“The site dictated a lot of what we did, as it should. A house should be reflective of a site and an owner. And for us, it worked out great,” says Jeff Fountain, speaking of the South Hill home he shares with his wife, Kristi, and their beloved dog, Konza.
What others would view as an intimidating site—just .15 acres with more than 35 feet of elevation drop and limited access due to the property backing onto a public park—was a welcome challenge for the couple. They appreciated the infill lot’s park proximity, its location on a quiet side street a short drive from downtown, and the rare opportunity to purchase a South Hill lot with unhindered south-facing views. Kristi and Jeff, the principal architect with Copeland Architecture, rose to the occasion, working with the limitations of the site to create a sustainable home that fits the way they like to live. For these reasons and more, the finished home was chosen as one of AIA Spokane’s Homes of Distinction this year. As AIA’s press committee commented, “More than any project we saw, this one pushes the sustainable design elements while still overcoming a challenging site and capturing the eye with engaging details.”
The couple strived for a minimalistic, low-maintenance home that’s beautiful, durable, and welcoming for friends and family. “We wanted to keep it simple and clean,” says Kristi. Materials were chosen carefully with those guidelines in mind. Concrete is used for every floor, light fixtures are quite clean-lined, there’s no trim and there are no baseboards, and many furnishings are built in. Though the lines are clean, every space is balanced with warmth and texture thanks to wood beams (which pop against the black OSB ceiling) and wood cabinetry, touches of color, and collected artwork.
“Embracing patina” is a term the Fountains use to describe their way of allowing their home to age gracefully. “We actually chose a lot of things that show their character,” says Jeff. “The house tells the story of the people who live there.” In the kitchen, for instance, the countertops are soapstone. They know that due to its softness the material will show wear—like, as the homeowners point out, the scratches from the bottom of a wine bottle—but that mark is not a flaw but a welcome sign of life. Similarly, they chose to forego hardware on their Europly cabinets in favor of a more minimal look. They realize that over time the oils from their hands will affect the color, a change that will be more visible on the high-use cabinets than the others. To them, this only adds character. On the exterior, Jeff and Kristi are having fun watching the natural aging process of the cedar, which will change color more quickly on the south-facing side. “We’re letting our house go gray,” says Jeff with a laugh.
Rather than get swept up in design trends or norms, each space reflects the couple’s preferences and actual needs. One sink in the master bathroom is plenty for them. “I didn’t want to have to clean another one,” admits Kristi. A wall of mounted metal hooks near the entrance serves as their coat closet. Occasionally all of the hooks are empty; as Jeff says, “when there’s nothing there, it’s just art.” There’s no door separating the kitchen and the pantry, or the master bedroom from the closet. It’s these types of little decisions that add up to a home looking and working exactly as they want it to. “I like a clean aesthetic,” says Kristi. “If you have a lot going on, it can feel cluttered.” A simplified design means visual calm and a whole lot less maintenance—and less maintenance means more time for the things they love. “Life’s short,” says Kristi. “Don’t spend your time mowing your yard or cleaning your house!”
Every piece of furniture was chosen with care, with none more beloved than the kitchen table. “To say the least, the house was designed around the table,” says Jeff. It has room for 12 on a regular day and is expandable to seat 24. The couple worked with local wood and metal workers Cody Rodenbough (Lincoln Build Works) and Bart Templeman (Dare Designs) on crafting the table that Jeff had designed, using planks from a 300-year-old tree. “It’s fir, and fir is soft; it has little scratches here and there,” says Jeff. But that, of course, is part of its charm. “This tree is 300 years old. It’s going to be okay,” he says. This table works well for the “soup Sundays” the couple hosts all winter long. When they’re having those big dinners with friends and family gathered around the table, “that’s a super happy moment,” says Kristi. “It’s kind of magic.”
Function is just as important as form in the kitchen. Kristi and Jeff located the table as close to the kitchen’s work areas as possible, since no matter where you place your dining table, everyone gathers in the kitchen anyway. A genius and back-strain-saving touch is a raised dishwasher, with its base at counter height. Washers and dryers are on pedestals, Jeff points out, and ovens are often mounted mid-wall, but the dishwasher is used many more times a day than either of those appliances. It only makes sense to raise it up, too. In the adjacent living area, a wood-burning fireplace has a cooking surface where they often bake a pizza or cookies. On the open shelving in the kitchen are long lines of cookbooks. Kristi teaches cooking classes at the Kitchen Engine focusing on local, seasonal whole foods and helping “people get back in the kitchen,” she says.
Another key design element is the placement of the decks. Turning them at an angle allows for prime shading—the house shades the deck—and maximum outdoor enjoyment. “This way it’s shaded from 3 or 4 on,” says Jeff. Now, “it’s our happy hour deck.” The bonus is this upper deck shades the deck below it, which is one of Kristi’s favorite spots. “I love sitting here on a Sunday, reading and listening to the kids playing at the park.”
Space was used as efficiently as possible, with every single room fulfilling a purpose, from the lower-level office that transforms into a guest room thanks to a pull-down Murphy bed, to a tunnel running beneath the house that serves as a cleverly-placed dog run, giving the dog outdoor access in what would otherwise be dead space.
The home is energy efficient and sustainable with elements like stacked ventilation, 12-inch thick SIPS panels that keep it well-insulated, and an HRV unit. The efficient envelope means air conditioning isn’t needed. The house pulls cool air off the park at night, which also helps keep it cool, as does placing the master suite on a lower story where the temperature is naturally cooler. They’ve recently added solar panels to the roof.
One priority of the project was to avoid high-maintenance landscaping and achieve an edible site. There are at least half a dozen varieties of berries, in addition rhubarb and tomatoes, herbs, and more. The garden is irrigated by a rainwater catchment system, captured by a 2,600-gallon tank that doubles as infill for the tiered landscaping. Pacific Garden Design did the initial landscaping, and the couple is continuing to refine it themselves. This hands-on approach has allowed Jeff and Kristi to personalize the home further and get the most use out of every bit of material, like using scraps from the Europly cabinetry to build minimal shelving in the bathrooms for toilet paper and tissue boxes. Leftover Europly also serves as the material for what they refer to as the ceiling-height “wall of books” and bench seating on the main floor.
“It’s an interesting exercise to be that intimately involved in the creation of our house,” says Kristi.
From the coat closet to the driveway, “Everything’s designed,” says Jeff. “That’s the fun of it.”
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