The Orchard House

 A modernist marvel holds court amid trees and farmland in Steelhead Architecture’s latest project.

Photography by Josh Partee

Setting matters. For architect Gabe Headrick, finding an elegant and meaningful solution to connect a home to its place was the first in many considered conversations he had with recent retired clients who were looking to build a sleek modern home on farmland just outside Portland’s urban growth boundary.

“The home stands out on the landscape but it also fits in and reaches out to its surroundings,” says Headrick, founder of Portland-based Steelhead Architecture. “The courtyard in the back of the house is the focal point and a key design element that informed the layout of the main living space.”

Placing a modern home in a natural setting can present a formidable challenge, one Headrick rose to in his work with clients on a project he calls The Orchard House, so named to honor the heritage fruit trees that surround the property. Tucked away amid giant fir trees and with a cutout space reminiscent of Japanese tsuboniwa courtyard gardens, the home came together to fulfill the couple’s desires for a tranquil, private space large enough to host friends and family.

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Setting with Character
All of the home’s spaces were designed to complement the setting. A roundabout driveway circles the mature fir trees in front of the home, while the great room, with its 16-foot-tall array of windows, naturally directs your view to the other tall firs in the back of the house. While the four-bed, four-and-a-half-bath home sits large, at 5,000 square feet, its U shape around the courtyard allows it to function and feel like a smaller home. The central portion of the house contains the main public spaces, with living and dining room plus the kitchen in an open double-height volume. A small open loft sits above the kitchen and is open to the space below. One wing contains the master suite while the other has guest rooms intended for extended stays by family members. Guests have their own quiet spaces, which can be easily closed off when not in use. 

In the main living area, there are plenty of both intimate nooks and spaces that flow into other spaces. The large patio off the living room is the primary gathering space with a 20-foot-long sliding door system that pockets into the wall for seamless indoor/outdoor circulation. A long linear “fire pit” feature plus integrated heat lamps makes the patio an all-season space.

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The design of the exterior uses floating horizontal and vertical white-paneled planes which are separated from each other by areas of glass. This separation plus the deep overhangs and cantilevers give the house a horizontal floating feeling. Outside, the home is mostly white, which stands out in contrast to the deep-gray panels. “It definitely stands out from the greenery around it, but it hugs the site and makes the most of the space around it,” Headrick says.

Working with contractor David Saltzberg from Delahunt Homes was key to bringing the modernist vision to life while ensuring that it remained attentive to its natural setting. The home is set as far away from the road as possible while maintaining lush views of those big trees at every turn. “We used a combination of new and existing trees plus an earthen berm near the road to both provide privacy and create a green transition zone as you approach the house,” says Headrick.

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Responsive Vision
The Orchard House clients interviewed several architects and chose Steelhead Architecture in part because Headrick listened intently to their wants and needs in a modern house, he says. The company takes pride in its ability to engage and collaborate with clients in the design process.

“Our extensive use of 3D modeling all the way through the design process allows us to explore different design directions with our clients,” Headrick says. “Our clients often comment that the final built spaces feel identical to what they saw in the renderings, which is great as the last thing we want is an unpleasant surprise once the house is built.”

After 15 years of work in San Francisco and Portland, Headrick started Steelhead Architecture in 2010. The firms wide range of project types—including commercial, multifamily, mixed use and single family—is an approach he says keeps Steelhead nimble. Steelhead is also dedicated to high performance, net-zero or low-energy architecture­; after all, their name honors the resilient fish and its symbolic coexistence with its environment.

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For more info, visit SteelheadArchitecture.com