Sturdy and practical in stone, metal and wood, a contemporary retreat above Lake Chelan in Eastern Washington still offers the comfort and cozy feel of a more traditional cabin. The inspiration for the design was old fire towers and mining sites in the area. Pine trees were saved, and more planted, to shelter and shade...

Share story

photographed by Benjamin Benschneider

ARCHITECT BERNIE Baker’s design for a home on Lake Chelan is both dramatic and comfortable. He detailed every square foot to suit the needs of the Seattle owners, from the sleeping loft for visiting children to the cook’s kitchen. And yet this thoroughly modern home, with its steeply peaked roofs and distressed surfaces, hearkens back to the memory-steeped family fishing cabin it replaced. How did Baker manage to create a home that’s functional and coolly contemporary, yet reminiscent of childhood visits to a rustic old cabin?

The first concern was safety; the family of four worried that the old cabin, inherited from an aunt, might slide right down the precipitous slope into one of the deepest lakes in the country. The foundation walls of the new place are 17 feet thick, and were poured in three stages to secure the bank and house. Baker describes the house as an “exercise in the vertical.” You enter on the top floor and descend an open staircase down to bedrooms, then to the main floor, a view of the lake opening in front of you at every turn of the stair.

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

The U-shaped house, built by Rimmer & Roeter Construction from Cashmere, provides privacy from neighbors by wrapping around a courtyard. Designed to weather the elements, the courtyard slopes so snow will run off as it melts. All the windows are clad in metal for easy maintenance and durability. “There aren’t any gutters,” Baker points out. “They’d just fall off when the snow accumulates.” Pine trees were saved, and more planted, to shelter and shade the home on its extreme site.

The inspiration for the home’s design came from the couple’s admiration for the old fire towers and mining structures that dot the eastern side of the Cascades. Baker jumped on the concept, seeing how the idea of such utilitarian structures suits the steep site. The corten steel, industrial finishes and old barn wood used for floors and steps is practical yet evocative of past and location.

Interior doors are heavy sliders painted barn red, ceilings are fir with exposed beams, and the pitch of ceilings is consistent throughout the house. The serviceable, slightly battered, down-to-earth materials of wood, stone and metal, used inside and out, set the tone for the home. The muted color scheme lends a feel of quiet serenity. The aesthetic culminates in the steel cover, lifted and lowered by chains and pulley, that slips down over the television so smoothly that the family’s two young daughters can easily open and close it.

The kitchen is as much work of art as place to cook, although its roomy center island, lighting and countertops are eminently sensible. The cabinets are knotty alder, stained dark for a blackened, scorched effect. The center island is built with legs to look like a piece of furniture, its surfaces slickly coated in galvanized steel. “We just kept adding metal,” explains owner Michelle. “The galvanized countertops were so affordable, we used them in all the bathrooms, too.” Pickled for patina, the countertops have rolled edges and mottled surfaces. Both architect and owners praise the artistry of metalsmith Steve Johnson of Paracelsus Inc. in Port Townsend.

At 2,800 square feet, the new home is an ideal size for a family of four to spend cozy weekends and longer summer vacations. Yet, with courtyard and sleeping lofts, it easily accommodates guests. “We built the house so it can sleep four couples, and the kids can bring their friends,” says Michelle. Between the lake, the dock to come, and a hospitable dining-room table, they’ll have plenty of visitors.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “The New Low-Maintenance Garden.” Check out her blog at Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest staff photographer.

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.