Picture a house. Just an average house. A few steps lead to the front door, and, inside, there is a living room up front, kitchen in the back, three or four bedrooms up a flight of stairs. We’ve all been in this house, but have you ever stopped to wonder for whom it was designed? Or, more to the point, for whom it wasn’t? Emory Baldwin has. For years the Seattle architect has watched a changing population stuff itself into structures designed for another time, before so-called nontraditional families were more common than nuclear ones, before the baby boomers—all 78 million of them—started turning 60. The architect saw a pressing need to change the way we think about design. So he started at home.
“We try to make use of every little bit we can,” Baldwin tells me, opening up a storage space filled with plush blankets that’s been coyly built into a cushioned bench. We are standing on the top floor of the two-year-old Greenlake house he shares with his wife, Laura, and six- and four-year-old daughters Sophia and Annika. Strategically nestled between the girls’ bedrooms and the master suite, this cozy nook is the perfect place for cuddling up with a story before bedtime.
But the rectangular hideout actually has a hidden purpose: Perched above two closets—one on the main floor, one in the basement—it is at the top of a shaft running vertically through the center of the house. The walls are wired and framed according to a residential lift manufacturer’s recommendations so that, should the need arise, an elevator can be installed. The floor on each level can be easily removed, and the elevator pit (where the hydraulic mechanism is set) is already incorporated into the foundation but hidden beneath temporary flooring. If the Baldwins or some future occupant decided to convert the shaft into a functioning lift, they would only need to install the elevator itself, which runs around $20,000. Completely reoutfitting and reengineering a home for an elevator, on the other hand, costs about $100,000.