Nature, Framed

SORA design creates a gallery of vistas in a custom Northwest home.

One view is a perfectly framed green forest out over a grassy slope. Another captures a serene Japanese garden with feathery bamboo and gray, rugged boulders. And yet another showcases one of the signature features that all but defines the Pacific Northwest: 12,276-foot Mt. Adams, in all of its soaring, snowy glory. 

These are the views out the windows of a stunning home designed by Portland’s SORA design — vistas so masterfully seized in the glass that they appear as landscape paintings on the wall of a gallery. 

“The idea of the house began with the clients’ primary objective — to take advantage of the breathtaking view to the northeast,” says Akiko Arai, who founded SORA with her husband, Katsuya. “While the active views toward the mountains are dramatic, the long passive views through the house are soothing to the eye.” 

Katsuya and Akiko Arai

Capturing these territorial views was an obvious focus for Akiko and Katsuya, who earned their graduate degrees in architecture and worked on their first projects in New York City before relocating to Portland four years ago. And they had a lot to work with: The site sits on a scenic stretch of land in rural Ridgefield, Wash., with Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Hood in the distance. They designed the home to have not only large, revealing windows but long corridors that extend the line of sight throughout the home and lead to views of the natural surroundings. 

Less obvious — and more challenging — was designing the home to incorporate the varying styles of the married homeowners. The husband is Japanese American and wanted aspects of the home that reflected his heritage. His wife longed for the comfort and welcoming feeling of more traditional Western architecture. 

“There are little pockets where there is one or the other,” Katsuya says. “The spaces take cues from both aesthetics and come together to make a house that both can call a home.”

Akiko and Katsuya achieved that balance in several ways. For starters, there is an area near the front door for removing shoes — long a tradition in Asian households — as well as a meditative garden and a Japanese bathing room. In the latter is a soaking tub and slats hung on the wall made from Port Orford cedar, a fragrant regional wood that was also used in the home’s engawa, a Japanese-style wraparound deck. 

The homeowners went with a neutral palette, cedar siding and glulam beams that give off warm tones. This was a mutually agreed-upon direction that aesthetics of both Eastern and Western architecture could share. The kitchen mixes traditional detail with contemporary language to bring scale and approachability to the space. 

“It’s modern, but we didn’t want it to feel stark,” Akiko says. “The overall palette is neutral, so there’s lots of room for them to grow in the space.” 

SORA’s approach also segmented the home into what Akiko calls multiple volumes, separated by the long corridors that welcome in natural light. There’s a gym and office, the living room, kitchen and dining area on the main level. Another volume is home to the primary suite, and the lower level was carved out for a reading nook, a family room and kids’ bedrooms. These different volumes serve a practical purpose inside but also add to the home’s exterior appearance. 

“Outside, the layering of volumes and material adds depth and interest,” Katsuya says. “The simple rooflines are dramatic, and there are unique perspectives from all sides of the house.”

Those kinds of unique perspectives — and incorporating one-of-a-kind views — is what SORA strives for in all its projects.

“We hope to achieve timeless architecture,” Akiko says. “We like to design simple and intentional spaces that come to life with the owners’ individuality when they occupy them. We design homes custom to each person.”