“TURN RIGHT at the big tractor.”
Directions like that are how you know you’re out in the country.
Another is this: miles and miles of gnarled and groomed fruit trees planted in tidy rows. Armies of them. Apples, apricots, pears, grapes. And stanchions of Lombardy poplars packed tight and tall, living blockades against the winds that rip through the Tieton River Canyon landscape.
“The house is 17 years old,” says Sharon Campbell with a hint of “can you believe it?” in her voice. “The wind has pushed on this little house for 17 years.”
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Pushed doesn’t seem like quite the right word. The forces of nature around here, where mountains and desert collide, require extra-strength verbs. Shoved, whipped, flogged. The home, for instance, was dynamited into its rocky hilltop outpost overlooking rich, green orchards and buttes the color of camel hide. Sometimes elk roam past.
“Craig Curtis designed the home,” says Campbell. “And 90 percent of the time I’m thrilled. Maybe not so much in the middle of the night when the winds are howling and the vents are flapping full force.” She laughs.
And it’s true. You would not believe it has been almost 20 years since the place was built. Sharon and Craig Campbell’s contemporary cabin tucked into their acreage at Harmony Orchards could have been put up yesterday: CMU block, steel, concrete and rough cedar, designed by Curtis of the Miller Hull Partnership and consisting of four living blocks (bedroom, office, guest room, main living space) in 1,200 square feet. Colorful (green like the pines, yellow from the grasses, the purple of cheat grass blossoms and red for the leaves in autumn) but not the least bit fussy.
And that is as it should be. Fussy doesn’t stand a chance out here on the Campbells’ 450 acres, 20 miles west of Yakima. “We can have 90-degree temperature swings,” says Campbell. This is rugged high-desert country best suited to the determined and, for the most part, fearless.
“We have to be careful,” Campbell says of the living room’s ability to open completely to the patio. “We’ve gotten lizards in here and small squirrels. And when the weather starts to change, we get hammered with yellow jackets.” Rattlesnakes, they’re out there, were not discussed.
Before Sharon married Craig, the third generation of his family to farm these orchards, she was a designer in San Francisco. Thus, the interiors are all hers.
“I never understood why we had to get rid of all the branches,” Campbell, not one to leave a thing to waste, says of the pruning process. She gathered herself up a pile, called an artist she knew, Gyongy Laky from San Francisco, and the two of them nailed orchard twigs into the home’s main interior wall in a woody plaid pattern.
“I wanted the materials outside inside. That was important,” she says. “It fits the orchard. That’s what we really wanted.”
Speaking of, ah-hem, branching out, Sharon and Craig are now full-steam-ahead into the cider-making business; 55 acres now, the largest acreage of cider apples and perry pears in the state.
Campbell’s designs these days involve pairing meals with Harmony Orchards’ earthy ciders: Tieton Cider Works offers almost a dozen varieties that include a Yakima dry-hopped and a cidermaker’s reserve barrel-aged 1½ years.
“When we started, I was adamant that the cider include only things we could grow,” she says. “When we added hops we did it as an homage to the county.”
Dinner here is, of course, a many-cidered affair, served evenings as the sun toasts the golden hillsides.
“There were times in the early days I would get here and I’d have to call Craig Curtis and say, ‘Oh, this is just the best house.’ ”
Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.