AIA Seattle Home of Distinction: Gear Shift

Winthrop home serves as both storage space and cozy residence

By Sean Meyers


March 17, 2021

This article originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Meet the California Closets of outdoor enthusiasm.

Never has a more disagreeable tangle of incompatible geometric shapes and lumpy accessories been perpetrated on humankind than the hardware of the modern adventurer. Trying to organize skis, kayaks, snowboards, fishing rods, paddles, boots, bikes, climbing gear, bedrolls, duffel bags and cooking kits in an SUV can be a nightmare.

For Seattle residents Heidi Durham and Leslie Garrand, the solution was Gear Loft, a 750-square-foot accessory dwelling unit (ADU) perched in Winthrop in north-central Washington’s Methow Valley.

Stretching 30 miles from the sagebrush and bitterroots of the Columbia River to the Cascade’s Sawtooth Mountains, the Methow Valley is an eclectic mix of the Wild West and a thriving arts culture. Cattle ranchers work next to artisan grain growers, and a 50-seat “Barnyard Cinema” offers first-run, digitally projected flicks.

Home to several Olympians, the Methow Valley is also a premier Nordic skiing venue.

Ray and Mary Johnston, owners of Johnston Architects of Seattle and co-architects of Gear Loft, have had a vacation home in Methow Valley for 32 years and have finished about 30 projects in the area. They recently became full-time residents.

“We used to have our primary home in Seattle and travel occasionally to Methow,” Ray says. “After Covid-19 hit, we realized that we could reverse that.”

The Methow Valley “just makes you smile,” he says. “There is only one road out after the winter snows begin, and I think that helps people get along.”

Gear Loft is one of three buildings designed for the property: a carport to provide shelter from the harsh weather, the shed-inspired Gear Loft to securely store equipment and eventually, a residence to anchor the homestead.

The first step was to analyze the site for the interplay between the breathtaking views and exposure to wind and sun. Next, the clients’ outdoor gear was cataloged and measured to develop a precise plat of storage requirements.

A priority was creating solutions to simplify bringing the gear in and out of storage. For example, a garage-style door allows vehicles to be backed into the shed for unloading, but opens straight up rather than rolling into the interior to preserve design integrity. Interior walls consist of sturdy adx plywood with a Southern Pine facing, which was finished with an acrylic coat.

The plywood provides a strong base for hanging equipment, “but I also like the way it looks,” Johnston says. “Last time I checked, it’s about $50 a sheet, but that’s about what sheetrock would cost once it gets taped and painted, and you’re not go-ing to poke a hole in plywood when you’re banging around a piece of equipment.”

Windows are placed at eye-level to maximize views. Stacked openings give through-line views and provide a cross breeze on warm afternoons. A central wood-burning stove warms the space in winter. The project was inspired by ski shops, garages, campfires, barns, cabins and equipment buildings, but the couple experienced challenges at nearly every turn.

“We kind of had to design as we went along. It was challenging — and fun,” Johnston says.

Sustainability was important to the homeowners. Materials are unsophisticated and accessible: concrete, plywood, laminated timber and steel. Many of these materials can be reused and include recycled content or can be recycled.

The wood stove and vaulted ceiling make it easy to heat in winter, while the concrete floor and operable openings provide passive cooling in warmer months.

Because the structure is an ADU, the architects had more flexibility in designs. ADU codes allow for a steep ship’s ladder alternating tread stairway to the 150-square-foot sleeping loft. Climbing-grip handrails along the stairway increase safety.

A ground-level sofa tucks under a wall of paddle-boards and kayaks. Most of the cooking occurs outdoors, but the indoor kitchenette offers convenience.

Casework stores climbing gear, shoes and ski boots while specialized equipment clips hold larger gear off the floor. A built-in counter doubles as a ski waxing bench.

Gear Loft is the fourth ADU project by Johnston Architects. Per-foot construction costs were only about 10 percent less expensive than what an average urban home might cost, but include bringing services to the property and a septic system, which will help reduce the cost of the primary residence when it is finished, Johnston says.

This family home was selected by a panel of architects for the AIA Seattle Home of Distinction program due to its creatively changing the experience and views of this home toward a comprehensive design, all within the existing footprint.

Dreaming about a home design project and not sure where to start? AIA architects can help.

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