Often, an architect’s job is to coax a building site into revealing the structure best suited for the surroundings. But in this case, the land was more forthcoming: “It was the first day on the site, and I looked to the front yard that had this beautiful grove of Douglas-fir trees, and I looked to the back and there was another amazing forest scene, and the solution was immediate,” recalls residential designer Rick Berry, who was hired by his clients to conceive a home that would take full advantage of its setting on a Portland hillside. “What happens if we just open it up completely to both sides?”
As Berry fleshed out his vision, a U-shaped floor plan anchored by a glass pavilion emerged. That glass jewel encompasses the living, dining and cooking areas and opens onto outdoor terraces on two sides via 40-foot-wide sliding glass doors. The structure also serves as a link between the private realms on either side. At one end, a floating staircase marks the transition from open gathering spaces to a hidden, more intimate lower level that includes guest quarters, a wine room and a cozy speakeasy accessible by a concealed door.
Rather than hide the massive steel carriage that supports the central glass structure, Berry chose to express it fully, “so that when you see the house you can understand how it is standing up,” he says. “And it’s very simple: It’s basically eight columns with a long, low roof plane floating on top.” But, as general contractor Paul Steiner attests, the simplest designs are often the most difficult to execute. “From flush baseboards to giant glass doors, the details in this project required seasoned craftspeople and experienced supervision to pull off,” he says. “When a sliding door has to travel 35 feet in its track, the floors must be level to within 1/64 of an inch over the length of the track, and structurally, things have to be really stout and true.”
To emphasize the structure’s simplicity and horizontality—as well as the owners’ affinity for a traditional Japanese aesthetic—the design team worked with a concise palette of materials. Black-painted steel supports and defines the great room’s glass doors and clerestory windows. A massive chimney clad with split-face quartzite appears to pass right through the soaring cedar ceiling. More clear cedar—some stained a steely gray, some oiled to retain its natural golden hue—defines interior and exterior walls and the louvers of a screen wall that offers tantalizing glimpses into the guest wing.
Landscape architect Jonathan Beaver and his team were sympathetic to the home’s linear nature when designing the outdoor living spaces, which unfold down the hillside in horizontal layers. At the front, a grassy gathering area carved from the slope merges with stone verandas. On the other side of the pavilion, a dining terrace, pool deck and fire pit-warmed seating area step down toward a lawn bordering the forest. “The landscape kind of dissolves as it moves outward,” Beaver says. “The plantings are more rectilinear close to the house and softer as you move down the slope.”
For the interiors, principal Farhan Qazi and principal designer Kathy Vuong riffed on the architecture. “There’s this remarkable symmetry that Rick created in the space,” Vuong says. “I didn’t want to disrupt it, but I liked the idea of incorporating some asymmetrical details within the furnishings that make you pause.” In the kitchen, for example, she opted not to align the quartz-topped island with the back wall of cabinetry and appliances. In the living room, an off-center arrangement of elegant armchairs and a low-slung sectional breaks the symmetry again. And for the dining room, she chose a table with asymmetrical legs and a rectangular top that’s two-thirds walnut and one-third patinated metal. “It’s a really quiet detail,” she says, “but when you’re sitting there, you feel it—and that’s what we wanted to bring to the space.”
It’s these quiet details that make the residence so successful and multifaceted. “Our concept was a home that can be functional, but with the ease of a getaway retreat; a place where we feel the most relaxed,” Vuong says of the restrained approach. And, Berry says, “when you’re in the glass pavilion with the doors wide open, and you have literally no idea if you’re inside or outside, but you’re a part of nature,” it’s impossible to feel anything else.