Blending Old-Growth Forest and Modern Metals: Architecture of the Pacific Northwest

One of the best parts of growing up in Washington State was crossing the Cascades into Eastern Washington, a land of rolling farms, wineries, miles and miles of apple orchards, and huge, deep glacial lakes that are swimmable only on the very hottest days of summer. Lake Chelan falls into this category. At 55 miles long and nearly a mile deep, it has plenty of coastline to build on and plenty of water to boat on, and is a hidden gem of a family getaway spot that many outside of Washington State never hear of.

What does this have to do with metal, you ask? Let’s talk Pacific Northwest architecture:

Photo credit: Benjamin Benschneider, Special to The Seattle Times

Building in the Pacific Northwest is quite a process. In places like Lake Chelan, you’re dealing with hundred-year-old (at least) evergreen trees with complex root systems, extremely steep grades, and the aesthetic of working with the natural surroundings to create a structure that complements and doesn’t overtake them. The Seattle Times did an article on what I consider a beautiful and quintessential example of how to do this well: one part reused local materials (old barn wood, in this case), one part industrial inspiration from the area, found in old fire towers and the farming and mining equipment of gold rush days long gone.

In the case of this home, the metal aspects fit form as well as function. The house, built by Rimmer and Roeter Construction and designed by architect Bernie Baker who says, “all the windows are clad in metal for easy maintenance and durability. There aren’t any gutters, they’d just fall off when the snow accumulates.”

Other metal features include a “steel cover, lifted and lowered by chains and pulley, that slips down over the television so smoothly that the family’s two young daughters can easily open and close it.

My favorite is the kitchen. “The center island is built with legs to look like a piece of furniture, its surfaces slickly coated in galvanized steel. “We just kept adding metal,” explains owner Michelle. “The galvanized countertops were so affordable, we used them in all the bathrooms, too.” Pickled for patina, the countertops have rolled edges and mottled surfaces. Both architect and owners praise the artistry of metalsmith Steve Johnson of Paracelsus Inc. in Port Townsend.

Dozens of homes like this are scattered around the Pacific Northwest, whether in Chelan or urban Seattle. Built by the local craftsmen who truly understand the surroundings, the dwellings are unique to the region, as they are built amongst the forests that house the headquarters of some of the most industrial companies in the world (a regular sight is the unfinished fuselages of airplanes packed up on their rail cars, headed from Plant II in Everett down to Boeing Field in Seattle). This blend of natural aspects with the man-made metal that got the region on the map creates a beautiful and distinct style that’s both modern and just as warm and cozy as the tiny fisherman’s cabins of the past.

Sheena Moore


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