A Rural Retreat in Sultan Creates Angles of Repose

Complex geometry and lots of sunlight equate to a striking custom home.

By Allecia Vermillion Photography by Lara Swimmer September 3, 2021

Full Circle
An oculus is a round (or oval) window or opening; this one brings light into a deep covered space.

Image: Lara Swimmer

Kurt Johnson secured an architect even before he had a piece of land. Which meant David Coleman, founder and principal of David Coleman Architecture, could sign off on the possibilities inherent in the 10-acre parcel outside Sultan before Johnson committed.

“I wanted to be out of the suburbs,” says Johnson, somewhere rural and quiet. But his desire for ample sunlight ruled out the region’s many forested areas. This valley of pastureland 45 minutes northeast of Seattle offered open space, proximity to hiking trails, and even the occasional horse or pony passerby, thanks to a nearby equestrian center.

The retired engineer submitted room-by-room notes detailing the home he wanted to build—a methodical approach fitting for a guy who spent three decades at Boeing. But the residence Johnson envisioned wasn’t exactly staid, says Coleman: “He wanted a very playful building that engaged with the landscape.”

The wish list also included a woodshop, a courtyard, and an asymmetrical layout with more visual interest than “just a bunch of regular cubes for rooms.” That request unleashed Coleman’s love of complex geometry. From above, the home resembles a triangle laid on top of a parallelogram; inside the exposed posts align perfectly on an invisible grid. “It’s definitely an unusual play of geometries,” says Coleman. “And they’re all very well resolved and integrated.” Visitors might not pick up on these mathematical flourishes specifically, but adding deliberate angles to a typical rectilinear layout does generate an unexpected energy.

Architect David Coleman’s play on a courtyard brings the outside in, quite literally.

Image: Lara Swimmer

A pair of covered porches and abundant windows all around the house keep things from feeling stark. “It was about creating a platform to observe and watch the world go by,” says Coleman. “To watch nature unfold and storms roll in, and weather patterns and the sun, how it moves through the building.” The sun patterns really become apparent on the triangular covered porch that juts into the waving grasses—its angles countered with a large oculus cut into the roof. The circular opening brings light deeper into the porch, and the glow changes as morning turns into afternoon. “It’s almost like a sundial, how it’s always moving,” says the architect.

When Coleman first unrolled his plans to show his client, Johnson was thrown by a large rectangle in the middle of the living room. “I was thinking, is this a pool table?” Turns out, Coleman made good on Johnson’s courtyard wish, but instead of a traditional version on the perimeter of a home, he inserted it in the center of the main living space. It adds a column of light in the heart of the room, even on gloomier days. Johnson finished it with some rocks and tufts of the same grass that waves outside the windows, a rural Washington spin on a classic Japanese garden.

Coleman’s interpretation of that original wish list means Johnson can engage with the landscape in ways he never expected. It seems he nailed the playful part, too.

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