When Karen and Sam Gigliotti moved from Atlanta to Seattle in 2006, they bought a condo in the new Lumen building over the QFC in Lower Queen Anne. But after a decade there, loving the central location, walking to work, raising their son, they felt cloistered in the 1,590 square-foot unit. Karen works from home as a mechanical engineer; Sam is a principal engineer at Amazon, but also composes music and plays a concert grand piano. And their son, two when they moved in, was now nearly a teenager, attending school in that district.
In 2016, they spotted a neighbor moving out of her adjacent condo and saw their chance to expand. They bought the 770 square-foot studio, without knowing quite what they’d do with it. They just had two apartments now.
The Gigliottis found architect Sheri Olson through a mutual friend. Instead of trying to extend the current condo’s design into the added space, Olson wanted to start fresh. “We gutted both apartments, essentially, took it down to the metal studs,” she says. She started with a set of plans that realigned the basic layout. The studio would become the master bedroom and bathroom and a guest bedroom. The bathrooms and the kitchen would be moved. The rest of the design would open up around a central core. Olson brought on DLH contractor Harry Strouse for the build-out.
That’s where things got tricky. “I had the existing drawing,” Olson says, “but when the contractor started opening up walls it was a whole new landscape.”
Lumen is a post-tension concrete building, so steel cables run through the concrete structure—walls, floors, columns—for support. It’s an efficient design, says Olson, but if you nick one of those cables, you could compromise the building. Drill more than three-quarters of an inch, for instance, and a cable could be damaged. Even installing drapes in the master bedroom later on, designers so feared hitting a cable that they didn’t drill deep enough and the drapes fell. Olson had the original plans, but because buildings aren’t constructed exactly as drawn, Olson and Strouse brought in a concrete penetrating radar machine—which looks like an industrial carpet cleaner—to scan floors and locate cables. “There were cables everywhere,” Olson says.
Plumbing further altered their plans. Many of the pipes ran from the units above to those below, which meant they couldn’t be moved. Due to inspector regulations, they couldn’t alter a fire-sprinkler, a red pipe that ran along the ceiling’s center. To make things even more difficult, initial plans to crane materials into the third-story space fell through, and since the building has no residential freight elevator, the construction crew had to hoof drywall up the stairwell.
But instead of radically altering their original plans, Olson and Strouse found ways to integrate immovable plumbing into the layout. “It was like a big puzzle,” Olson says. Karen’s office area, originally a desk nook, expanded with a wall of cabinets. The desk conceals a nest of pipes. Because a drain couldn’t be moved in the master bath, the shower became its own space, tucked between the closet and rest of the bathroom.
When Strouse found out that the sprinkler system had to stay, he surveyed the space and noticed that the concrete ceiling dropped down a foot or so in front of the son’s bedroom. “I was like, why don’t we frame all this and get some faux concrete,” Strouse says. He enclosed the sprinkler in a special drywall and sprayed on a thin, stucco-like substance to blend it with the exposed concrete ceiling, something the Gigliottis wanted to retain because of its aged patina.
Because the original apartment had frequently gone gloomy in winter months, Olson finished the new design with light-ushering touches. The old dark floors she replaced with light wood. A window over Karen’s desk lets natural light through the layout’s dense core and into Sam’s music space. Then Olson added splashes of color—like a bright orange oven—to mediate any minimalist austerity.
To complement the space’s easy flow, the Gigliottis automated parts of the new design—blinds, lights, thermostats, towel-warmers that switch on when they shower, a retractable screen with projector. All that AI integration wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Sam works at Amazon on Alexa, would it?
Karen laughs: “Maybe.”