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Architect Visit: Near Mount Rainier, A Riverside Cabin in Black

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Architect Visit: Near Mount Rainier, A Riverside Cabin in Black

August 7, 2017

With their only child shipped off to college, a pair of outdoor sports enthusiasts found themselves making the trek every weekend from their family home in Gig Harbor, Washington to their small A-frame cabin about 60 miles away. Perched near the glacier-fed White River just five miles from the summit of Mount Rainier, the longtime getaway was rural but accessible and allowed for outdoor sports year-round.

It wasn’t a comfortable house full-time, however, so when the couple decided to make the move permanently they bought the last available piece of waterfront property nearby, sold their house, and moved into the A-frame while design and construction began on a new two-bedroom dream home. They engaged Robert Hutchison Architecture in Seattle and collaborated with Hutchinson and project architect Scott Claassen to bring the project to life. They operated on a strict budget, and to keep costs down the owners served as the general contractors (a job new to both of them) and even completed some of the work themselves.

Though the team developed close to 20 versions of the house, two things were consistent from its inception: an interior courtyard that would serve as the clients’ version of a “zen garden,” and window openings that engaged closely with the natural surroundings. “The way we situated the openings, you’re looking toward the river or up into the trees,” said architect Rob Hutchison. Let’s take a closer look.

Photography by Mark Woods, courtesy of Robert Hutchison Architecture.

Above: The house is clad in Western red cedar and treated with Cabot Semi-Transparent Stain in black. The window at far right frames the view from the guest bedroom. “When lying in bed, you’re looking straight into a wetland,” said Hutchison.
Above: The project required some minor hardscaping, including a gravel parking court and a walkway leading to the front door, but there was no landscaping on the project; here, said the architect, they wanted to “let the site be the site.”
Above: A trapezoidal window to the right of the courtyard looks up toward the trees and “brings this really beautiful southwest light into the space.”
Above: A gravel courtyard extends off the entryway path. It’s not used as an outdoor room, said the architect: “It’s something you look into but don’t necessarily occupy.” Its horizontal opening frames forest views while blocking sight of the cars.

“The courtyard is very architectural, not natural,” said Hutchison. “It belongs to the house, not the landscape.”

Above: Inside, a long bank of glass doors alongside an open-plan living room, dining room, and kitchen is oriented toward the river. Here, the architect balanced the aesthetic desires of each spouse, juggling one’s desire for minimalism with the other’s desire for warmth. They settled on wood mixed with glass and drywall, plus 2-by-4-foot gray porcelain floor tiles which run the length of the interior. (They’re Dutch brand Mosa in series “Greys.”)

Anchoring the interior space is a large “fireplace mass” which holds both indoor and outdoor fireplaces and a TV. It was clad in architectural steel by Dovetail General Contractors in Seattle.

Above: On the other side of the fireplace mass is a covered outdoor patio of ipe wood, framed in concrete. The outdoor fireplace is gas (“so the owners have something easy to turn on when they sit outside”) and the indoor fireplace burns wood (“because they, like a lot of us, like sitting by a wood fire when there’s a lot of snow out”).
Above: As budget allows, the owners intend to add a small sauna room—clad in the same black-stained cedar as the house—at the end of the outdoor patio.
Above: The house is sited in a community of mostly vacation homes, and the nearest cabin is about 50 feet away. But no other buildings are visible from any orientation inside the house. “It’s almost like they’re in the middle of the forest, completely on their own,” said the architect.

The property is located within an elk management habitat with a wetland just to the south; the team took care to minimize the home’s environmental impact and to retain as many trees as possible.

Above: The house in relation to its wooded, riverfront site.

The house is set back about 100 feet from the river; from inside, you can see glimpses of the water through the trees, but the main experience of the river is by sound. “When you have the windows and doors open,” said Hutchison, “it’s a constant, calming presence.”

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