Seattle architect David Coleman grew up in New York City, but some of his best childhood memories were made during his family’s summer trips to a Vermont cottage. “It was my favorite time of the year,” he says.
The Hill House, the Methow Valley cabin he built for his wife, Marivic Borromeo, and two kids, ages 10 and 13, was inspired by this history. “I wanted my kids to have that experience of growing up in the city but also knowing the countryside and rural life,” he says. His new summer home echoes some of the features he loved in that childhood dwelling, but also surmounts design challenges specific to the site, and to Methow Valley geology.
Coleman spent five years hunting for land that offered adequate shade from his favorite tree, the ponderosa pine, but also some openness and a bit of a view, and he found it on a rocky ridge above Winthrop. But the long, narrow building site posed a challenge. “That’s also what attracted me—I like challenges,” he says.
His answer was what he calls a “terrace house,” stepping up the natural grade of the hillside at three levels. With 1,100 square feet of interior space and an additional 1,100 square feet of outdoor living area in the form of a wraparound deck, the design adapts to the seasons and the needs of occupants, an idea Coleman first encountered in Vermont, where houses often have porches, verandas and outdoor kitchens to create warm-weather outdoor living space.
Site conditions dictated a long, narrow structure for the home design, but glass walls with sliding doors and mahogany interior flooring that extends to the deck outside help expand the house's footprint. In the summer, Coleman’s children (above) play outdoors, enjoying campfires and toasting s‘mores in the built-in fire pit
Adding to the expansive feel are glass walls with sliding doors that wrap the south, west and north facades of the building, and an interior flooring material, sustainably harvested mahogany, that is extended to the outdoor decking. In the summer, kids play on the deck, and in the evening, a built-in fire pit creates a focal point for campfires and toasting s’mores. In the winter, with glass doors closed, the smaller space is cozy, with a high-efficiency, Danish-designed Wittus woodstove providing the primary source of heat.
There’s a pervasive sense of place. The structure nestles into the landscape and offers 180-degree views of the Methow Valley and distant mountains, and rooms filled with natural light. Several interior plywood walls are stained to match the color of the nearby aspen grove in autumn. Outside, three gabion walls are filled with washed rock excavated from the site, a reminder of the glacier that formed the Methow Valley, leaving glacial sediment behind. Landscaping around the home has restored native plants that were lost during construction, including shrub steppe plants and additional ponderosa pines.
A solid wall to the east cuts into the land like a rusty blade, evoking the cultural history of the mining encampments found nearby and providing privacy from the road
The walls along the western facade gradually angle in, following the lines of the site, to offer privacy in the master bedroom and shield the window from summer heat
A ladder leads to the kids’ sleeping loft
Coleman used sustainable materials and techniques whenever possible, including recycled steel, sustainably harvested wood, high-performance BIBS insulation, on-demand hot water, low-flow plumbing fixtures and auxiliary heat from radiant electric wall heaters.
Although far from Vermont, The Hill House again brings family together in a memorable way.
“When we’re up there, it’s just family time, 24/7,” says Coleman. “It’s a place to gather, shelter and rest.”
This rural retreat was selected by a panel of architects for the AIA Seattle (aiaseattle.org) Home of Distinction program to celebrate the smart functional design of a small space that worked well with the challenging topography of its site, taking advantage of views while also creating privacy from neighbors.
David Coleman Architecture
David Coleman, principal; 206.443.5626; davidcoleman.com
Alchemie Landscape Architecture And Design
Bryce D. Hinckley; 206.910.2625; alchemiesites.com
Gary Gill, 206.992.2728