Considerations When Choosing Switchs and Outlets

We recently had a client deliberating what to choose for their electrical switch and outlet trim. They had an aversion to contemporary paddle style light switches feeling that the look was stuck in the '80s. We put together these thoughts and sketches to help them understand the choices available and some of the logic behind layout choices when multiple switches pile up in one location.

Which Style? When considering switch styles (contemporary -vs- classic) it is helpful to think of the choice as less of a style and appearance selection and more of a functional choice.

Contemporary - Architects and designers like contemporary style switch plates (Decora and similar) not because we love the look, but because they allow the highest level of design flexibility and the largest selection for trim styles and functions - there are literally thousands of switch, trim, function and layout options available.

Classic - Classic style switches and outlets require use-specific switch plate covers and are more limiting when it comes to switch, trim, function and layout options. As a consequence they are less common in new construction. We typically only use classic style switches and outlets in remodels and renovations when we want to blend in with existing conditions.


Switch and outlet groupings: Typically, when I have a situation where more than 3 functions or switches pile up in one area, I try to break the functions into sensible groupings and locations. I also tend to want to make them as compact as possible.

For example, let's say that we have a Master bath vanity area with multiple switches and an outlet. We have 4 controls for a Fan/Light/Heat/Night-light combo unit, an outlet, and a switch for a light fixture over the tub. If we were to gang them all up in one box the cover plate would become quite large and what switch goes to which function would be less clear.

If we divide up the functions into separate boxes and use switch size and groupings to create a hierarchy of controls we give the user a better shot at guessing (and remembering) which switch does what.

Here's a sketch of a few layouts to provide an example: SWITCH-GROUPINGS

Summer time gathering of the whole CAST

CAST crew celebrating Summer! The siren's call of Seattle's summer has brought everyone back to town.  Last night, we celebrated our the solstice (a little late), the return of Holly from Sonoma and Forrest from Madrid, and had a little send off for Gunnar who is heading back to Norway's midnight sun.

CAST has a few other reasons to celebrate:

We're starting a two projects in Mazama (schematic design images upcoming).

Kenny's house is nearing completion:


Our first modular home on Bainbridge Island for Michel and Chas just went on the market this morning:


And the Mazama Ranchero is going to be published in a few magazines this fall, as well as the Lichtenstein cottage in a feature about Small Spaces:


Plus, Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands is in permit, ready for construction this fall:


Happy summer, everyone!

2013--Another great year for CAST architecture

2013-year-end-wrap Thanks to our wonderful clients for another great year!  In the office, we have a solid mix of intriguing work--a remodel of University Cooperative School, Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands, the completion of Canal Street Studio, a little coffee shop, a host of prefab modular houses on Bainbridge Island, a live-work studio, in addition to some really fun houses and remodels such as The RancheroOliner Residence and the Saratoga Residence.

This next year we're looking forward to the completion of the Ho Residence on Lake Washington, a cabin in Roslyn, a house or two in Seattle, and more on Bainbridge.  We'll also have a sweet townhouse project, a couple second story additions.

Happy New Year to all!

Matt, Stefan, Tim, Rebecca and Forrest



Urban Agriculture and Organic Architecture

RBUFW Classroom building, view looking south from the entry path (architectural rendering) RBUFW Classroom Building

We've been on an intense push the last few weeks to develop a schematic design for the new Classroom Building at the Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands (RBUFW). We're incredibly excited that Seattle Parks and Seattle Tilth were able to compress a two-phase master plan into a single project, but the result has been a very aggressive schedule for the design phase!

For  inspiration, we've been looking at pragmatic agricultural structures, both the simple closed forms of storage sheds and more "prismatic" shapes of greenhouses and barns. Greenhouses are particularly intriguing in the way the inside reveals a complicated structure and interior volume that is barely suggested by their taut and simple exterior form.

Greenhouse interior & exterior images

Sited to preserve the maximum agricultural land, the Classroom Building is nestled into a hillside along the east edge of the property. Three closed "boxes" containing support functions are slotted into the hillside, with the open space between accommodating the classroom and a grove of existing trees.

RBUFW Classroom Building Floor Plan

Above the boxes, a pair of elevated canopies create the primary function spaces and extend out over the pathway to provide plenty of covered outdoor space.


RBUFW Classroom Building, view from the SW (architectural rendering)

From the outside, these canopies appear as simple translucent volumes, but the inside reveals vaulted space, filtered sunlight and expressive structure. We've taken inspiration from architects such as MW Works and VJAA who accept the construction techniques of industrial space-making, but turn around and use those conventional materials in a very refined and thoughtful manner.

