With future plans for a dream house in Washington State’s Methow Valley, an adventurous city-living couple start with a simple loft to stash their gear.
By Rachel Gallaher
Johnston Architects designed this lofted cabin in Washington's Methow Valley around an outdoor-loving couple's collection of sporting gear. Image: Benjamin Drummond.
When two Seattle outdoor enthusiasts first explored the Methow Valley—a scenic area in north-central Washington State known for its hiking and mountain biking trails, cross country skiing, and river rafting—they knew that they wanted to make the area a permanent part of their future. After purchasing a plot of land where they hope to one day build a residence, the couple reached out to Seattle-based design firm Johnston Architects, which is known for its work in Methow Valley (the region can prove challenging to design for based on remoteness, weather conditions, and extreme wind) to formulate a plan for development, starting with a space, dubbed the Gear Loft, where they could store their large collection of sporting gear.
“First and foremost, the clients fell in love with the land.,” says Ray Johnston, cofounder of Johnston Architects. “They found some land to purchase but developing property out in the middle of the Washington wilderness can get expensive. So, we worked with them to come up with a phased approach to building their dream house. But until it was time for that, they needed a place to store all their gear and put a roof over their heads while they played. As we explored the potential, the gear storage function morphed into short term housing. The ‘garage-and-gear storage’ grew a sleeping loft, a wood stove, and a dry sauna. But it was still predominantly a place to keep the gear!”
Johnston Architects brainstormed creative gear-storage solutions throughout the cabin, including a built-in shelf that doubles as a place to eat or do work, and a ski-waxing station. Image: Benjamin Drummond.
The design team took inventory of all of the couple’s equipment—kayaks, paddleboards, bikes, skis—and started designing around them, considering questions of how to store these larger items without taking up floor space (specialized equipment clips hold larger gear off the floor), and how big the doors needed be so that the couple could get things in and out easily. To maximize the site and positioning of each building (keeping in mind that one day they would be adding a residence on the property), Johnston Architects analyzed the site for views, wind, and sun exposure using a proprietary technology tool. The team identified how each component responded to and informed the others, selecting a layout that optimized for each.
“Mary [Ray’s wife and business partner] and I have had a place of our own out in Twisp for nearly 20 years, so we understand the pull of the region and the landscape,” Johnston explains. “When we went through the site planning process with the clients, we identified the best spot for a carport, the Gear Loft, and their future residence. And when we did that, we made sure that from every window they’d be able to see the reason they were here: the land. A big part of that land is the views. Up valley one can see Robinson and Last Chance Mountains. The Goat Wall [climbing cliff] above Mazama is also prominent. From the loft, all of these snowy and distant mountains are visible.”
The clients fell in love with the surrounding scenery, and Johnson Architects made sure to include plenty of windows in its design of the loft. Image: Benjamin Drummond.
The two-story Gear Loft is compact, clocking in at 750 square feet, and has an adjacent carport to protect vehicles from the deep winter snow. The main living area includes everything the couple needs for longer stays including a kitchenette near a back door with easy access to a grill for outdoor cooking, a three-quarter bathroom, a dry sauna where they can take a break after a full day of being outside, and a built-in counter that doubles as a ski-waxing bench. The upstairs loft holds a bed for overnight stays, and stunning views can be taken in from almost every point in the space.
A peek into the upstairs loft, which includes a bed for overnight stays. Image: Benjamin Drummond.
“Gear Loft’s windows are placed so that you have sightlines all around,” Johnston notes. “Actually, you can see right through it. There’s a front door near the carport, but also a glass garage door that rolls right up and lets the homeowners bring equipment in and out without bumping into things, but even when it’s closed, they have floor-to-ceiling views.”
As lovers of nature, the couple wanted to make sure that the project included elements of sustainability, and that the structure would leave a light footprint on the land.
“Using recycled and recyclable materials was a no brainer for them,” Johnston explains. “First off, the inside is lined in plywood, which is easily accessible, inexpensive, and recyclable. And we got creative with how they stored their gear. We have some sturdy built-in shelves, but the larger items hang off the walls with clips and dowels, almost like a giant pegboard. Perhaps the most fun detail is the handrail to the loft, where we used handgrips and footholds like you find at climbing gyms. If they ever wanted to, they could take Gear Loft apart piece by piece and reuse a lot of it elsewhere… it’s like an athlete’s Rubik’s Cube!”