Pioneer Spirit

Contemporary Architecture Looks to the Past for Inspiration.

June 01, 2001


This 4,000-square-foot custom “farmhouse” north of Portland, Ore., features a rustic, yet sophisticated living environment for its active retiree owners. The home’s exterior features a combination of eastern white pine, Montana moss sandstone and stucco.


This custom homestead in Ridgefield, Wash., is a long way from its eastern origins — just like its adventurous owners, who chose the picturesque Pacific Northwest as the ideal setting to pursue an active retirement of gentleman farming.

Designed by Portland, Ore.-based architect Michael Marx, the unique home has a timber frame and outer shell that were engineered at a manufacturing facility in the mountains of central Pennsylvania and shipped cross-country to its 40-acre site in southwestern Washington.

While its structural elements were created off-site, labeling this luxury residence a manufactured home belies the high degree of planning, quality and complexity that went into its design and execution, says Marx. “This is a totally custom home down to the location of the electrical outlets and vents.”


The rear elevation of the home reveals the beauty of its timber-frame construction. Massive windows in the central great room provide a private vista of the fields and pastures on the 40-acre site.


From the outset of the project, the clients had a clear vision for this home and knew they wanted high-end timber-frame manufacturer Woodhouse to supply the components for Marx’s design. The manufacturer provided a technical adviser and crew to assist Portland-based James Frank General Contractors in erecting the home’s weathertight shell at the construction site, where the concrete/crawlspace foundation had already been prepared. At this point, a team of custom craftspeople, directed by the general contractor, took over the project.

“My clients had lived all over and wanted this home to be a place to settle down,” says Marx. He designed the home to convey the sense that it has been expanded over generations. While it may resemble a rambling farmhouse in form, the home provides a sophisticated living environment that includes high-end appliances, custom-designed fixtures, a state-of-the-art, computer-controlled lighting system and superior energy efficiency.


“There are so many things happening at different levels in this room that you don’t just concentrate on the high ceiling,” says architect Marx about the great room, where the ceiling rises to a central peak 31 feet high. The timbers and ceiling panels are eastern white pine with a natural finish. The beams supporting the second-floor mezzanine feature sculpted ends that give them extra visual interest and character, says Marx.


All of this modern technology is orchestrated behind the scenes, Marx says. A single mechanical room, hidden behind a discreet door operated by a magnetic latch off the foyer, provides immediate access to all of the home controls in one convenient spot. “When you have a home without a basement, the mechanicals tend to be scattered throughout the house. We avoided this by creating an organized, single location for everything.

“The real beauty of this house is in its simplicity,” Marx says. Copious amounts of wood and stone were used throughout the home including coigue (Chilean cherry), granite, limestone and Brazilian slate.

Marx’s clients chose eastern white pine for the home’s framing timbers and interior finishes — an unusual choice for this part of the country, he says. “Most people around here prefer the deeper, orange color of the local Douglas fir,” he says. “But in this case, this type of wood complements the home’s distinctive style.”


The formal dining room is contained within a gallery that links the great room and kitchen. The Brazilian slate flooring provides a dramatic contrast to the pine interior finishes.


The interior space embraces the outdoors, capitalizing on the surrounding views with a multitude of windows. “We didn’t want people to have a closed-in feeling when they entered the house,” Marx says.

The heart of the home is its dramatic great room, where the full beauty of the timber-frame design is revealed under a 31-foot ceiling. A built-in entertainment center contains a sophisticated home theater and sound system. The massive window wall in the great room is oriented toward the surrounding fields, providing the homeowners a protected and very private vista. The rest of the living space extends in opposing directions, creating separate wings — one for everyday living and the other for the guest room and master retreat.


Brazilian slate tiles were used for the terraces that ring the home and for the flooring inside. “This really ties the house to the landscape,” says Marx. The interior floors are warmed by radiant heat.


While most of the living space is concentrated on the main floor, the home includes a dramatic second-floor mezzanine and exercise room. A second guest suite, above the garage, includes a full bath and is wired for Internet service.

Woodhouse also supplied the components for the timber-frame barn housing the couple’s herd of alpacas, which they breed for their fleece.

The construction process for this home took 18 months. It was completed in February 2000.



The couple’s Washington homestead features all the elements of a traditional farm, including a working timber-frame barn. The home and separate barn are oriented around a central entry court, or “barnyard,” says Marx.


General Contractor | James Frank General Contractors, Portland, Ore.

Architect | Michael Marx while at Sienna Architecture Co., Portland, Ore.

Timber-Frame Contractor | Woodhouse, Mansfield, Pa.

Energy Consultant | Ecotype, Seattle

Lighting Engineer | Pacific Lightworks, Portland, Ore.

Landscape Architect | Atlas Landscape, Portland, Ore.

Custom Metal Work | Ghilarducci Studios, Portland, Ore.

Major Products Used | Appliances: KitchenAid; Dacor; Fisher Paykel; In-Sink-Erator; GE | Cabinetry: Custom | Countertops: Granite; Limestone | Doors/Windows: Loewen; Custom by Glacier | Exterior Finish: Stone; Stucco | Fireplace: Custom; Freestanding wood stove by Vermont Casting | Flooring: Coigue; Brazilian Slate; Limestone | Home Automation: Vantage Controls

Also See

Right, From the Start

Not To Be Taken Lightly


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