WRITTEN BY REBECCA TEAGARDEN
PHOTOGRAPHED BY BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER
A straightforward design makes way for comforting touches
SkB's design was very much about the lighting. Exterior lights have been embedded in the concrete porch floor and downlights cast a warm glow from above. "It does get dark out here," Shannon Rankin says. "We've become the popular beacon in the neighborhood."
TALK ABOUT THE neighbors. Yes, let's. The guy to the south makes his own beer, and he's got a fridge full of it outside on the deck. He's so friendly he built a little bridge over to the neighbors'. The guy on the other side put an outdoor Italian pizza oven right on the property line. Three others close by have kickin' ski boats, and they share. And everybody's overlooking the big, fat Columbia River just north of Chelan.
A queen bed that can be curtained off for privacy sits in the center of the 450-square-foot bunk house, which sleeps six. Behind it are four train berths, each with its own window and reading light. SkB, which also designs furniture, came up with the beds.
This is my definition of a good neighborhood, where the tumbleweeds are tumblin', yapping Chihuahuas gallop down the dirt road and wide-open doors draw warm summer winds.
"I am the smart one. I have really good friends with ski boats," says Kyle Gaffney, who had been coming to the area for 10 years to ride the Columbia. He watched as the apple orchard on the hill went up for sale.
Gaffney's the "k" in SkB Architects, and he's married to the "S," Shannon Rankin. Everything at SkB is a cooperative venture, so the "B," Brian Collins-Friedrichs, was in on the design, too.
"We do work as three that we wouldn't do as individuals," Rankin says. "We have a healthy level of ability and a healthy level of insecurity."
One of the first things you notice about Rankin and Gaffney's place is how striking it is without thumbing its nose at the neighbors — a hodgepodge of rambler river cabins, A-frames, modern do-overs and double-wides all with mesmerizing views of azure skies, rugged hillsides and deep green water.
Kyle Gaffney and his partners are big fans of Richlite, the recycled compressed-paper composite thatís used for countertops and skateboards, among other things. The counter in Gaffney and Shannon Rankin's kitchen includes a bowl cutout. "We didn't want to celebrate the range hood," Shannon Rankin says, so they covered it with a black metal flange. Concrete floors serve both the modern design and easy living.
Then it sinks in that it's all made from quite inexpensive materials, both to keep construction costs down and to acknowledge the agricultural influences all around them. Colorful apple-box posters decorate the horizontal white-spruce walls. The concrete-block fireplace and walls look sharp and modern, not at all like the fruit warehouses that inspired the look. And big sliders and concrete floors both inside and out remove the divide between indoor and outdoor.
Two load-bearing walls, exposed duct work and board-and-batten siding keep the design simple.
The L-shape design of the bunk house, left, and main cabin give the couple a sheltered courtyard. The extended porch roof blocks the sun, while the big sliders welcome the breezes. "We wanted a window that was pretty much bullet proof," Gaffney says of the windows. They are clear anodized aluminum from Loewen.
"There's nothing special about what we put in here; it's how we treated it," Gaffney says. "We spent the money on tactile things." Things like a wall-hung Duravit toilet, radiant heat in the bathroom and a Richlite countertop the color of buttery leather that includes a cut-out fruit bowl (or margarita salt bin, depending on the crowd).
With Palm Springs-like summers, the cabin is oriented to the north; only one window faces south.
Clean lines and simple design kept costs down and gave Gaffney and Rankin a naturally modern house. The walls are done in white spruce, what Gaffney calls, "a cheap utility construction wood." The cabinets are Douglas fir. SkB designed the built-in couch.
"From 4 to 6 in the evening the wind just howls 40 to 60 miles per hour. But then it just stops, and it's 78 degrees out," Gaffney says.
It's an intimate house for a crowd. The main house holds a guest/TV room in the back and a bedroom upstairs. The bunk house has four train berths, each with its own window, and a queen bed. Metal school lockers offer storage. Both structures wrap around the lawn, facing the river below. "This was a science in ship design; how do you get the most of usage and space?" Rankin says.
To acknowledge the agricultural influences of Central Washington and keep costs down, the architects used inexpensive materials such as concrete block, which brings to mind a fruit warehouse.
One trick, she says, is cubby holes. They designed a whole hallway full to hold bags, hats and other assorted stuff. The wall catches it all.
"Cubbies are a great thing," Rankin says. "Every house should have cubbies."
Rebecca Teagarden is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.
Making a retreat both economical and efficient
The house: 1,280 square feet (including a 450-square-foot bunk house); sleeps 10 comfortably; about three hours out of Seattle; budget below $110 per square foot. Designed by SkB Architects, www.skbarchitects.com.
Construction Goals: To organize buildings to create a sheltered courtyard from the sun and wind in the main cabin; to embrace Central Washington's agricultural building influences through the materials; to emphasize the indoor/outdoor connection with large openings and views; to use inexpensive materials in a house that regularly endures temperatures ranging from 0 degrees to 110.
How It's Used: A weekend sanctuary for busy architect couple. Summer is for water sports, golfing and entertaining. Winter is for relaxation, rejuvenation and solitude.
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