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.

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. 

Lara Swimmer

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