Ten Years in the Making: Designing A Multifamily Building For The Urban Seattle Commuter

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A multifamily building in Seattle strikes a balance between affordability and aesthetics, according to a release from Collaborative Companies, the builder on the project.

When Seattle’s Link Light Rail was announced 10 years ago, Sarah Westneat began searching for multifamily-zoned lots in Columbia City near the future station. The vibrant neighborhood, located about ten minutes southeast of downtown Seattle, is one of the city’s most historic and diverse communities, according to the release.

As the second fastest growing city in America, being near public transportation has become a big draw for Seattle residents. Westneat ended up finding a large single-family lot adjacent to the new Light Rail station—an ideal lot for what would later become a 13 unit apartment building designed for the urban commuter.

“I was very inspired by the idea of transit oriented development along the Light Rail,” said in the release. “My daughter and I ended up naming the project Rail House.”

Rail House was designed by Seattle-based architect atelierjones llc who has a knack for urban design. Principal Susan Jones and her team have designed several community-first multi-family developments in the region.

Beyond maximizing space, Westneat requested that the project have a unique architectural quality to complement the diverse community, “I wanted to build something sculptural that would serve as a gateway to Columbia City,” Westneat said in the release. The exterior facade features red hardie panel, black break metal, concrete, and aluminum panels, while the unique window arrangement is intended to maximize light and privacy. All the units run north to south so residents are flooded with natural light throughout the year.

Multifamily building with rooftop decks

Each unit has its own set of special features such as soaring ceilings, heated concrete floors, Juliette balconies and rooftop decks to create a real sense of home for residents.

“We had a ball designing for the people who would live there,” Westneat said in the release.

The project was built by Valor Builds—the construction arm of Queen Anne based Collaborative Companies.

“I very much wanted to find a builder with whom I had good chemistry,” Westneat said. With the project now complete, Westneat stands by her decision to hire Valor because the team was “considerate, flexible and creative.” The Valor team worked in tandem with the architects throughout the project to ensure the 8,561 square foot building fulfilled all of Westneat’s criteria.

Affordability was a priority for Westneat—the units (13 in total) range from studios for $1,375 per month to three story apartments with private roof decks for $2,525 per month. The variety of layouts helped the developer accommodate a wide range of renters.

A diverse community of renters now call Rail House home. Building a community of beautiful light-filled apartments near public transportation at an affordable price was no easy feat in Seattle’s competitive market, but with lots of strategic thinking and attention to detail, the teams were able to make Westneat’s dream a reality.

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