Stacked condos are designed to make most of space, view

The house: Called the 42nd Street Condos, this project is four stacked flats occupying the site of a former single-family house one block off Aurora Avenue just north of downtown Seattle.

Because it's a transitional neighborhood, the architects decided they could take some chances. Thus, the outside is a durable but unexpected industrial-grade steel siding and the inside is a riot of edgy colors (tangerine, pistachio-green and primary blue among them) throughout the units. They have their own personalities and lots of soundproofing to truly make them individual homes.

The architects: Chris Serra and Greg Bjarko of BjarkoSerra Architects. Their initial challenge, says Serra, was figuring out how to get four units on a 5,000-square-foot lot and "make them feel like single-family homes."

Their solution was to stack the units one above the other, instead of opting for the more common side-by-side townhouse format, which Serra says would have created tunnel-like environments. "The flats make it possible to get light and views on at least three sides," he says.

For Bjarko, the goal was to "create a residential-feeling building in a transitional neighborhood that has some fineness to it and is durable."

In doing this, they turned the challenges inherent in remodeling the remaining portion of the old house into opportunities. On the ground-floor unit, this translates into exterior bedroom walls that appear to pop out just enough to allow small skylights in the narrow ceiling above them.

The architects also made maximum use of zoning possibilities. In the top-floor unit, for example, the ceilings are all vaulted, which was the one way to give the skylit kitchen enough standing height, plus considerable drama.

The owners: Cynthia Creasey, John "Mack" McCoy, Brian and Anne Tschider.

The contractor: Cobalt Construction.

Judges' comments: "This project has just the right blend of art and architecture. All units have lively colors and materials, efficient floor plans." "This project has succeeded through thoughtful planning. The idea of creating 'flats' rather than individual 'townhouses' works well on this site and strengthens the floor plans. The units fit together nicely as one, masking the fact that it is a four-plex."

The size: The ground-floor unit is three bedrooms, 2-3/4 baths on 2,036 square feet. The third bedroom is in a partial basement not shown in floor plans. Special features: new hardwood floors, formal dining room. The two second-floor units are each two bedrooms, one bath, on 857 and 862 square feet. Special features: heated concrete floors, great room.

The top-floor penthouse is 1,542 square feet with two bedrooms, 1-3/4 baths. Special features: vaulted ceilings, a 30-foot deck offering views of Lake Union and Mount Rainier.

Construction cost: $1,122,000; the four units are priced between $250,000 and $550,000.

Tour hours: Noon to 5 p.m. today (Sunday) only.

Address: 952 N. 42nd St., Seattle.

Driving directions: From Interstate 5 take the North 45th Street exit and go westbound approximately one mile to Stone Way North. Turn left onto Stone Way and continue four blocks. Turn right onto North 42nd Street and go four blocks to intersection of North 42nd and Winslow Place North. Project is on northeast corner. Park on street.

The Seattle Times/AIA Open House program began in 1954. All licensed architects are encouraged to submit their residential work for consideration. Nominees are reviewed by the Seattle Chapter, AIA Open House committee. Call 206-448-4938.