This pointed out to me things I never would have thought of about how to construct a home to withstand wildfires. The inflammable stone borders and the lack of a crawlspace underneath or attic are interesting! Almost every home is built with a crawlspace underneath and it makes sense that would basically help the fire burn it down. It’s also a lovely home. Check it out!
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It’s only a few hours drive from Seattle, but the Methow Valley on the eastern side of the Cascade mountains in Washington state feels like a different world. The beautiful valley gets ample snowfall in winter, making it a destination for cross-country skiers and snowmobilers. In the summer, the area gets very dry, and hikers and bikers enjoy miles of connected trails.
Colin and Alisa Sands and their three kids, who all hail from Washington’s western shore, built a second home here to enjoy all the valley has to offer. With the area’s dry climate in summer comes the risk of wildfires, so adhering to firewise design principles was a must. For help, the couple hired builder and friend Justin Hamlin, who suggested they bring on architect Dan Nelson. After seeing Nelson’s previous projects on his Houzz profile, the couple knew he was the right person to create a modern-rustic dream home that would last for generations.
Photos by Lucas Henning, except where noted
Houzz at a Glance
Who lives here: Colin and Alisa Sands their three children and two dogs
Location: Mazama, Washington
Size: 2,400 square feet (223 square meters); three bedrooms, 2½ bathrooms plus garage
Designer: Designs Northwest Architects
Builder: Impel Construction
The family chose the valley location for its abundance of outdoor activities year-round, including bike riding and hiking in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter. They split their time between a home in Seattle and here, where the kids are enrolled in the local school during the winter months, and the plan is to eventually move to this home full time. “The focus is family and being together,” Alisa says.
The main goal for the design was “a house that our family could grow into, not just in the next five to 10 years but in the next generation as well,” Colin says.
Watch now: See this firewise modern-rustic home on the latest episode of Houzz TV
Inspiration and materials.
The history of the area includes sprawling ranches and mining. “We referenced the vernacular through materials and the shed rooflines,” says principal designer Matt Radach, who used Houzz ideabooks to collaborate with the homeowners on design ideas. Alisa and Colin have different design preferences, and the use of ideabooks helped the couple find a style they both love. Think mineshafts and old barns: Rusted corrugated siding, tight-knot cedar boards finished to look like old barn wood, concrete, an exposed steel structure and simple barn lights make up the exterior. Some of the windows and doors are emphasized by 6-by-6-inch railroad tie surrounds. The rocks used throughout the landscape design in rockeries and gabion walls were dug up on-site during construction.
“We were relatively cost-effective with the materials we used and how we used them,” says Nelson. The house was built for about $300 per square foot; he estimates other homes in the area cost closer to $700 per square foot. The materials and structure are minimalist and clearly expressed in the wide-flange steel posts and beams, seen here, and the exposed Breckenridge plywood sheathing and rafters of the roofline. A water-based finish, Pioneer Wood Patina, gives the cedar an old barn-wood look.
Find an architect near you
Because the house is located in a dry area that is vulnerable to the threat of wildfires, the architects designed the house according to principles of the Firewise USA Program
. This program offers guidelines for preparing and protecting homes against the threat of wildfires. The Okanogan Conservation District also provides firewise landscaping guidelines
. In this house:
- Materials include fire-rated metal roofing, noncombustible metal siding, noncombustible steel support beams, double-pane tempered-glass windows and doors and an elevated deck constructed from noncombustible materials, including Cor-Ten steel.
- Slab on-grade construction prevents fire from moving through a crawl space.
- Landscaping around the house is kept clear of combustible vegetation and large trees.
- Landscape sprinklers allow the area around the home to be kept moist during fire danger. Instead of combustible mulch, pine straw or plantings, the landscape design incorporates rockeries and gabion walls.
Firewise Landscapes Can Help Keep Your Home and Property Safe
The house is oriented northeast, left, toward the views of the Methow River with the Cascade mountains beyond. The garage on the right faces south. It has a bonus room and a half bath on the second story, as well as a deck that looks out at the mountains on the other side of the valley. A breezeway connects the garage to the house. This space contains a laundry room-mudroom and a mechanical room. The space just beyond it has two guest bedrooms and a guest bath, and beyond that are the kitchen, dining room and living room, which look out toward the river.
