a zone of one's own

For several years, architect Kyle Gaffney made occasional visits to a friend's vacation house in Orondo, Wash. He learned all the area's secrets—the best places to water-ski, the idiosyncrasies of the local weather, and the endless variety of fruit grown in the orchards surrounding this Columbia River town. So when a small piece of property there came up for sale, it caught the eye of Gaffney and his wife, architect Shannon Rankin. They decided to buy the land and build their own weekend home, creating a long-desired escape from their hectic schedules as principals of the Seattle firm SkB Architects.

Like most architects designing their own houses, Gaffney and Rankin faced the constraints of a relatively lean budget. They hired a trusted Seattle-based contractor, whose superintendent lived in a nearby trailer during the building process, but they also opted to do some of the construction labor themselves. With the help of their firm's third principal, Brian Collins-Friedrichs, they designed the simplest, most easy-to-build plan they could imagine. It consists of two perpendicular bars separated by a covered breezeway. One bar, for guests as well as the couple's teenage daughter, Hannah, contains a bedroom, a bathroom, and a four-bed bunkroom. The other holds the public spaces and a second-story master suite. Though the home's total size comes to just 1,280 square feet, it comfortably sleeps as many as 10 people. Because friends and extended family often stay overnight, Rankin placed particular importance on detaching the main house from the guest wing. “If you have other people there, it really feels odd if you're [sleeping] right across the hall,” she says. “It's so nice to have the separate building.”

Orondo lies on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains, a two-and-a-half hour drive from Seattle. Its climate veers between 100-degree summer days and harsh winter storms—a factor the architects took seriously. “The positioning of the house really addressed the climate,” Gaffney says. Wind and sun hit the building from the south, so the long, one-windowed south façade serves as a buffer against both. Deep roof overhangs provide additional shade to a large courtyard accessible from both wings. Operable windows occupy strategic locations to allow for optimum passive heating and cooling. And scored concrete floors stay cool even on the sultriest summer days.

Those concrete floors require little upkeep—a quality that endeared them to Gaffney and Rankin. Most of the other materials are equally low-maintenance: stained cedar channel siding, aluminum windows, corrugated metal roofs, and concrete masonry units for the master bedroom tower. SkB landscaped the property with hardy ornamental grasses and boulders from the site. And the firm balanced the rustic interiors of whitewashed spruce and exposed glulam beams with bits of luxury, such as high-end hardware and stainless steel backsplash tiles. Says Rankin: “They're the jewelry of the house.”

project:
Gaffney/Rankin residence, Orondo, Wash.

architect:
SkB Architects, Seattle

general contractor:
Schuchart/Dow, Seattle

project size:
1,280 square feet

site size:
0.2 acre

construction cost:
$210 per square foot

photography:
Benjamin Benschneider

A shaded passageway between the home’s two buildings holds the entries to both wings. The structures' forms and corrugated metal roofs resemble those of local fruitstorage facilities, tying them to the region’s strong agricultural history.

A shaded passageway between the home’s two buildings holds the entries to both wings. The structures' forms and corrugated metal roofs resemble those of local fruitstorage facilities, tying them to the region’s strong agricultural history.

Credit: Benjamin Benschneider