For architect Neal Andrew Barber and his wife Inga, the Northern Cascades hold a special significance. Over the years, the Seattle couple frequented the mountain range’s western slopes, where they chose to spend as many weekends as possible through all four seasons. Dreaming of their own mountain retreat, the couple began to look for a site where they could design and build a getaway to share with friends and family. "I grew up in Seattle, and the mountains east of Bellingham [Washington] have always been a favorite area of mine," says Barber, founder of Seattle-based Studio Nocturne. "We knew we wanted to find a place close to the edge of the national forest here."
Having zeroed in on location, the couple started their property search in 2019, but initially turned up empty. "We started looking for land in the mountains east of Bellingham at the end of 2019, but nothing felt right," Barber says. After COVID-19 stalled their plans further, they eventually came across a captivating parcel. "We found this secluded property with a meadow populated with mature bigleaf maples," shares Barber. "This clearing, carved out of the surrounding evergreen forest, seemed like the perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle." Securing the property shortly thereafter, plans were soon underway to design a remote oasis that would bring pause from the pace and routine of their lives in the city.
For Barber, the English picturesque informed the home’s design and siting—he found himself particularly inspired by period drawings of ruined castles and abbeys in the landscape. "We wanted it to feel like something that could have been there for decades and only recently rediscovered," Barber says of the home’s concept. "The house was to be our ‘ruin in the landscape.’"
Tasked with introducing a new structure into the seemingly untouched forest setting, Barber thought first and foremost about the home’s visual impact on the landscape. "The most important vantage point considerations were actually views of the house from the outside," he shares. Pulling from his graduate studies in picturesque travel, Barber found similarities with alpine huts of the 18th century. "I found that these buildings do more than provide the necessary shelter and amenities to facilitate travel into and [around] the mountains," says Barber. "They also function as focal points in the landscape, as if they were subjects in a picture."
Designing the mountain retreat, Barber organized the home into three volumes. Facing the meadow, a traditionally-detailed, barn-like structure contains the home’s communal living spaces. Facing the woods, two other volumes, clad in corrugated metal, contain the home’s private quarters—bunkrooms, bedrooms, and bathrooms. A white wall mediates the connection between public and private spaces. The contrast of traditional and contemporary, along with the varied exterior articulation, creates a dynamic experience when viewing the home from different points around its perimeter. "We wanted the impression of the house to change as one moves through the landscape," says Barber.
For the wood "lodge," Barber wanted the form and design treatment to honor the home’s traditional influences. "We wanted the building to feel older, so the interior spaces feature wood paneling that the windows are trimmed into," Barber shares. "We wanted to frame views out to nature, almost like living paintings." Turning to Andersen Windows & Doors, he pulled from the 400 Series for the operable clerestory windows, and E-Series for the rest of the home’s windows and doors—including the view-framing picture windows.
In addition to framing views, daylighting was a crucial consideration given the seasonally cold and light-challenged northern Washington climate. Integrating tall volumes with clerestory windows, Barber strategically funneled light into the home’s interior—essential during dark winter months. "I have found that windows often perform best when they have a specific goal in mind," shares Barber. "You might not be able to see much out of a window 16 feet above you, but it will fill the room with much more light than one at eye level."
A modest solar array and the window design strategy helped Barber achieve the home’s net-zero rating. In addition to daylighting benefits, the 400 Series clerestory windows help cool the home without air conditioning during warm summer months. The elevated clerestories pull hot air out of the house in the evenings, while cool air enters through the lower-height windows, keeping the home comfortable without an active cooling system. "This relationship creates convective air flow that would not be possible if all the windows were at the same datum," says Barber, of the intentionally varied window heights.
For Barber and his family, trips to the mountain retreat are now regular. Prioritizing time outdoors, they enjoy hiking, skiing, whitewater kayaking, and simply walking around the property. "The [home] gives us an oasis where we can literally and figuratively get a breath of fresh air," says Barber. "It really feels like a world away when you are there."
Learn more about all the 2023 honorees and the judging process at andersenawards.dwell.com.
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