A winding driveway leads to the sloping wooded site that architect Thomas A. Kligerman’s clients purchased to build their Pacific Northwest vacation home, a path that removes any sense of the surrounding neighborhood from those who visit. What’s left, says Kligerman, “is the powerful natural beauty” of the plot. The moody gray atmosphere settling over the saturated colors of the woods captivated Kligerman and seemed to almost demand a more modern approach. “It was an instinctual reaction,” he says. Expansive windows were necessary to admit plenty of natural light in all that damp, cloudy weather, he reasoned, but the notion of creating a modern white box never came up. “The whole palette of the house, we thought, would pick up on the rich, deep colors of the forest.”
The philosophy that emerged from his first musings would guide how the home would take shape. “We wanted a house that would reflect the place it was in,” project architect Joseph Carline says. That meant using dark cedar siding, Douglas fir beams, and tobacco-stained oak on the interior walls and floors. Board-form concrete was also added into the mix. “There was an honesty of materials,” Kligerman says. “The structure itself became the ornament and the detail—there were no moldings or gewgaws.” Designer Mia Jung, a Kligerman associate, ultimately saw much less need for interior decoration as a result, she explains, because the architecture would play that role.
Guided by the desire to use as much glass as possible, Kligerman’s team decided early on to separate the home’s structural steel from the curtain wall that wraps around its rear. As is always the case with their projects, “We had to build the roof before we built the floors—the steel grid doesn’t connect to the floor system,” Carline says. This eliminated the need for thick, structural frames around the glass. “We picked the thinnest profiles we could find. It’s like outlining something with a fountain pen versus a crayon. Thick is good. Fine is better. There’s just more elegance to it,” Kligerman says. “The whole thing becomes much more diaphanous.”
Where the glass leaves off, a mosaic of wood paneling and concrete forms the interior and exterior cladding—all rigorously aligned at 6-inch intervals despite the fact that the concrete was poured more than a year before the wood was installed. “If you put a laser on one of those lines at the north end of the house, it’s exactly the same within the smallest fraction of an inch at the south end of the house. It’s beautiful when you see it,” says general contractor Jim Dow, who credits Carline and his superintendent Chris Lange for ensuring everything was properly executed. “It was a really difficult build—everything was super intricate and complicated—but this is one of our best projects, and we’ve been in business for 40 years.”
Jung and associate designer Elizabeth Sesser used these materials, along with the steel grids and exposed beams, to inspire the interior design. In keeping with the architectural program, accents were kept to a minimum. “In this house, we selected darker, richer colors to complement the architectural elements and location.” Jung then designed custom furnishings and sourced accents—down to the dishware—that would stand up to their environment: “They’re heavier and more grounded in form,” she notes. And rather than hanging art on the walls, especially given the amount of glazing, she used rugs as the statement makers. “The rug is where the luxury is. That’s where I play design—on the floor,” she says. Outside, Jung worked with landscape architect Dodi Fredericks to marry the exterior with the interior. Mostly native plantings surround the house, even on the second floor where planter boxes are placed outside the master bathroom windows. “Not only is the house in the forest, but the forest is in the house,” Jung says.
Kligerman’s firm is best known for its traditional work—he and his partners wrote a book on shingle-style homes—but this project was a welcome departure. “People don’t typically expect this sort of thing from us, but it’s something we like to do,” he says. “I’m a modernist at heart. I loved this exploration, and it already influences projects that are currently on the boards.”