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A modern backyard home designed for aging in place

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Maximizing natural light and garden access

Single-story home with angled ceiling and black metal panels. A large sliding door opens to a garden. Mark Woods

Accessory dwelling units (ADU) are usually just that—accessories to primary residences. But for a couple in Seattle, the sleek addition they built in the alleyway of their property is actually more of a home base.

Seattle studio SHED Architecture & Design worked with the owners to design a space they could live in while renting out the main Craftsman-style home on site. Clad in black metal panels and rising into a point, the ADU creates an airy interior despite its compact footprint.

“In appearance, the building is reminiscent of a cat whose back is fattening to the ground, ready to pounce,” the architects say of the project, which has been named Alley Cat, naturally.

Living room clad in plywood has a black ladder leading to a loft under skylights. Mark Woods

Designed for aging in place, all of the main living spaces are on the ground floor: The open-plan living room, dining room, and kitchen take up one end while a bedroom with a bathroom take up the other. A ladder leads to a lofted hangout space under four angled skylights. The whole space is wrapped in warm plywood that contrasts against the polished concrete floor and black accents like a custom steel ladder and handrail and Ikea Eckbacken countertops.

Because the house sits behind the main house, the architects were careful to ensure the ADU still retained a sense of isolation. The entire house was designed with a few precisely positioned windows to maximize both natural light and privacy. Meanwhile, a sliding glass door off the living area allows easy access to the couple’s existing garden.

Compact kitchen with black countertops next to modern living room. Mark Woods
Living room with sliding glass door leading to a yard. Mark Woods
Living room with seating surrounding a wooden coffee table. Mark Woods
A bed under ceiling fan. Mark Woods
Bathroom with white subway tile walls. Mark Woods