At home with nature

An active family builds an indoor-outdoor playground in Oregon
Peter O. Whiteley

Drawn to their roots in the Pacific Northwest, Gretchen and Geoff Wagner decided to settle down with their three children near Portland after living in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Wagners asked Berkeley designer David Stark Wilson ― with whom they had previously worked ― for a house that could accommodate the active, outdoor-oriented lifestyle the family had grown used to in California, while taking maximum advantage of their sloping, woodsy site.

"Our house is set up for fun," says Geoff, who delights in sitting by the fireplace in the outdoor room during rainstorms or shooting hoops with his children. "When people come here, they don't want to stand around. They want to move about and explore." And it's no wonder: The house is a kind of indoor-outdoor playground. The use of innovative materials ― like integrally colored plaster walls and stained concrete floors ― adds to the visual excitement.

Designed in the spirit of local farms, which often include a variety of outbuildings, the 3,400-square-foot home forms a compound of three structures ― a garage with an upper-level playroom, a long, slender main building, and the outdoor room ― artfully arranged around a central courtyard. The 21- by 80-foot main structure is flanked by giant sequoias, giving them key roles in the design. A 20-foot-tall window at one end of the living room showcases one of the massive trunks ― lit at night ― turning the tree into artwork for the room.

 

The exterior also blends with the trees: It's clad in 5-foot lengths of horizontal cedar siding that are joined with vertical bands of aluminum joints. Deep eaves, exposed cedar beams, a steep roofline, and custom brackets of galvanized steel lend a rugged Northwestern appearance.

The kitchen overlooks the great room, which opens to the courtyard. The children's bedrooms on the second floor (where the master bedroom is located as well) reinforce the spirit of adventure: Each includes a small loft that's reachable by a climbing wall.

Across the courtyard, the outdoor room functions as the conceptual heart of the house. Visible from the other structures, its soaring roof, fireplace, and elevated hearth immediately draw the eye. The room seats 14 people comfortably, but on one occasion the Wagners cleared it out for a reggae band. It's built into the slope; a lower level opens to a pool terrace. And what about having a pool in such a notoriously wet climate? Geoff explains, "We just crank up the heat, jump in, and swim in the steam and rain!"