Heather and John Cashman abhor sitting still for too long. When away from their design-build firm Axiom Design Build, the couple (she’s a creative director, he’s an architect) travels the world, gathering inspiration and artwork along the way. Back home, life with their two teenagers is animated by lively dinners, impromptu music jams and ongoing personal projects—painting and photography for Heather; metalwork and carpentry for John.
Though they retrofitted previous abodes to fit their kinetic pace, they had never built one completely from scratch just for themselves. This changed when they found the perfect Seattle hillside lot. “We really dive in with our clients to figure out what makes them tick,” John says. “It was fun to do that in a holistic form for ourselves.” And for their family home they wanted “a place that inspires creativity and feels happy and energizing but with a splash of something unpredictable,” Heather adds.
Inspired by the site’s views of Elliott Bay shipping lanes and the constant choreography of cargo cranes across the sky, they envisioned a form something like stacked freight containers. They avoided using the real thing as “that poses serious limitations,” John notes. “But we took the same concept of sliding boxes and extruded it into our own design.”
This influence is clear in the exterior’s tiered rectilinear shapes, with portions chiseled away to form a sweeping outdoor terrace protected by the cantilevered floor above, as well as a private balcony servicing the couple’s suite. Floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding glass doors perforate the walls, drawing vistas inside. Landscape designers Boo Y. Jang and Jerry Coburn then surrounded the structure with sculptural greenery like feather reed grass and foxtail lilies, which “seamlessly harmonize with the architectural geometry of the home,” Jang notes.
The façade features different finishes accentuating each box segment: board-formed concrete for the ground basement level, inky-black Richlite (a locally manufactured resin-and-paper product) on the main floor, and gray zinc for the second story. Inspired by shipping pallets, the slatted ipe wood terrace railings and perimeter fence integrate organic warmth. “We wanted to try new things,” says Heather of the dynamic exterior palette. “Because of our work, we’re very familiar with different materials. We’re not afraid of doing something a little funky.”
The layered materiality continues inside. Past the vertical cedar screen-sheltered porch and massive glass pivot door is a luminous double-height foyer. The space is punctuated with geometric floor tile and a white oak slatted wall running up the stairwell, which features minimalist black steel railings John fabricated himself. At the top of the stairs is the central gathering space—an expansive open layout combining the kitchen, living and dining areas. Balancing weight and transparency, one side is anchored by the kitchen and bar’s sleek black cabinetry and marble countertops, while the other visually melds into views of Puget Sound and Mount Rainier through sliding glass walls leading to the outdoor deck. “We definitely tried to place the most utilized spaces around the view, so that was a primary driver for our main living area,” John notes.
More intimate areas exude the family’s passions, memories and sense of humor. They carved out dedicated spaces for play, including a workshop, a guest room that doubles as a painting studio, and a music room that’s stylishly insulated with bright wallpaper for better acoustics. This and other strokes of saturated hues help break up the home’s black-and-white industrial edge—like the primary bedroom’s accent wallpaper that’s flooded with Pacific Northwest meadow blooms. The print feels “almost like a grandma’s floral,” Heather laughs. “But it’s such a fun surprise in this modern home.”
The white-walled hallways are an ever-changing gallery of artworks collected over the years alongside Heather’s own paintings and photography. Although the decor and furnishings have been gradually accumulated, they feel harmonious due to the couple’s long-time penchant for clean silhouettes and interesting materials. Many are signposts of their life together here and abroad, including a dining table made of locally sourced madrone wood, vintage Italian and French mirrors, and an amoeba-like pendant picked up in Amsterdam.
Now that the dwelling is complete, life hasn’t slowed down. Their home hums with activity, from milestone celebrations to spontaneous gatherings on the terrace. “Having everyone together is really engaging,” Heather says. “We are just so proud to share the house and our lives and all that we’ve done together.”