By Meghan Hall
The hip waterfront neighborhood of Ballard, located just north of Seattle, has historically been a hub for light industrial and manufacturing activity, as well as single-family residential. However, Ballard is quickly changing, its evolution characterized by an influx of new commercial businesses, particularly crafters of various products, including and particularly, beer. For Graham Baba Architects, these changes provided the design basis for both Trailbend Taproom and the Klotski Building, the taproom’s new home. GBA worked with David Milesi, the property’s owner, and Jamie Butler, Travis Eaton and Andy Walls, owners of not just Trailbend, but of two other popular Seattle breweries, The Yard and The Dray, to bring the project to life.
“Ballard is kind of an interesting mix of single family residential and industrial buildings, and the City is really trying to maintain that industrial character,” said Susan Tillack, architect at GBA. “Land is at such a premium that it is only a matter of time before single family residential goes away in favor of infill development, and that’s what David wanted to do. He wanted to start galvanizing the neighborhood; hopefully the building influences development in a positive way.”
The Klotski Building totals 10,041 square feet in all, with Trailbend Taproom occupying 1,700 square feet on the ground floor of the building. In addition to the beer hall, the CMU and steel-framed building will house an office, a maker space, a studio and a small caretaker’s apartment. In order to maximize square footage, the building itself is rectangular in shape, so it was important that the building’s massing and materials provided ample visual interest.
“Because the footprint of the building is a simple box, we wanted to do something that would give it dynamism,” explained Tillack. “We used screens as one way to create interest as well as serve the dual purpose of providing daylight management.”
The seven-by-ten foot perforated metal screens can shift up and down, similar to a sliding tile puzzle also known as a “klotski” — where the building gets its name. On the second story, a glazed wall windows accentuated a larger, steel-wrapped bay window, which pulls from the industrial character of Ballard.
Trailbend Taproom’s design refines the industrial aesthetic through the use of small details and materials that are reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest and the property’s location to the Burke-Gilman Trail — the route that inspired the beerhall’s name. The taproom features full-height windows and sliding doors, while the 35-foot-long-bar is topped with polished walnut wood. The custom steel-and-wood tap list, which features Trailbend Taproom’s continuously rotating selection of 42 beers—is inspired by split-flap arrival displays that were commonly found in 20th century train stations.
“Squeezing all of that programming into 1,700 square feet and distilling all of these ideas about what would be interesting for the space was a challenge,” said Andy Brown, the architect at GBA who spearheaded the taproom project. “The owners came to us and said they wanted the space to stand out, not only from other restaurants, but from The Dray and the Yard, who each have their own aesthetic and vibe.”
According to Brown, the design and development team sought to elevate the industrial aesthetic of the space through the use of materials such as Carrara marble backsplashes, and custom light fixtures. Honey-colored salvaged wood, sourced from the Pacific Ocean, was used for table tops, drink ledges and stools and were set into blackened steel frames.
“The design involves a lot of warming up the coo, hard concrete and steel structure that is in the existing space with some of the really warm woods that are part of the tables and bar top,” explained Brown. “The refined steel and warm bronze in the light fixtures bring in a more refined touch and uses warmth from the metal in a different way.”
The taproom is also connected to the outdoors and features a 30 seat sidewalk café, a unique addition to the industrial character of the building’s streetscape.
“The connection to the outdoors helps to elevate the industrial look of [the property] a bit; you don’t traditionally think of industrial being part of a nice outdoor setting,” said Brown. “This is a little oasis that the bar can open up and connect to.”
Trailbend Taproom has been open for just over a year and is a spot that Brown visits regularly to catch up with friends or other members of the project team. The hope is that both the Klotski Building and Trailbend Taproom will continue to contribute to Ballard’s changing identity long into the future.
“We wanted the development to fit the neighborhood, but elevate it above its surroundings; the clients really wanted to do it right,” said Brown. “Today, half the office will go to the taproom on a monthly basis. From that level, it has been a really great project.”