By Suzanne Pedersen
I catch my breath each time I open the front door of my house and walk through. The massive river rock fireplace rising thirty feet in the center of the great room greets me with the invitation to relax in front of it. The cathedral-like salvaged old growth fir timber frame beams have the spiritual presence of tall firs. The four high arched windows direct the ever-changing light into the open two-story center of the house. The light that comes into this house constantly surprises me. Im not sure whether the light follows the windows around the house throughout the day or the windows follow the light. I come around a corner or out of a room and suddenly walk into a shaft of warm light. I stop and notice how my cat is sitting tall in the middle, soaking it all in.
Designing and building a house is no small undertaking. I had dreamed about it for years. My house would stand at the center of how I would create the next stage of my life. It needed to support that life and reflect who I really am. It couldnt be a stock design that just looked good or was fashionable or someone elses architectural statement. I wanted it to reflect how I lived. It needed to fit me like a comfortable well-worn glove. With memories of the Adirondack lodge built by my great uncle in 1904 and its two-story high natural stone fireplace, books stuffed between studs along the stairway, and wide surrounding porch, I knew I wanted my home to capture the same timeless feeling of coming home. I knew I wanted someone who would hear me and I could trust to believe in my dream as I did. And so began my partnership with Chris Luthi, architect and timber frame expert.
In Chris, I found an architect who listened to my dreams, absorbed all the ideas, pictures, thoughts, and was able to anticipate what I would want. He knew what was needed to make my house the comfortable gathering place I envisioned. Chris took my ideas no matter how far fetched well, wisely not all of them -- and helped me figure out how to accomplish them. He found a small custom mill to take the big leaf maples felled during clearing of the house site so I could bring them back home as ceiling, flooring and kitchen cabinets. We were also able to incorporate the grand old cherry trees that had stood in my previous backyard and were going to fall victim to a new office building. The cherry wood and maple came together in built-in cabinetry throughout the house.
Designing my house was a little like peeling away layers of an onion to uncover what was really important in my life. Discovering the truth about how I really lived, not how I thought I should live, or wanted to live but how I really carried out everyday living. The result is a house where movement flows naturally and where I am at my desk and only a few steps from the kitchen, the outdoors, and the great room. My fiber arts studio is integrated as part of the core living area. And there is light. Building among the trees, I feared dark rooms. Chris was masterful in the design and placement of windows. In most rooms there are windows and light that come in from all four directions. Natural light fills the rooms, even on the gloomiest of winter days in the Pacific Northwest.
Many of my ideas centered around function and feeling. Chris took these thoughts and made them exceptional in their function, simplicity, and beauty. The basic house design, deceptive in the simplicity of a square box, became interesting, surprising and distinctive with the use of multiple and cascading roof lines, curved timber frame beams, and large arched windows placed high on all four sides of the house. Additional windows step up the walls and wrap around corners. Other distinctive design features include (click on the underline items to view pictures):
· The broad roof overhang supported by log posts on the house and garage provide additional outdoor covered space that deflects winter rains and the hot summer sun.
· The interior spaces are flexible and flow into each other without hallways or loss of functional space. Such is the short walkway between the kitchen and the mudroom/workroom that became a pantry with floor to ceiling cabinets and shallow counter on one side and a small pantry room on the other.
· The stairway boasts the surprise of a beautiful bookcase functioning also as a railing and cantilevered out from the landing high over my office below. Like the stairway in the old Adirondack lodge of my childhood, it is an invitation to sit, pull out a book and read awhile. Some days my cat sits there and watches all the movement below.
· The library several steps up from the landing is open to the great room below, has a large curved window seat for cozy reading and its own fireplace hearth in the large river rock chimney.
· The kitchen that Chris designed is simple and so efficient that I even love to clean it up. A long island with the fireplace to its back is topped by a wooden counter with a curved end to sit at. It is an invitation to hang out and talk like one would at an old worn kitchen table. The cabinets, also designed by Chris, are simple in style and rely on the use of the cherry and maple panels from my trees, to create their rich beauty.
· I wanted to sleep in the trees in a first floor master bedroom. Chris created a single story section across the back of the house with a high sloping roofline and ceiling beams. I can lie in bed and look up into the top of the trees out the high window that wraps the room corner on the far wall. And windows on two sides of the room bring in the morning light and a view of surrounding trees. The bedroom is conveniently linked to my office and the kitchen without a hallway, through a sitting room and master bath.
· Chriss attention to detail resulted in the extensive use of curves and arches to soften what would otherwise be hard straight lines. The curved timber frame beams with their chamfered edges are matched by the arch in the high windows, the curved hearth and mantels, and the sweeping curve of the railing in the bridge over the front door. Curved braces holding the bookcase on the stairway landing and the curve of the library window seat further extend the warmth of this detail throughout the house.
· The broad two steps of the lower landing of the stairway together with the wide fireplace hearth and the large flat stones on either side of the fireplace form a natural circle of informal seating as friends gather around the fireplace.
From the beginning, when I first walked my land with Chris to site the house, I could count on him as a partner to listen, anticipate, and create what this house wanted to be for me. He took the simplest of my ideas, meshed them with his own exceptional eye for design and made them spectacular in their execution. The depth of his construction experience and knowledge allowed him to design to eliminate construction issues, creatively integrate surprising details, and be sensitive to budget constraints. He always provided me with options and choices with his assessment as to the budget, construction or materials issues involved. As a result there were few changes once construction began. It is the house I dreamed of coming home to. The house that when I moved in, I felt I had always lived there.