An Oddly Shaped Seattle Backyard Gets a Whole New Look

Jessica Dailey
The backyard before lacked cohesion and visual interest.
The backyard before lacked cohesion and visual interest.
Courtesy of Robert Hutchison

When Chase and Kate Jarvis bought their Seattle home, they knew it would be a project. The spec house sat on an awkward triangle-shaped lot, the front door was elevated nine feet above the sidewalk thanks to a sloping street, and the poorly used patchy lawn was bordered by what Chase calls a “drive-by fence.” “Meaning, it looked like they installed it while driving by the site,” he says.

When it came to revamping their outdoor space, rather than seeing the funky topography and layout as a challenge, the couple saw it as an opportunity to create zones for different activities: a patio for entertaining and cooking, a fire pit for lounging, a spa area with a hot tub and plunge pool to meditate and relax. They wanted to maximize the space and create an oasis they could use year-round.

“Seattle carries with it a whole bunch of baggage about what people think about the weather,” says Chase, an artist and entrepreneur, “but we actually have a pretty amazing climate.”

The fence, with its contrasting cedar and concrete, also sets the tone for the programmatic zones inside, where the pull of hard versus soft, black versus white plays throughout the space. “We both wanted to be represented in the space,” says Kate, a producer and mindfulness teacher, who has a background in meditation. “I wanted softer spaces that feel contemplative, with beautiful plantings.” Chase, on the other hand, likes a clean, modern look.
The fence, with its contrasting cedar and concrete, also sets the tone for the programmatic zones inside, where the pull of hard versus soft, black versus white plays throughout the space. “We both wanted to be represented in the space,” says Kate, a producer and mindfulness teacher, who has a background in meditation. “I wanted softer spaces that feel contemplative, with beautiful plantings.” Chase, on the other hand, likes a clean, modern look.
Lara Swimmer

They first enlisted general contractor Dovetail, a company they had worked with previously on commercial projects, and Dovetail connected the Jarvises with Robert Hutchison Architecture to bring their vision to life. The result, completed in 2017, “feels like a resort,” according to the couple’s friends, with thoughtfully designed spaces for entertaining and relaxation that feel distinct yet cohesive.

The first step was to remove everything—the boulders used for site walls, the shoddy wood fence, all of the landscape—and reshape the site, allowing them to gain 800 square feet of usable space for a total area of 2,700 square feet. Dovetail poured 275 linear feet of five-foot concrete retaining walls around the property, integrating a new staggered entry stair that incorporates planters and creates a grander front entrance.

A zen garden, planted with ferns, grasses, and leafy, sculptural flowers, leads to the spa area, where the flooring transitions to a patio of black flagstone in organic shapes and ipe decking around the circular plunge pool and rectangular hot tub.
A zen garden, planted with ferns, grasses, and leafy, sculptural flowers, leads to the spa area, where the flooring transitions to a patio of black flagstone in organic shapes and ipe decking around the circular plunge pool and rectangular hot tub.
Lara Swimmer

Atop the wall, Robert added a vertical slat fence made of tight-knot, rough-sided cedar stained black (the home’s exterior has been reclad in the same material to unify the building and landscape), creating the defining architectural element of the entire space. “There’s a big outdoor room defined by the fence, but within that, there are at least 14 or 15 little rooms that overlap each other,” explains Hutchinson. The stairs, the pool, the gardens are each exterior rooms thoughtfully blended together through materials.

The blackened cedar that wraps the space provides a calming, rich quality and connection to the Pacific Northwest location. In the dining room and outdoor kitchen, rectangular poured-in-place pavers are softened by separating strips of greenery.
The blackened cedar that wraps the space provides a calming, rich quality and connection to the Pacific Northwest location. In the dining room and outdoor kitchen, rectangular poured-in-place pavers are softened by separating strips of greenery.
Lara Swimmer
Chase and Kate tackled the interior first, giving themselves nearly three years to think about what they wanted to do to the outdoor areas, which consist of two larger areas on the north and south sides of the home, connected by more narrow passageways at the front and back of the house.
Chase and Kate tackled the interior first, giving themselves nearly three years to think about what they wanted to do to the outdoor areas, which consist of two larger areas on the north and south sides of the home, connected by more narrow passageways at the front and back of the house.

Throughout the process, there was “a constant discussion” of where plants should go. Kate selected all of the plantings herself, choosing visually interesting species that fit each area; near the water spaces, there are calla lilies and bamboo, while the kitchen features edibles like artichokes and herbs. She also aimed for a mix of shape, texture, and height—feathery ferns and spiky Acanthus mollis stalks with deep purple flowers, tall and slender horsetail reeds next to tufts of black mondo grass, with blooms like Crocosmia lucifer and hellebores adding color. “You have variety, but there’s an organization to it,” says Kate.

The renovation was completed in 2017, but the couple found a new appreciation for it this year as the world sheltered in place due to the coronavirus pandemic: It gave them the opportunity to safely host friends and family. “It’s a sanctuary,” says Chase, adding that even his parents, who live 30 minutes away, use the yard as a place to meet friends.

“Every day, I find myself being so grateful for this space,” says Kate. “We could never have known that this would happen, but it has really been amazing during this time.”

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest