Architectural History

history of the floor plan by Atelier Drome

One of the most gratifying aspects of our job is to customize spaces for our clients, the most intimate being those in the home.  The first thing we ask a client to do when we set out to create a home for them is to fill out a questionnaire. It is designed to structure the get to know you process, and our goal in writing it is to understand how our clients live in the spaces they have, and more importantly, how they


to live in the spaces we have been hired to create. We encourage our clients to take some time with it, because it goes beyond the quantitative questions such as number of bedrooms, or desired square footage frequently used to define scope, and asks more qualitative questions to really understand how those spaces or that square footage will be used (who cooks? Where do you eat? how frequently to do you host overnight guests?) Because while two clients might each respond that they need three bedrooms, or a large kitchen – the way they envision using those spaces, and therefore the way we approach their design, is unique to them.

When we finish the questionnaire phase we have a list of spaces that will be important in the home, as well as a sense of the way those spaces relate to each other for our client. The list is made up of basics: cooking space, living space, bathing space and sleeping space, as well as “extras” such as outdoor space, formal dining space, work space, storage space, play space, media space etc. And most of the time these functions fit into rooms with familiar names and descriptions – cooking space is in the kitchen, sleeping space is divided in to a number of bedrooms, etc. But the compartmentalization of home life into these rooms is actually very recent, and specific to our time and place. Each of these rooms has a rich and ever evolving history –while we have always needed a place to sleep, or eat, the way that we do those things is ever changing and therefore the spaces dedicated to them change as well.  Bill Brysons “At Home” and Lucy Worsley’s “If Walls Could Talk” are a great introduction to the history of life in rooms. Many room names are quite old but have completely different functions than the space originally defined by that name, such as the kitchen or hall- others have virtually disappeared such as the parlor, or scullery- and some, like a media room or master bathroom are very new.

The original room was the “


” which we now only include where necessary for circulation, and often don’t even consider as a room of its own right. But until as recently as the 15


century the hall was the most important, (and at first, the only!) room in the house. The word “hall” is 1600 years old, when it referred to a large barn like structure that functioned as kitchen, bedroom, dressing room, living room, (and barn!) in one- the original open floor plan.  The room was therefore designed to afford complete flexibility- the only fixed feature would have been a centrally located hearth for cooking, light, and warmth. Furniture would have been kept to a minimum, with shared bedding laid out only at night and put away during the day (a typical bed size for a family might have been 9’x7’). An early dining table would have actually been a board, hung on the wall when not in use (also the origin of the term “room and board”). The concept of privacy in the early home was therefore nonexistent- rather, all life was carried out communally.

With time other rooms were added, such as the chapel, kitchen and sleeping chambers. The addition of new rooms was made possible by the invention of the chimney in the 1300s which funneled smoke out of the house, for the first time allowing the space above head height to be breathable and therefore occupiable. The first room to move upstairs was the


, in the form of the ”great chamber” which was the first private space for the family, separate from guests or servants. The first bedrooms would have been shared by the nuclear family, often in one bed. They were used not just for sleeping but also for entertaining or eating in a more intimate setting. The bedroom didn’t become a dedicated room just for sleeping until the 1600s. Even then, it wasn’t yet considered a private space, evidenced by the fact that most bedrooms were accessed from each other rather than a corridor. The desire for privacy from other household members wasn’t adopted until later- As literacy rates increased, people began to enjoy and value time spent alone. Interestingly, the first space designed for privacy was not the bedroom or bathroom, but the


. The original use of the word “closet” referred to a small room off of the bed chamber more similar to a study than a storage space, where the occupant might pray or meditate and where the owner might store small collectibles or art- also one of the first spaces to feature an interior lock. And while todays closets are generally utilitarian, the original “closets” would have had some of the most personalized decor.

The chimney was equally impactful in creating a separate


– and whereas early censuses actually counted the number of hearths rather than people or houses, once the hearth was no longer required to be in the center of the home as a heat source it was quickly moved to a less prominent part of the home and many times actually stood as a structure separate from the home. Cooking was done over a fire, while baking was typically done outside the home in a communal oven. The kitchen stayed a hidden and undecorated space in middle and upper class homes until after the early 20


century when household sizes decreased, and therefore cooking was done by the “mistress of the house” for her own family rather than by employed staff. Different from today’s multifunction and often quite expensively finished kitchens, a kitchen in a 1920s home would have been for cooking only- dining, dish storage, entertaining, would have been in separate rooms. And a mid nineteenth century kitchen would not have even had a sink – the cleaning and cooking functions were considered separate, and the cleaning would have been done in a separate room called the scullery. 

