The Davidson's 1949 Railroad Caboose

House Tour

Name: Samuel and Barbara Davidson
Location: Mercer Island, Washington
Size: 260 square feet
Years lived in: 30 years

In the middle of beautiful Lake Washington, nestled amid four acres of wooded land, sits a tiny red caboose from 1949. Colorfully out of place among the giant evergreen trees and sprawling rhododendron, it’s a small jewel full of light and warmth. Full-height picture windows on one side overlook a large 8 foot by 20 foot private deck, all the better to take advantage of a sweeping western view of the wooded ravine and of Lake Washington. The railroad car sits on actual rails and serves as a live/work space for the Davidson family and for the occasional (and lucky) renter.

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There is much privacy and nature surrounding this odd little structure and it makes the perfect getaway for those looking for a quiet retreat. The homeowners love its quirkiness and functionality. Many of the decorative materials were salvaged, like the Otis Elevator metalwork in the bathroom and the stained glass window on the outside door. The studio, although small, is incredibly comfortable thanks to a complete installation of electricity, heat, water and other amenities you’d find at home, like a washer and dryer and full kitchen. One entire wall is covered in windows, creating a vast amount of natural light and framing a picture-perfect view of the woods. Thoughtful design touches like the rockery bed behind the sink and stove are perfect for plants and flowers to soften the space.

The Davidson’s purchased this 4.25 acre waterfront property (which is currently for sale) in the 1950’s and there are several homes on the estate including the caboose, the original homesteaders cabin from the 1900’s and a mid-century modern home designed by the renowned Northwest architectural firm, Tucker and Shields. This type of property is incredibly rare on Mercer Island and the homeowners are very aware of its unique size and splendor. They are preserving this land by working with the Nature Conservancy to ensure that future owners cannot change the footprints of the original structures nor subdivide the property.

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AT Survey:

Our style: Like living in a ship: efficient, using every nook and cranny of space. It was important to keep the spirit of the caboose while still transforming it into a livable space with lots of light.

Inspiration: The caboose itself provided the inspiration, it was important to find vintage details that were consistent with the time period.

Favorite Element: It's a tie between the stain glass window and the railway lantern outside.

Biggest Challenge: Creating a heating system and fitting a full kitchen into the space.

What Friends Say: They can't believe how much storage space there is and how amazing the view is from the deck.

Biggest Embarrassment: Can't think of one.

Proudest DIY: Creating a heating system that is efficient and takes up so little room.

Biggest Indulgence: The tiling details in the bathroom.

Best advice: Be patient and don't scrimp on the details!

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(Thanks, Davidson Family!)

Images: Anne Reagan

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