The house is built almost entirely from a sustainable wood called cross-laminated timber (CLT), which means it’s not only eco-conscious, it’s a looker, too.

Octothorpe House Exterior
Jeremy Bittermann / JBSA

Mike and Katherine, who prefer not to use their surnames, were living in a Mork-Ulnes Architects home in San Francisco when they started to wonder if their young son would benefit from a more outdoorsy upbringing. Soon after, they decided to leave the city. 

They chose the Oregon high desert area near Bend, which lies about 160 miles southeast of Portland, in an area that features hiking trails, Mirror Pond, the Deschutes River, and the Mt. Bachelor ski resort. After deciding that they had to work with Mork-Ulnes again, they gave the architects ideas about what they wanted in a new build. Namely, that their new home would be environmentally progressive and embrace the desert landscape.   

“The clients came to us with the idea of building one of the first U.S.-produced cross-laminated timber homes,” says Casper Mork-Ulnes. “They were inspired by the sustainability factor.”

But what is cross-laminated timber? It’s a wood product made of several layers of structural grade lumber that are arranged crosswise and glued together, and what makes it sustainable is that the resulting lumber has a strength-to-weight ratio that’s comparable to concrete, but five times lighter.  

Even better, cross-laminated timber (CLT) is pre-cut off-site, which means less construction waste, while what’s left can be recycled at the factory. The material can be used for flooring, walls, and even ceilings.  

Octothorpe House Open Plan

Jeremy Bittermann / JBSA

For the Octothorpe House, as it came to be called, Mork-Ulnes used CLT to build both the interior and exterior of the house. By using CLT inside and out, they avoided putting about 15 metric tons of greenhouse gases into the air. 

The cedar exterior of the home was treated with Shou Sugi Ban—a Japanese burning technique that resists decay, insects, and water. (This means the house will never have to be painted and will require almost no maintenance.) Inside, CLT panels are made of spruce, pine, and fir, which the architects say gives the home “great air and acoustic qualities.” The only place CLT is not used, in fact, is in wet areas like the bathrooms, for which they chose Dal tile. 

Octothorpe House Aerial View

Jeremy Bittermann / JBSA

As for the structure’s design, if you flew a drone above the 3,340 square-foot home, you’d see it is in the almost exact shape of a hashtag. (Octothorpe is another name for the pound sign. Who knew?) To create this shape, four buildings surround a completely enclosed courtyard, which means the clients are never lacking in light or fresh air. There are no hallways; rather the residents can either move around the courtyard or cross it—and ventilate the house—when the doors are open. 

The interiors, meanwhile, were inspired by Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation, in Marfa, Texas. Like the Chinati, the home abounds with concrete floors amid walls painted in a shade of dusty pink.

Octothorpe House Living Room

Jeremy Bittermann / JBSA

The living room, kitchen, and dining room have an open floor plan, and feature a custom-made coffee table by Yvonne Mouser that was inspired by the Three Sisters—three volcanic peaks in the Cascade Mountains—which can be seen from the window.  

The house has ample sleep areas. There are two bedrooms, one for the parents, one for their child, and two guest rooms. The couple likes to have guests, so there are flexible areas, too. “One of the guest rooms has a hidden Murphy bed so there is an office for the work-from-home couple,” says Lexie Mork-Ulnes. “The enclosed central courtyard, visible from most of the rooms in the house, doubles as an outdoor playground for their son. In the winter, the large garage space becomes an indoor playroom.” 

Octothorpe House Bedroom

Jeremy Bittermann / JBSA

Yet the house’s most striking quality of all is the fact that, even when you’re inside it, you have a sense of liberty, the architects say. “The layout offers orchestrated glimpses into the central courtyard and ample views of the sky and desert all around. This creates a delightful connection with the surroundings.” 

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