An Ambitious Custom Home in Vancouver (?!) Shows What the 'Burbs Could Be

A Portland firm's bespoke home in Clark County raises the bar for suburban design.

By Zach Dundas November 24, 2014

Can subdivisions be sexy? The typical upscale exurban or suburban development is an aesthetic nothing: great relative wealth mass-processed into generic or derivative pseudo-splendor. But a new house in Clark County, Washington—not a region known, particularly, for daring design—shows that ambitious concepts and refined executions can thrive in Cul de Sac Land, given the right forethought and collaboration.

Kevin Low, a dentist, wanted a home near his Battle Ground practice, and bought a lot hewn from a freshly subdivided farm outside Vancouver. His realtor connected him with Fieldwork Design, a Portland firm that integrates architecture, interior design, and furniture and industrial design and fabrication into its practice. “He didn’t want what was out there,” says Fieldwork's Cornell Anderson. “He didn’t quite know what he did want.

“We were intrigued, but it did give us pause.”

At first glance, the project came with constraints. “When you buy the lot, the contractor comes attached,” Anderson says. That meant Fieldwork would collaborate with JB Homes, one of Clark County's major spec-house and new-construction firms. “They have 10 or 12 designs, more or less off-the-rack, that they typically use,” says Fieldwork's Tonia Hein. “So it was very different for them and very different for us, but it ended up being a great relationship.”

And within those constraints—and partnerships atypical for a firm that usually focuses on high-design urban projects or beautiful blank slates on free-standing rural properties—Fieldwork created Bluff House, a suburban jewel infused with a rural-metropolitan chic.

“We immediately had a good rapport with the client," Anderson says. “He wanted a holistic design, which in the end meant that we designed everything—we designed the cutlery and the linens. We designed and fabricated most of the furniture. Everything was integrated into the overall concept.”

“They sort of bulldoze everything when they create one of these developments," Anderson continues. "But we did go back and look at the old farmhouse structures that were there before. Typically, they would be arranged to create a protected outdoor space, and we adapted that idea to create a sort of central courtyard, very private and intimate.”

That inward focus means Bluff House isn't too immediately jarring in its suburban context. Instead, it should serve as an inspiration for the thousands of home buyers looking for new construction to think beyond cookie-cutter design.

"It was a challenge we took on, with the client, the developer, and the contractor all working with us," Anderson says. "They all became part of the team.”


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