The home is hooked up to local power and water systems but is also set up to accept solar power in the future.
The main entrance is on the other side of the house, above. The garage is just out of view on the left. The door on the left leads into the breezeway, and the grate is for knocking snow off boots in the winter.
For those who don’t enter the house through the breezeway, there’s a dramatic entry procession, past the rugged rock garden, with a clear view through the house to the river and mountains on the other side. Once through the front door, the space opens up wide to soaring ceilings up to 16 feet high and a wall of glass windows across the room.
Watch now: See how this home came together with the help of design professionals
Echinacea and grasses grow in a rockery along the front entrance walk. The siding is tight-knot cedar.
Photo by Jesse Young
The corrugated-metal siding detail continues seamlessly into the house next to the main entrance.
The hallway to the right includes a cushioned window bench facing large-format games of chess and Scrabble.
Photo by Jesse Young
The 6-by-7-foot Scrabble board and 4-by-4-foot chessboard use magnetic pieces.
Great room. The entry opens into this great room, which is open to the dining area and kitchen. The transom windows allow a continuous view of the ceiling boards as they extend into the adjacent master suite. Like the siding outside, they are tight-knot cedar. Note that the windows do not appear to have headers along the ceiling. This was accomplished by tucking them up into the ceiling and echoes the way the corrugated metal met the glass sidelight in the previous photo.
Photo by Jesse Young
“One of the homeowners got really into the design process and was very involved,” Nelson says. “He worked with Alpine Welding in nearby Twisp, Washington, designing some of the furniture himself.” One such piece is the TV stand, which is composed of flat mill-finished steel and stained cedar boards.
Flooring. The heated flooring is concrete that has been scored via saw-cutting; the cuts were then filled with grout. This gives the concrete the appearance of large-format tile. Buffing gave the floors their variation in color.
Photo by Jesse Young
On the other side of the open space, another set of transom windows shows how the roof structure is revealed outside on the porch, in contrast to the way it is covered up by the cedar boards on the interior.
Watch now: Go inside this new-build home on Houzz TV
Photo by Jesse Young
Simple walnut cabinet doors add another wood into the color palette, while cedar boards wrap the island. Note the way the cabinets around the refrigerator are recessed into the wall. The homeowner opted for more cedar boards around the vent hood duct. The backsplash is metal and the countertops are quartz.
“It’s very low maintenance,” Alisa says. “With dogs and kids there’s nothing better.”
Photo by Jesse Young
Double sliding doors open the dining room to views and breezes. The Sands bought the table on Houzz, and Colin had a glass sheet fabricated and placed on top that added 30 percent more surface area.
The homeowners worked with a craftsman to design the large wine rack in the left corner.
The sliding glass doors and header-less windows at the roofline beautifully frame the view. “We don’t have any pictures on the wall. We think of our windows as the pictures,” Colin says.
On a concrete patch outside on the grass sits a fire pit, which the family uses carefully only during months when there is not a fire ban.
Master suite. The master bedroom and bath enjoy northeast views of the river and mountains. This cedar-wrapped headboard wall anchors the bed as it faces the view outside. Beyond the double sliding-glass doors is the bedroom’s private patio.
Features like this large ceiling fan enable the homeowners to do without air conditioning. Though the valley gets hot in the summer, the home’s orientation, insulation, wide openings provided by double sliding doors and large ceiling fans keep the air flowing and cool.
The homeowner worked with Alpine Welding to create the nightstands.
Bathroom. The custom cedar barn door in the previous photo leads to this master bath; the barn door in this photo leads to a toilet room. Repeating the walnut and quartz seen in the kitchen creates continuity. The large mirror reflects the meadow and mountain view.
The shower is partially open (no shower door) and it has a cantilevered bench. The bathtub has some of the best views in the house. The large-format concrete tile (24 by 24 inches) plays nicely off the scored concrete floor.
“I love what we have and enjoy it,” Alisa says. “When we come here, every time I think, ‘I am so grateful,’ and I know this is a place we’ll come forever, and our kids and their kids. I think this is exactly where our family needs to be.”