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Sixteen feet is a lot when you’re talking about ceiling height, but when that’s the width of your house, things can start to feel cramped. For one Seattle-based family of four living in such tight quarters, the fact that their home was so narrow wasn’t the issue—it was how it was being utilized. Rather than tack on a big fancy addition, they called on Best Practice Architecture to optimize the century-old interiors and make the most of each square foot. “We collectively felt that demolition [would] rob the family and neighborhood of its unique and irreplaceable charm,” says Kip Katich, the firm’s senior principal.

The back of the house, before.

So they instead stuck with the home’s slim bones, configuring a smarter and savvier layout that made way for a soaking tub, playroom, laundry area, and more. Though it’s not all about function: The studio embraced the clients’ Hawaiian and Japanese backgrounds, drenching the home in sunlight, picturesque views, and a warm palette of chestnut and cream. “We knew we could preserve the house’s integrity while breathing in new life for, hopefully, the next 100 years,” says Katich. Here are the most innovative ideas from this space-defying reno. 

Pack Eyesores Into a Pretty Package 

The kitchen, before.

The home was previously divided up into a series of successive smaller rooms, resulting in a closed-off living area with minimal storage. “Compact spaces are hard, and narrow ones are even harder because there is a need for more circulation to move from one space to another,” explains Katich. The family was craving an open concept, so Best Practice knocked down a few walls. To minimize visual clutter, they nestled a coat closet, shoe cabinet, and shelving into an entry “box” at the front door (it also conceals the HVAC unit). A similar structure at the center of the kitchen and living area, partially clad in two-tone oak slats, consolidates the fridge, pantry, and powder room. 

Steal Some Space If You Want to Soak

The bathroom, before.

The only expansion of the home came in the form of a 30-square-foot micro addition to accommodate a Japanese soaking tub, called an ofuro. “It was the one indulgence they afforded, for that is an essential part of the family’s culture,” says Katich.

The team took a counterintuitive approach, shaving off the width of the kitchen to make room for the bath at the rear of the house. It acts as a threshold between the interior and the deck, with a folding window wall opening up to vistas of the cherry and maple trees outside. The tub is now the perfect bonding spot, whether you want to “dip your toes [in] on a warm day” or “enjoy a hot, relaxing soak with abundant natural light,” Katich notes.

Work From…Your Backyard

Because there wasn’t room for a dedicated office with the ofuro and kitchen configuration, the next logical place to put it was in the backyard. However, the homeowners didn’t want it to take over their precious outdoor space or impose on their neighbors. So Best Practice integrated the WFH spot into the landscape, tucking it under the trees and digging into the ground, resulting in a sunken room. 

The space is complete with a vegetated roof that can grow plants and “adds a delightful fuzzy hat to the work shed,” says Katich. The family contributed their own special touch, too: A Japanese copper rain-chain in the gutter splashes water onto a mini rock garden outside.

Treat Guests to Your Basement

The basement offered an opportunity to create an expansive hangout spot. Best Practice started by encasing the exposed piping and electrical wiring into a designated cavity to allow for a smooth, ubiquitous ceiling height. “That eliminated those telltale signs of it being a basement,” explains Katich. 

The basement, before.

For a breath of fresh air, the stairs were refinished in a warm white oak, with a clever storage area hidden underneath. The wall at the back was also replaced with a south-facing glass slider to flood the room with natural light—and provide direct access to the backyard. Most days, the basement acts as a play area for the kids, but depending on the occasion, it shape-shifts: A custom Murphy bed transforms it into a spacious guest room when visitors arrive, and an enclosed laundry room means they don’t have to wake up to the sight of a washer and dryer.