RBUFW classroom building, view under main porch (architectural rendering)

RBUFW classroom building, interior view (architectural rendering)


More media about RBUFW:

Seattle Magazine "On the Urban Farm"

Seattle's Child "Urban Farms Grow Healthy Eaters"

The Seattle Times "An Urban Farm Helps Immigrants from East Africa Settle in Seattle"

The Ranchero Photoshoot

ranchero-1 Hot off the presses! We've recently returned from a weekend retreat and photoshoot at "The Ranchero" in Mazama. Nestled at the edge of a subalpine meadow in the upper Methow Valley, the Ranchero is a base camp for year round outdoor adventure and a social hub for gatherings of friends and family.


The plan emphasizes simplicity, abundant natural light and a strong connection to the surrounding peaks and adjacent aspen grove. The public wing features an open floor plan with an expansive patio that sets the stage for relaxation and socializing.


A simple material pallet focuses on highly durable, low maintenance solutions such as Cor-ten steel siding, aluminum clad windows and a concrete skirt that protects the structure’s base during the winter snowpack and spring snowmelt cycle.


The deep veranda, oversized entry and ski wax room provide family and guests a functional landing zone between activities.


Built at a modest scale with super insulated walls and ceilings, energy efficient windows and systems, the home is intended to minimize energy consumption.


With a spine that is aligned along an east west axis, the home is designed to take advantage of passive solar heat gain in the winter while minimizing solar heat gain in the summer.


Mild steel and integrally colored fiber cement panels clad the interior walls for a durable, paint free finish.


The home features regionally crafted custom finish details, casework and furnishings throughout.


Crisp white aluminum ceiling panels reflect light into the home and help blur the line between the indoors and outdoors.


Low VOC finishes, concrete floors, and a heat recovery ventilator insure clean and healthy air.


The private wing offers a master suite with an extra day bed, a ship’s berth inspired bunkroom, and peaceful getaway nooks.


A balance of rugged materials, a simple plan and clean lines help focus this mountain retreat on the place, people and adventures.

Big Views, Small Views

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This recently completed residence in the Issaquah Highlands, 20 miles east of Seattle, enjoys spectacular views. A big part of our role here was to know when to get out of the way!


iss-high bigview

A central circulation spine screens private zones while channeling visitors towards the open kitchen-living-dining area. With its subtle nods to Japanese traditions, the house is as much about choreography as building



iss-high smallview

More intimate framed views of the contemplative garden and the art collection provide contrast before the vista finally opens completely at the rear of the house.


iss-high ext2

Generous overhangs and deliberately engineered cross-ventilation provide effective passive cooling and weather protection for this mountaintop site.



CAST Architecture:  Stefan Hampden, Matt  Hutchins, Forrest Murphy

Add’l Design:  Eric Oliner

Calista Interiors:  Calista Munnell

Stoney Point Engineering (Structural): Dwayne Barnes

Core Design Inc. (Geotechnical & Civil): Glenn Sprague

BDR Custom Homes:  Steven Jewett


Saratoga Residence

saratoga-backyard Here are some photos of the Saratoga House--just need some landscaping!



Outdoor dining room off the kitchen


View from the family room to the breakfast bar and kitchen beyondsaratoga-kitchen

The Big Island


The Big Island again.


The breakfast bar's single support--custom fabricated stainless steel. saratoga-staircase

The view from the front door, looking up the walnut/glass/steel staircase


The Ranchero!

exterior-2 The Mazama cabin is all but finished! After a few initial stays and much consideration the owners have dubbed the Mazama cabin 'The Ranchero!' There are a few final details still outstanding but the cabin is up and running for summer enjoyment...


Looking toward the dining room and kitchen - clear fir doors, windows and trim. Paneled white aluminum ceilings, polished radiant heat concrete floors, integrated sound system, custom furniture, hot rolled steel structure and wall panels...


Rolled steel shelf at entry with Minerit accent panel.

See more photos after the jump...



Open shelving in kitchen makes finding things easy for guests.



Custom pantry adjacent to kitchen



Master bedroom with daybed tucks in against the aspen grove



Bunk room with custom beds and storage below

More than a car! More than a truck! The Ranchero!

the-ranchero the-ranchero-part-duex


Saratoga construction update

zarins-columns Our Saratoga House is suddenly feeling much more put together--most of the cabinetry is in, the stone tile is completed throughout the interior, split face stone going up the arcade columns.  Stucco and the metal roof are on the horizon.


The interior of the house is very open, very connected to the backyard. Not yet installed is the eating bar which will come out parallel with the kitchen island, and supported on a stainless steel tripod.  The staircase is wrapped in more cabinets, with stainless and glass railings.

saratoga design construction

See more photos after the jump:


We'll be wrapping the arcade roof with standing seam metal all the way around, running the split face limestone up the columns, and matching up the interior stone tile with the exterior tile (same stone, but a change in texture for better footing outside).  The drain in front of the Weiland doors is going to be very understated--a 1/2" slot between courses.


The island is 14' long, 4 1/2' wide--two butterflied slabs of 'Silver Wave' marble.  As the focal point of the kitchen, and the center of family life/entertaining, we really took it over the top!


The cabinet wall is highlighted by a linear skylight.


Saratoga Residence progress

CAST architecture arcade The Saratoga residence is moving along-soon we'll have the exterior wrapped up, and the arcade complete! The interior walnut cabinetry and floating stair treads/glass rail should be installed soon!

CAST architecture kitchen island

The kitchen, in the foreground, is going to feature a 14' long double loaded island, packed with functionality.  Tucked under the stairs, we'll have a nerve center for all the household computing and controls. There is a private, ornamental garden beyond the dining room's window wall.


IMG_4149 We had a fantastic turn out for the Sand Point Elementary Earth-day work party this past weekend. A special thanks to Loren Yaguchi and all the folks from Abbott Construction's special projects group for donating materials, shop time, and a whole lot of can do to make the benches we designed become a fantastic kit of parts for the community to assemble!



30 new stacking benches for the outdoor classroom fully assembled - a testament to the prep of the folks a Abbott Construction and all the volunteers who turned out to work on our local public school!


Thank you to Carter Capps, pitcher for the Seattle Mariners and Taylor Graham, defender for the Sounders FC for signing autographs and helping with our projects!

DSC_2641 copy

Richard Swann author of “Our School Garden” putting the newly assembled benches for the outdoor classroom to good use!





Mark your calendars! The Andersons Residence, a 4 star Built Green home, will be open to the public for touring as part of Northwest Eco Building Guild Green Home Tour on April 27th.

The Anderson residence is a Built Green renovation, addition and transformation of an existing single family home. The plan opened, simplified and streamlined the existing first floor in addition to adding a new second story to provide much needed space for a growing family.


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University Cooperative School Schematic Design

This past weekend was our first public presentation of the schematic design for the University Cooperative School.  We are working with the school to develop an indoor active space as well as music studio in the basement, while taking the opportunity to improve the entry sequence and experience for the 3rd-5th grade classrooms. University Cooporative School Reconfiguring the entry with the new stairs and an eddy space for the kids cubby space helps bring light to the active space below, while a window wall separates the noisier activities of the cubbies and active spaces below from the classrooms. The new entry exposes the admin office to the entry, making it both more public, as well as increasing oversight at the entry.

University Cooporative School The open stairs on the south side of the building will help bring light to the back side of the basement, while a translucent wall on the west side brings in light from the on grade entrance, with a new accessible ramp and stair entry from the south west corner.

UCS PERSPECTIVE SECTIONThe Music room is located in the below grade section to the East, taking advantage of the inherent acoustic dampening of the concrete foundation and lid, while allowing for a light well between the cubbies and south window wall.


A view from the new entry, with the cubby alcove, stairs down, and a pattern of translucent colored circular insets in the concrete slab create a playful musical pattern, alluding to the music studio below, while allowing light to be transferred downstairs.

UCS CLASSROOM FINALA new stage with sliding white board, allows for visual separation between the upper and lower classrooms, while fostering performance as an integral component of the curriculum. A low bank of cabinets gives privacy between the bathrooms, and classroom, maintaining the openness of the space for public gatherings, and providing additional storage.

UCS ACTIVE FINAL The active space, with new beams, eliminates the intermediate columns, increasing the flexibility of the space for larger scale activities.  New rubberized flooring and gymnasium wall pads create a safe environment for physical activities.

UCS MUSIC ROOM FINAL The music room with dedicated storage for instruments, and acoustic isolation from the classrooms, allows for music to continue to play a central roll in the school, while minimizing the disruption to the classrooms.



The exterior finishes over at the Clubhouse are almost done... The cladding is a combination of fiber cement panels and a clear cedar rain screen. This is a photo taken from the street, the panels are installed with horizontal anodized aluminum panel breaks at 2' on center:


A master suite is clad in a clear cedar rainscreen, it cantilever's over an outdoor room below:


Closeup of the cedar rainscreen:



The ceilings and soffits will be high gloss white aluminum panels. We installed a plywood underlayment to simplify panel layout and minimize panel distortion.

All photos are courtesy of Phil Dietz / Lost River Construction.

This photo is looking down the entry veranda toward the front door:


Looking from the front door toward the sauna wing and entry veranda:


Completed plywood underlay in the great room:


First panels go up in the Master bedroom:


Master bedroom ceiling complete:


Detail of fasteners:


Recent rendering put together for an advertisement: