Architect Leah Martin's Great Suburban Infill Remodel

A Kirkland waterfront home that fits in with its neighbors
By: Shannon O'Leary | Posted December 17, 2012
The house's newly mod streetside aspect

It seems counterintuitive, but restriction is often an architect’s ally.  

While, surprisingly, bottomless budgets and acreage frequently lead to design flops, tight budgets and spaces, or other apparent limitations, often are the sparks for aesthetic inspiration.

Such was the case for Leah Martin, owner of Seattle’s Verge Architecture & Design, when, in 2008, she was confronted with a style-free structure situated on a prime piece of beachfront property on Lake Washington’s north shore in Kirkland. Her challenge: a wholesale, modern remodel that grew the house by a full story, and 1,000 feet or so, including converting a daylight basement into a fully outfitted accessory dwelling unit (ADU) for use by the owners’ visiting children, all without deviating one inch from its existing foundation.  

"The county, state and Environmental Protection Agency have real concerns about development on the shoreline,” explains Martin. (This house’s location essentially was an ecological triple threat: shoreline property, located on a steep slope, 100 feet from a blue heron’s nest.) So to spare nature, and themselves a nightmarish permitting process and onerous development fees, the owners opted to reuse the site’s relatively modest-size original foundation, and to let their architect provide new growth via her redesign.  

That was just fine with Martin. “I come from a background of environmentalism and sustainability,” she says, “and so, from my perspective, this was the whole reason to do this project. Now I had this safe, clean slate that I could deliver the owners their dream house without compromising any of my environmental goals.” Helpfully, the previous owner had laid a new foundation in the 1980s, when he lifted the house by one level in order to improve his view. “We knew we could take that shack away, which in no way was going to meet the current owners’ spatial needs, and reuse that foundation,” Martin says. “It meant that we would not need to touch the land. So all the rainwater can come down, filter through soil and empty out into the lake, just the way it always has, nice and clean.” 

“The tricky part was that the existing foundation was strange,” Martin says. “It was a square with a very long rectangle, and it wanted to predetermine what our house was going to look like, but we didn’t let it.” Instead, she says, “I asked, ‘What are all the ways that we can pull in, project out, recess, subtract, as we built up, that will enable us to take the most advantage of the views, of solar shading, heat-gain issues and natural ventilation?’”

Martin’s ultimate approach, which was brilliantly executed by the general contractor, Adam Leland Homes, is a dynamic mélange of exterior materials (cedar, metal and painted Hardie board) and advancing and retreating varied forms, capped by cantilevered overhangs, that allowed for the artful addition of a brand-new third story. “If you just stack three stories of all the same size, it’s going to feel gargantuan and out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood,” Martin explains. The remodeled home’s scale is subtle and spot-on, especially from the street side, where only two stories are visible.

The architect’s paramount design mission was to maximize views of Lake Washington and Mount Rainier. Her open-plan design on the main floor appealingly marries the kitchen, dining- and living-room spaces to each other and to the outdoors. And she captured every possible intoxicating inch of view by installing a spendy steel moment frame (downstairs, as well, for the ADU) to support a spectacular glass wall. The effect, Martin says, is that you feel like you’re inside a boat rather than in a house. “It cost a lot more than standard window openings,” she admits of the see-through wall, “but the owners’ whole purpose for buying this house was to take advantage of the water views.”

“It’s just the kind of wish fulfillment that the architect demands of herself. Says Martin, who also recently launched what she calls a public design/activist firm, Hatch Collaborative, “My private practice is all about using my skill to make somebody really, really happy.”

Open House Stats

Edition 9 :: Number 47
Architectural firm :: Verge Architecture & Design
Cost :: Approximately $265 per square foot for an 3,000-square-foot house (total project cost may include additional fees for services not reflected)
Tour it :: Sunday, January 20

Our partnership with the American Institute of Architects’ Seattle Chapter (AIA Seattle), launched in 2005, continues our commitment to bring the experience of Puget Sound–area residential design to our readers. In each issue, we showcase an architect-designed home, selected by AIA Seattle andNorthwest Home, that is open to the public for a Sunday-afternoon viewing. We invite you to tour this issue’s featured home, designed by Leah Martin of Verge Architecture & Designlocated in Kirkland at 12439 Holmes Point Drive on Sunday, January 20, from noon to 3 p.m. For more information on the tour program, or to inquire about how to submit a project, visit or call 206.448.4938.

AIA Seattle tour committee: John D’Agnone, Ed Sozinho, Erik Barr, Scott Becker, Milan Heger, Megan Donovan, Alexandra Steele, Michael La Fon, Jeremy von Wandruszka, Julie Campbell

Find It Resources 

Home of the Month: Architect: Leah Martin, Verge Architecture & Design, Capitol Hill, 1119 25th Ave. E; 206.383.7274;; Assistant designer: Chetna Purnami, Verge Architecture. General contractor: Adam Leland, Adam Leland Homes, 2630 100th Ave. NE; Bellevue; 425.449.8353; Structural engineer: Karl Rosman, Swenson Say Faget, Downtown, 2124 Third Ave., Suite 100; 206.443.6212;; Lumber: Plywood Supply, Kenmore; 425.485.8585; Exterior cladding/siding: DM Construction Siding, Kent; 253.632.1002. Roofing: Adam Rubin, A-Roofing, 425.867.9643; Waterproofing/deck pavers: Ty Coffindaffer, Aqua Guard Waterproofing, Kent; 425.577.4192; Jeff Warren, Puget Plumbing, Buckley; 253.826.9493; HVAC: Alexanders Heating; 206.295.2500; Electrical: BJ Dixon, 3D Electric, Lynnwood; 425.745.0521; Low-voltage elements (including entertainment system): Brian Ritchie, Home Entertainment Solutions; 206.423.1051; Lights (bar pendants/dining room chandelier): Kasala, Downtown, 1505 Western Ave.; 206.623.7795; Exterior lights: Hinkley, Northcoast Electric, Georgetown, 2424 Eighth Ave. S; 206.436.4444; northcoastelectric. Fireplaces: Heat & Glo Cosmo SLR-B, Sundance Energy Services, Bothell; 800.888.1045; Windows: Jeld-Wen, Bryan Vander Hoek, Vander Hoek Windows & Doors, 11108 Northup Way, Bellevue; 425.250.2424; NanaWalls: NanaWall Systems, Kirkland; 425.825.7900; Millwork/doors: Mike Schmidt, BMC West, Issaquah; 425.391.8000; Garage doors: NW Door “Modern Classic,” Cressy Door, Kent. Door hardware: Emtek, Erika Knight, Chown Hardware, 12001 NE 12th St.; Bellevue; 425.454.7420; Finish carpenter: Jon Oka, Oka Woodworks, Sammamish; 425.221.2573. Hand railings/metal work: Fritz Church, Fireworks Forge, Tacoma; 253.627.4888; Cabinetry: Sapele wood, Dave Esty, Custom Wood Interiors, Seattle; 206.380.6657.

Interior design (hard surfaces): Malia Larson, Malia’s Interiors, Kirkland; 425.681.3122; Floor tile (main level): Statements “Belgique Gray” 6x47 plank tile, porcelain tile set staggered, Statements Tile, Georgetown, 6140 Sixth Ave. S; Seattle; 206.762.8181; Kitchen island top: “Persian Pearl” granite slab, Meta Marble & Granite, Georgetown, 410 S Front St.; Kitchen perimeter top: 3cm “Espresso” Ceasarstone No. 3380; Florida Tile Glass Tile, Georgetown, 665 S Orcas St.; 206.767.9819; Fireplace surround (living room): Porcelanosa V56217001, Ferroker 17 x 26, to a fireplace surround (includes raised floating hearth using full metal 24x24); Fireplace surround(ADU): Porcelanosa Brunei Marfil 12x35 exposed edges finished with matching Schlueter metal strip. Floating hearth, Corten Brown 24 x 24 tile; Fireplace surround (master bedroom): Simena Rustic Chiseled 12x24 Limestone tile; Hardwood species/installer: 4” Sapele floors, Solid treads, Ken Ray, Foremost Hardwood, Kirkland; 425.828.7807. Closet packages: Brian Naranjo, Organized Spaces, 11214 120th Ave. NE, Kirkland; 425.823.4847; Mirrors/shower doors: Blake Wilson, NW Shower Door, Georgetown, 3223 First Ave. S, Suite A; 206.264.1010;