kitchen at mount vernon, 1860

1939 model kitchen 

1911 catalog kitchen


date back to the Roman Empire, but in a very different form than we bathe today. Almost more important than their hygienic function, Roman baths were opportunities for socializing, carried out outside the home, and very much in public. With the rise of Christianity people adopted a more modest approach to bathing, but the labor involved in carrying water, let alone heating it, for a private bath was so great that most people actually bathed very infrequently. The bathroom as a dedicated and private space within the home is only as old as plumbing – previously bathing would have taken place using portable pitchers and basins carried into the bedroom. The “en suite” bathroom actually began in hotels, the first being Cape May, New Jersey’s Mount Vernon Hotel in 1853. It was slower to catch on in private homes because they frequently lacked the pressure to bring the water upstairs (London’s first pipes were actually made of wood, later replaced with iron). The first private bathrooms were utilitarian, more akin to mechanical rooms than today’s often spa-like master bathrooms, and had to be tucked into existing spaces wherever they could fit. As a result the sizes of bathrooms, and their fixtures, were far from standard (Bryson cites a bathtub so big a stepladder was needed to get into it, and a shower large enough for a horse). Porcelain enamel tubs were the first to be considered attractive – prior versions might have been made of zinc, copper or cast iron. By 1940 fixtures had become more or less standardized, and affordable - an entire bath suite (sink bath and toilet) could be purchased for $70.

While all rooms are really living rooms, “

living rooms

” in the sense of the word today were the creation of leisure time, and in America the term was only coined around the mid-19


century. Predecessors to the living room, such as the parlor date all the way back to 1225 where it was used to describe a room where monks could go to talk (derived from the French word “parler”) but were only seen in homes for the wealthy. A new urban middle class emerging in the 17


century was the first time that anyone but the wealthy had time for leisure, and need of an impressive space to host guests. Dedicated

dining rooms

only came about in the mid-18


century as a result of the widespread adoption of upholstered furniture, as a way of preventing stains from eating.

As technology makes domestic life easier, and careers and school tend to keep people away from home during the day, homes are increasingly our centers for privacy, leisure, and relaxation.  Average household size in the west has gone from 5.8 members in 1790 to 2.6 in America today, making it possible and desirable to create more private spaces for individual retreat within the home, as well as social spaces geared more toward relaxation and

entertaining. But of course the floor plan will continue to evolve, and the popularity of the tiny house movement, an appreciation for minimalism and open plans, and renewed interest in sustainability suggest that maybe we still have something to learn from the original room, the “hall”.

1799 duplex

1925 house plan

1910 apartment plan


Bill Bryson “At Home”

Lucy Worsley “If Walls Could Talk”

NYPL Digital Library 

dreams of gold by miriam_atelierdrome

Many early adventurers returned to Pioneer Square with fortunes of gold.

These miners came back with $4 million in gold in 1899. This photo was taken in front of the Steamer Roanoke. 

Once all the gold was off the ship, it was loaded onto one of the many waiting wagons, and driven up the hill to the U.S. Assay Office. 
The U.S. Assay Office, which was built in 1905, was located at 617 9th Ave, which is now on First Hill between Swedish and Harborview Hopstials. The Assay Office was opened in response to large quantity of gold arriving in Seattle. 

Once at the Assay Office, the gold's purity would be assessed, and then purchased for cash by the United States. 

Gold ingots stored at the Assay Office in Seattle. 

This . Now . That by Shannon Wing

Have you ever noticed that some of the most interesting details in people's homes can come from re-purposing certain items (old doors, custom built-ins, funky light fixtures, furniture...)? People nowadays flock to salvage stores to find those singular details that just don't exist in today's fast paced, profit driven construction market. This type of unique detail is not limited to just certain snapshots of a home, but can, in fact, encompass an entire home. Today, people have found ways to creatively re-purpose old buildings such as churches, fire-stations, and even banks into one-of-a-kind homes for themselves. Take a look at some of our favorites below.

This first example isn't actually a house, but a really neat adaptation of an old 1920's era building. A long abandoned bank in Chicago's South Side was purchased for $1 by a local artist and urban planner. He set out to restore the bank and turn it into an incredible public art resource. Now called the Stony Island Art Bank, it is a great example of the kinds of spaces that can be created when transforming a building's former purpose into its new one.

This old fire station in St. Louis was purchased as a foreclosure in 2013 by its new owners. The two-level structure was originally constructed in 1900 and was last used as a fire station in 1965. The new owners have transformed it slowly into a contemporary abode and in-home photography studio and office for their family. It comes complete with a fire pole in the dining room!

This last example is quite a dazzler.  Located at 1658 W. Superior Street in the East Village neighborhood of Chicago, this former Romanesque style church was built in 1888. It was converted to 14 condominium units back in 1998. This former church retained much of it's character throughout the transformation (which can be tricky for commercial resale projects): large, intricate stained glass windows; vaulted spaces, some as high as 30 feet; and brickwork can still be found in each unit.

