MY HOUSE IDEA: The Penthouse at Smith Tower by Graham Baba Architects

Built in 1914, the Smith Tower was the tallest structure west of the Mississippi upon its completion. No expense was spared in the construction of this ambitious 462-foot-tall building, with interiors finished in rich materials and ornate detailing. Today, this iconic figure in the Seattle skyline houses offices and commercial spaces topped by an observation deck on the 35th floor, and above that a one-of-a-kind two-story penthouse apartment tucked into the pyramid-shaped peak. The Penthouse at Smith Tower is a project designed by Graham Baba Architects. Photography by Tim Van Asselt

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Originally housing the building’s water tank and converted into a makeshift apartment in the 70s, this latest conversion updates the space into a luxurious penthouse. The design opens up the floor plan so all spaces within the uniquely shaped volume can flow together. A large pivot door provides separation for the bedroom suite, as desired. A rich yet simple material palette consists of stained oak wall panels, blackened steel guardrails and light switch towers, and warm grey quartz counters and tile. Flooring throughout was upgraded to stained engineered oak planks, with a moat of polished black pebbles filling in the irregular space between the new floor and the undulating perimeter of the existing structure. All new design elements—including wall panels, shower glass, and railings—are modular for ease of installation. Exposed exterior concrete walls and ceilings were painted white to reflect light and stand in contrast to the rich finishes of the new interior walls. LED strip lighting along the perimeter of the space provide a wash of soft light along the canted walls. Small, triangular-shaped windows punctuate the perimeter walls of both floors, granting 360-degree views of the Olympics, Elliott Bay, and the city of Seattle.

The bedroom suite occupies the L-shaped perimeter of the entry floor. A central core of oak casework houses closet space and an upgraded bathroom, including a water closet with frosted glass doors, an oak vanity, and a walk-in shower. Window seats, set within window openings, were upgraded, and fitted with access to additional storage and mechanical systems.

The pyramidal second floor houses the primary living functions, a combination kitchen-dining-living area, topped by stairs and a catwalk to the lantern room, which features a glass and steel ball at the very top of the building. The team replaced the entire kitchen with two low counters that include undercounter refrigerator and freezer drawers, upgraded appliances, and bar seating for social gathering. The low profile and bright finishes complement the space without distracting from the overall volume. A custom-designed and -fabricated luminary by Electric Coffin is suspended in the center of the space.

Graham Baba Architects team:
Jim Graham, Principal in charge
Jeff King, Project Manager

Project team
Interior Architecture and Interior Design: Graham Baba Architects
Contractor: Valor Builds Collaborative
Custom luminary: Electric Coffin
Owner & Property Manager: Unico Properties
Agent: Moira Holley Presents for Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty
Photography: Tim Van Asselt

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