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HOMEOWNER - Calla Kirkwood and Sam Rodell

LOCATION - Spokane, Washington

BUILT - Completed in 2000

ARCHITECT: - Kirkwood Rodell (509-838-7474)

STYLE - Traditional cedar shingling with concrete-tile roof

PROPERTY - An acre situated at the edge of a natural wetland and wildlife habitat in the Little Spokane River Valley

BEDROOMS - Master suite and guest room in "the Mom and Dad" end of the house, plus three bedrooms in the kids' wing

FAVORITE ROOM - In winter, a cozy fireside reading nook overlooking frozen waterfall formations; in summer, "interior spaces where we can check out what's going on with the birdfeeders and backyard"

HER FAVORITE PASTIMES - Working outdoors, bird watching, and reading

HIS FAVORITE PASTIMES - Reading and cooking

HOUSE-BUILDING TIP - "Build less, but build better — you'll be much, much happier"

Cozy Up to the Fireplace

A Complete Kitchen

Spokane, Washington — When architects Calla Kirkwood and Sam Rodell decided to design and build a home of their own, they began, as they begin all their projects, by focusing on two considerations: the client and the land.

"Those two things will take you where the project wants to go," says Sam. "It's always different, always unexpected."

In their own case, they started by asking themselves questions about the nature of home. What is home about? What does it feel like? Though habitually immersed in "edgy design," they decided that, for them, home was about nurturing and healing and nature, a place the family could come and recharge their batteries. These insights led them to conclude that the design of their home was to be "less about making a statement than about making a nest."

As for the land, they settled on a piece of property close to the children's school in "a part of Spokane that has a lot of natural beauty to it." Situated in "a slice of suburbia" in the Little Spokane River Valley — home to coyotes, deer, and countless species of birds — the lot afforded them access to the best of both worlds: the amenities of the city and the beauty of the natural environment.

"We share nearly all of this land with countless birds, deer, coyotes and other creatures that make their home here, or pass through seasonally."
Shop Outdoor Living.

As Sam and Calla saw it, their home was to be an extension of the neighboring natural habitat, "to draw the wilderness into suburbia rather than extending suburbia into the wilderness.


There were a lot of legal challenges that came with the land. An aquifer originating in nearby hills forms a series of springs running all through the valley, and one of them happened to be right on the property. Local ordinances protecting such wetlands had rendered the site virtually unbuildable, at least according to standard building practices.

To Sam and Calla, though, it was a golden opportunity, and they set about transforming potential limitations into assets.

"Architecture is all about the site," says Sam. "Finding what's there and capitalizing on it."

What was there, in addition to a spring-fed stream, were boulders — lots of them — some weighing as much as eight thousand pounds. Sam and Calla decided they'd situate the boulders to re-route the stream, forming ponds and waterfalls, then situate the house to bridge the stream.

"The water was already traveling across the site," says Sam. "We just decided to play with it awhile before it left."

Remaining boulders were to be used in building the foundation, patio, and courtyard walls.

Once construction got underway, it was necessary to reverse the normal order of things, to do the landscape work first and then come back and do the house.

"Preparing the site took more time than building," says Sam. "There were boulders to be set aside, excavation for the footings and ponds to be done. With a stream passing under the house, we couldn't come back later with heavy equipment." In essence, they had to paint their way out of the room.


Designing the house was an informal process that took the better part of a year. "If this home has a heritage, it would be the shingle style," says Sam. "It has a great pedigree in architectural history — perhaps the only truly American style as opposed to something that's been imported and adapted.

"We spent some time in the research phase," he continues. "I looked at the work of my mentors' mentors. We took a look at how much we wanted to spend and how much space we needed. It's important to get a handle on issues like that before any design work happens, because once design happens, it's hard to scale back."

He emphasizes the importance of coming up with a dollars-and-cents budget before you build, particularly an area budget that defines the quality level of each area — we'll spend more here and not quite so much there. His most important house-building tip? "Build less, but build better — you'll be much, much happier. People try to build too much so they wind up over budget, build too thin, and don't get what they want. So do your homework before you design. Building is less about creative genius and more about an organized approach so you get what you want."


A desire to weave the house into the site and to share the landscape with the wide variety of birds and animals inhabiting the valley guided the exterior design. Inside, the finishes, textures, and details also draw largely from the natural landscape.

Design elements of the antique courtyard gate are repeated in hand-hammered ironwork found elsewhere on the property. Shop Entertaining.