Thanks for touring these unique spaces with us. All things morph over time, buildings included. Maybe we've sparked some ideas for new avenues for you to explore on the homefront as well!

seattle's spooky architecture by Unknown

We all have one in our neighborhood. We're all guilty of walking by it, sneaking peeks, trying to get a glimpse of something inside... In honor of Halloween, we’ve collected a few of our favorite spooky, haunted, and historic buildings from the Seattle Area and surrounding. Take a look…. You never know which one might be hiding in your neighborhood!

Perhaps one of the best known “haunted” buildings in Seattle, The Sorrento Hotel, built in 1909, is located in the First Hill neighborhood. Still a well-known and oft-frequented establishment today, it is rumored to host local ghost, Alice B. Toklas (the muse behind Gertrude Stein’s famous book), who roams the 4th floor.  The hotel fondly refers to her as their friendly ghost and honors her memory with a special drink on their menu at the Dunbar Room.

The Sorrento Hotel under construction in 1909
The Sorrento Hotel Today

West Seattle is home to another haunted building: West Seattle High School.  Built in 1902, it was designated as a historic landmark in 1981. There are reports that say a young student named Rose Higginbotham hung herself at the school in 1924, and ever since, students claim to see her spirit wandering the halls. She is also rumored to be seen in the early morning fog of the adjacent Hiawatha Playfield.

West Seattle High School back in 1917
West Seattle High School today

The iconic 5,000 square foot Georgetown Castle was built in 1902 by Peter J. Gessner. It is a distinctive example of Queen Anne architecture in the area and though it sat long uncared for, has now been remodeled and restored into a family residence again. It is popular belief that the home has long since been haunted by a tall, thin woman. However there is some disagreement on whether it is the ghost of a prostitute that was murdered by her magician boyfriend while the home spent a stint as a brothel, or the wife of one of Gessner’s sons, Sarah, who had an affair with another man.  

Georgetown Castle after it was completed in 1902
Georgetown Castle today, after restoration

Originally built in 1925, The Harvard Exit Theatre on Capitol Hill was originally a home to the Women's Century Club (they still meet there today!). The club's purpose was to help women with equality issues and the right to vote. It is rumored that a Century Club member hung herself in the upstairs lounge in the 1920's. Now a popular theatre, movie watchers have reported seeing shadowy figures in the lobby and hearing women's laughter on the upper levels.  

Harvard Exit Theatre as the Women's Century Club 
Harvard Exit Theatre today
A popular haunt in downtown Seattle’s Post Alley is the Butterworth Building... which is home to the popular Kell’s Irish Pub today. The basement of the Butterworth Building was the location of the city’s first mortuary and in the early 1900’s, was a rather busy one! The owners and staff have reported experiencing moving objects and having objects shatter spontaneously. Some even say they have seen a young girl who, legend has it, tries to lure other young children to come play with her.

Butterworth Building as the city's first mortuary
Butterworth Building as Kell's today
Halloween is just around the corner… maybe stop by Kell’s Irish Pub for a spooky pint or the Sorrento Hotel’s Dunbar Room for a Ms. Toklas cocktail and see for yourself if any of these rumors hold true.  And most importantly, have a happy and haunted Halloween!

your old seattle house by miriam_atelierdrome

The world was definitely a different place 80 years ago; the first technicolor Mickey Mouse short film was released, the first paperback books were being produced, and the average cost for a new home was $3450.00. Ever wonder what your old house looked like back then? Who built your house and when?

There's an easy way to find out! In 1937, the King County Assessor took photos and made property record cards for almost every house in Seattle. These are public record and for a small fee you can get a copy and start your trip down memory lane.

Here's how to get it:

1. Find your parcel number. Go to the King County Parcel Viewer and type in your address. Here's ours at 85 Columbia St. 

2. Email Puget Sound Regional Archives with your address and parcel number:

3. In about a week, the Archive will pull your house's file and email you with their findings. Usually they'll find one photo and one property record card. If you're lucky they'll have a photo from the 1950s. At this point they'll ask for payment which can be done over the phone with a credit card. Tip: Ask for digital scans to be emailed to you -- these are higher quality and cost less.

3. Wait about 1 week. Check your email. Here's the photo we got of the DJC Building from 1937.

It's hard to imagine life without smartphones, wifi, and all our other modern amenities but how fun is it to get a glimpse of what your home looked like back in the day? It makes us a little sentimental, a little wistful... or is that just excitement about having a new photo to post for Throwback Thursday?!

In any case, good luck and share your findings with us! Happy reminiscing!