and Community Development for the City of Seattle issued a determination that the legislation would not have significant adverse environmental impacts. The Queen Anne Community Council is challenging that determination and will appeal to the Hearing Examiner. The process of being heard by the Hearing Examiner can take anywhere from 3 to 6 months. More information about the timeline will be available after the hearing date is scheduled.  

Council member Mike O'Brien will continue his work in the interim focusing on means to reduce the cost of backyard cottage construction. Most significantly working to reduce or eliminate the sewer capacity charge for backyard cottages. He will also work with lenders to establishing backyard cottage financing tools.

Those considering building a backyard cottage will for a time be left in limbo.  While the proposed legislation was not likely to alter the decision to build a backyard cottage, the changes are significant enough to drastically impact their design.  Unfortunately, this will make the planing process that much more complicated and add yet another barrier to their construction.