When my husband and I converted an old garage into a studio apartment five years ago, one priority was to connect the studio to the landscape, which in this case, was a garden filled with Japanese maples, rhododendrons, and all sorts of perennials which were right outside the windows, as well as a filtered views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains visible just over our neighborhood rooftops.
We swapped some windows for a sliding door and built a small deck to provide direct garden access, .
relocated another window along the bed/desk wall to provide privacy by eliminating the ability to see into the house.
The only problem with the window relocation on the bed/desk wall was that the new window, which was just above the desk, looked onto the roof of the new garage—which had been a two-walled carport until we enclosed it. I’ve stayed in plenty of hotels with great city views from the upper floors, but all too often, they also incorporate the ugly flat expanses of neighboring roofs.
How could we spruce up the roof, which currently leaked and was covered with a tarp?
We thought about painting a mural, about adding planter boxes, after we fixed it, but it would still look like a roof. And then my husband came up with an idea: grass. We didn’t want seed or sod, that would need to be watered and mowed and would brown down in the height of winter and summer.
What about artificial turf—Astroturf—we called it decades ago? It would always look green, but it wouldn’t look real up close. But nobody sees a roof up close, right? This roof was not only outside the writers’ retreat; it was also just feet from our dining room, which had a sliding door that led to a deck that was only a few feet wide. Why couldn’t we use the roof as part of our yard?
My husband, brilliant again, looked at the short span between the existing deck and garage and decided to build a bridge, so we could enjoy the water and mountain views from the garage roof—which really was the best vantage point.
Kevin located Synthetic Turf Northwest, a company that installs real looking artificial turf—blades of varying heights with some browned down short grass near the “dirt”—on playfields, golf courses, and private homes. We were their first rooftop installation.
We cleaned the old roof, put on self-adhesive ice and water shield rolled roofing, and then the installers rolled out the turf, sprinkling sand to weight it down. The result was a lawn that looked great year round from the studio window, and that was soft underfoot and cooler than wood decking in the summer heat.
UNDERLAYMENT AND CEDAR FENCING
Five years ago this month my husband and I began finishing the interior walls of a writers’ retreat, a studio apartment that had once been a two-car garage. The former garage had been converted to living space in the late 1950s by enclosing the small breezeway that had initially separated the house and garage, and by adding a small bathroom and laundry area. With dingy green walls and green linoleum floors, it looked as though it hadn’t been touched since.
The house was one of noted Seattle Architect Ira E. Cummings’ early designs, and we were only the third owners in its 60-year history. In updating the house and designing the apartment we wanted to stay true to the original aesthetic of mid-century modern design that favors open spaces and incorporates wood, metal, and laminate— inexpensive materials of the time.
The studio seemed the perfect space to use those materials instead of traditional sheetrock on the walls and ceiling. My husband and I prowled the aisles at Home Depot, dismissing wainscoting, bead-board, and paneling, not finding anything I liked.
Then I remembered visiting Bainbridge Island’s Islandwood a few months prior, and described to my husband what I’d seen on the walls. It was Oriented Strand Board—looking like compressed straw—the sheets we saw were stamped repeatedly with the manufacturer’s name; Islandwood’s were sans stamps.
We continued investigating the lumber aisles and came upon a sheet of underlayment that was stacked wrong side up. Instead of being dyed solid orange, the grainy skeletons of trees, their limbs and knots made interesting patterns across the panels; shapes that brought to mind birds and mountains.
I thought it would be perfect for our walls, though I didn’t know anything about construction then. Kevin and I had to handpick each panel to make sure the underside wasn’t damaged and didn’t have orange showing through. Then, he had to figure out an attractive way to trim between the boards; we couldn’t have them just butt up next to each other. He used aluminum strips usually used on floors, which added definition to the walls. To accentuate the use of metal as an accent, we installed metal plug and plate covers, and a metal entry door (perfect for poetry magnets).
I loved the look of cedar planks for the ceiling, but the costs were prohibitive, until Kevin suggested buying much less expensive and shorter 6-foot fence boards and “ripping them down” to a smooth finish. I agreed and had my first satisfying stint at a planer and then I sealed the boards with water-based polyurethane.
Instead of running the finished boards in long rows, Kevin decided to take advantage of their unique length and designed a series of alternating squares across the ceiling that added more visual interest.
We had more than 60 bookings for our studio in the year I listed it on Airbnb. Everyone loved the space. We did too!