Above Lake Cle Elum, a terraced house offers looks that are rugged yet refined. And more importantly, it not only looks good, it's good to live in. Towering stone fireplaces and shed roofs set the tone.
SEAN NORTHROP certainly did want his country place to be welcoming. A solid cabin of rock and wood planted high over Lake Cle Elum. Big fireplaces to take the chill off snowy winters; sliding glass walls for cooling summer breezes. Door’s-always-open kind of a place: Put your feet up on the table, that’s fine. Spill a glass of wine? No problem.
But the day the bull snake slithered in the front door, that was a bit much.
“Tell her about the bats, too, Vanessa,” Northrop says to his daughter.
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“Yeah,” she says. “We had a bat and it flew all over.” Vanessa is 4, and that’s all the recap you get when your competition is a big book of stickers. Vanessa, working at the live-edge dining table from Urban Hardwoods, just nods along during the story about the day the bear showed up. And the deer, and the elk, and the wild turkeys and the owl.
Vanessa’s dad is a developer on the hillsides outside Suncadia, turning scrub into country neighborhoods. But he had never built a place of his own. For years Northrop hiked the thousands of acres of Sapphire Skies. He knew the perfect spot, a place where the lake bends around the land. Then he needed the perfect place: not too fancy or precious. “I wanted two things: I wanted it to fit in the ground. I saw houses where nobody gave any respect to the land, especially because you’re getting out of the city.
“And when you get up here you go outside and play.”
“You boat and bike and hike and camp and ski and cook out and swim,” says Vanessa’s mom, Jennifer Ewart.
Cue Seattle architect Erich Remash. Northrop saw a house in Pacific Northwest designed by Remash, and he knew this was the guy. Never mind that the house was contemporary and Northrop did not want a contemporary house. He just knew. And from this creative, friendly friction came perfection: comfortable not quaint. Rugged yet refined.
“He’s pretty modern,” Northrop says. “I wanted this thing to feel a little more woodsy. We had a tug-of-war, and I think we came up with something pretty great. It feels like a rock, and it makes me feel grounded. It’s a place to live, not just look at.
“People who come over just know it feels good — they don’t know why.”
Here’s why: Fir timber, cedar, blackened steel, slate, glass and concrete are fashioned into five shed buildings in 3,200 square feet: three living, two circulation. The slope of the shed roofs alternates to direct snow away from either the view or access points, depending upon function.
Custom chandeliers and handmade sconces add warmth and cathedral-like serenity in the great room with a ceiling that soars. The finish on the walls recalls worn leather. Serious 12-by-12 posts define the dining room. Acid-treated cement floors, with potting soil used in the stain, are earthy. The vinegar and steel-wool finish on the woodwork is richly rustic. Three towering wood-burning stone fireplaces, two inside and one out, crackle with good cheer.
It’s all about making a house that works for its humans (plus one dog, one cat, one lizard, one speedboat and one helicopter).
“Erich talked about making you feel good in the house as opposed to making the house look good,” Northrop says.
Remash says, “In the end, if you hate me and like the house, that’s OK. But if you like me and hate the house, that’s not OK.”
In this case, everything’s more than OK.
Rebecca Teagarden is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.