Methow Valley Getaway

A small vacation home in Mazama lives bigger than its footprint.

By Giselle Smith December 19, 2012 Published in the January 2013 issue of Seattle Met

Outside In Large windows and a high roof create an airy feel, while a wood stove and concrete floors with radiant heat keep everyone warm.

When architect Mary Johnston crosses the Cascades on her way to the Methow Valley, she usually feels her blood pressure drop right about milepost 147 on Highway 20. Life is more relaxed here—which is why Mary and Ray Johnston, principals of Seattle-based Johnston Architects, own a cabin and have designed two dozen other buildings on this side of the mountains. One of their most recent projects is a cabin that sits on a terrace above the ski trail between Mazama and Brown’s Farm, built for a Madrona couple and their two young sons.

Captivated by this valley even before they met each other, both husband and wife have been coming here since the 1990s, making the trek together once they began dating in 2000. They purchased this shy acre in 2008 and, when they got serious about building a vacation home, presented Johnston Architects with their cabin wish list: flexible spaces and room to host extended family. The couple wanted the cabin to fit into the environment and liked that the firm had built LEED-certified projects in the past.

The resulting dark brown, metal-roofed structure is dwarfed by the pine trees around it—and looks positively tiny against the valley’s famed Goat Wall to the north. The first-floor living space is just 1,700 square feet, with another 300 or so in the loft, but the house lives bigger than its footprint and has slept as many as 12.

The L-shaped structure holds a bunk room, bath, den, guest room, and mudroom, with a loft above for children’s play and overflow sleeping quarters. The shorter leg is the master suite—a light-filled bedroom and bath with a windowed shower that looks out over the ski trail 100 yards below. 

To passing skiers on the wintertime trail, the expanse of tall windows in the main living area appear as black rectangles against the snow, reflecting the clouds and trees, but offering little information about what lies behind them. From inside, the view is similarly serene. In the main living area, the trusses that support the roof remain exposed, mimicking the tree branches outside, and light fills the space. “You always want to borrow the outside, and make it feel like it’s part of the inside,” Ray   Johnston explains.

The high-ceilinged kitchen has a cheerful recycled-glass-tile backsplash that borrows its colors from the nearby landscape: the dark greens and browns of the pines, the yellow of the arrowleaf balsamroot that blooms in spring, and the muted green of moss. Its center island has a natural live edge wooden countertop that doubles as a breakfast bar. The views outside change dramatically with the seasons.

Outside, an inconspicuous entry beneath the overhang has plenty of room to lean skis or bikes, and there’s a bench for taking off ski boots before you step through the large laminated cedar-plank door. The owners recall asking for a modest, subtle exterior. “And then, when you walk inside, it unfolds as you enter through the front door.” In architect language, this is the “entry   sequence,” which Ray Johnston says “helps you change your frame of mind.” 

It’s a perfect base camp for the myriad activities the valley has to offer. The family often skis to breakfast at the nearby Rolling Huts resort in winter and rides bikes in summer. Modest visitors should be advised: Curious deer have been known to peek in the windows of the guest room.


Published: January 2013

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