Modern in the Country
By Sara Carpenter / Published by Dwell

The homeowners’ budget and taste called for a simple aesthetic. Coates let this dictate the design process, one both he and the homeowner describe as truly collaborative. A graphic designer, Eric brought many ideas of his own to the table. He says the firm was “great at turning our ideas and needs into a cohesive design tailored just for us.”

Eric and Melinda purchased a 10-acre plot in rural Yelm, Washington, with visions of a new home on the range. There would be vineyards, gardens, an orchard, bees and chickens—typical country fodder—but they would showcase their design sensibility with a not-so-typical modern abode. Enlisting Matthew Coates of Coates Design, they ended up with a modern home that, while striking, is still a natural fit in the country location. Photo by Lara Swimmer.

One element Eric requested was a slab foundation, to feel connected to the ground. The flat and open land underfoot also informed the building’s shape. An L-shaped floor plan allowed for openness between the common areas of the home but still permits a private home office for Eric. The flat-lined roof allows for unobstructed views of big sky.

Approaching the house one is able to see through to the backyard.

A rain chain (kusari doi) provides an attractive alternative to the traditional rain spout.

The couple requested a design that would take advantage of views of the foothills and wetlands south of the home. Walls of windows on either sides of the kitchen and living room offer continuous views of the wildlife surrounding the home, but had potential to sacrifice the privacy they craved. To remedy this, Coates constructed a concrete masonry unit wall at the face of the house. Using an off-the-shelf material, he was unhappy with the variances in the color. An economical solution was to have the material ground and acid washed. The new finish provides a more elegant look  without punishing the budget.

A walkway off the back of the house makes the transition from indoors to out seamless.

The wall also provided space for a small courtyard. Within view of both Eric’s office and the living room, the courtyard creates an area that extends both rooms to the outdoors while providing a buffer between the two. The office has an eastern facing window to welcome morning light.

Built-in storage in the hallway also makes use of the birch paneling seen overhead. A built-in bench and LED lighting make for a nice nook.

A view into the private courtyard off the living room and office.

Using simple materials and repeating them throughout the home helped maintain a high aesthetic while maintaining costs.  Eco-friendly choices were also top of mind, and no VOC materials were used. “It’s the simplicity and honesty of the materials used,” says Coates, “these define the home’s casual and yet highly functional feel.” The living area best displays the variety of materials used. The birch ceiling was stained to achieve a copper tone. Each panel was carefully selected to minimize the appearance of directional grain. The warmth of the copper toned wood overhead visually tempers the concrete flooring (equipped with radiant heating and stained with environmentally friendly Soycrete). Additional warmth is brought to the space from a concrete masonry fireplace in the living room.

A view of the kitchen looking towards the front of the house.

The concrete slab in the living room continues outside the rear of the home to create a patio. Melinda, an avid gardener, landscaped the architect-guided pathways from plants she grew on the property. Planting them on a designated plot, she relocated them to their current locations once they’d matured. The couple spends much of their time in the living area, with a watchful eye on the scenery (both natural and of their own design) surrounding their modern home.

Sunlight bathes the interior of the house (and one of the couple’s Labradors).

A clean and simple bathroom with a view.

The dogs of the house enjoy the courtyard off the private home office.

Radiant heat warm up the polished concrete floors.

Architect: Coates Design

Sara Carpenter


Sara is a design, bikes, baking, traveling, and pizza enthusiast. She recently left the world of television for greener pastures in modern design.

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