"It's a wonderful palette of color," says Sam, adding, "I can say so because Calla chose it. They're colors you'd find if you walked around the site. She collected boxes of materials — leaves and bark and stone — and used them to develop the palette for interiors and exteriors."

Cherry hardwoods and squares of rough-hewn limestone with hand-chipped edges serve as flooring, and countertops are made of granite. Antique-looking seeded glass, which "gets more play out of light and gets a little flash of color," appears in the dining room and garage-door windows and in the kitchen cabinets. "And there's quite a bit of woodwork," says Sam, "some painted, some not. Where it's not painted, its character as wood is celebrated."

Celebrated, too, is the workmanship of genuinely skilled craftsmen. "We're interested in things that hold a little of the story of their making. We hire people with beards who use hand tools. The hand of the craftsman stays behind well after they've left."

Cabinets, staircases, and mantels were built on site, much as they would have been several generations ago. Also working on site were blacksmiths who designed and built wrought-iron gating and fencing to match an antique courtyard gate Calla had found. Allowed to weather naturally, the new work is virtually indistinguishable from the old.


The prevailing atmosphere is one of refined informality. Here and there, Calla and Sam have created cozy little places to curl up and read, places that wrap around you like a blanket. Foremost among them is a pass-through reading nook which overlooks the stream. "Everybody gathers in that spot in the winter to look at the frozen waterfalls," says Sam. Dubbed the cat-seat window - "If you were a cat, this is where you'd want to be, watching the birds" — it's outfitted with an inviting armchair and fireplace.

The dining room is another significant room in the house. "It's a place where we get together, sit down as a family, light candles, and eat dinner," says Sam. "The furniture in there was handed down to us and has importance for us."

In the dining room, gently curving wood mullions encase inch-thick insulated panels of antique-looking seeded glass, which "get more play out of light and give a little flash of color." Shop Furnishings & Décor.

Together, the reading nook and living room span the stream below and connect the home's two wings. The wing housing the kids' bedrooms is "quite an independent realm," says Sam. "We wanted to create a place where their friends could feel comfortable, where teenagers could and would gather. When the kids come in from the garage, they drop their backpacks in the laundry room and head left to the kitchen for a snack, upstairs to their bedrooms, or downstairs to the game room where they can indulge in some serious sensory overload."

The Mom-and-Dad wing at the other end of house houses the master bedroom, dressing rooms, his-and-hers walk-in closets, and guest bedroom. Sensitive to the needs of aging parents, Sam and Calla placed a first-floor handicapped-accessible powder room in that wing, too. "You could live in this house in a wheelchair," Sam comments.


Though the home is traditional in character, "there are contemporary things happening architecturally," says Sam. The ventilation system is tied into the chimney, eliminating the clutter of pipes and ducts normally found on rooftops. Return air slots are artfully concealed above exterior cornices, and the dryer exhaust is screened by wrought-iron fencing.

"The mechanicals were incorporated into the design," Sam explains. "There was a huge amount of engineering involved. Most good design solutions look very simple but sometimes take a lot of work to get there."

"It just feels right ... Our family is building a generation of memories and experiences together."

The house is also designed to get a lot of mileage out of lighting. "Light fixtures," says Sam, "come in two families: one for effect, the other to be seen and enjoyed." Dimmer-controlled indirect lighting falls into the former category, while Italian fixtures assert themselves as if to say, "I'm meant to be seen."

Three separate mechanical systems ensure quiet, efficient operation, and insulation is well above standard to reduce energy demand. Air and water are filtered and purified, and all systems — computer systems, home-management systems, the central vacuuming system, whole-house sound system, security system, and low-voltage systems — are fully integrated into the house.


Water is a central theme of the house. The spring-fed stream rushes along at 400 gallons per minute, falling sixteen vertical feet through a series of manmade pools before emptying into the Little Spokane River. "It takes the urban rumble out of life," says Sam. "It's very soothing." The last of the pools is the family's swimming hole. Populated with koi, it's a favored hunting ground of bald eagles, kingfishers, ospreys, and herons. Wildflowers and black-eyed Susans color provide seasonal color, and a boulder set deep into the property has been scooped out to catch rainwater for the deer to drink.

The street side of the house is cultivated in a more formal manner. Roses and ginkgo trees grow in raised and sheltered beds to either side of the garden shed, and there's a pond set aside for water gardening. This part of the yard, says Sam, is "a celebration of formal kinds of composition."

Interior spaces were designed to minimize exposure to neighboring houses and maximize views of the natural surroundings. "We can experience the entire backyard as we move from one end of the house to the other," says Sam. "We like to check out the birdfeeders and see what's going on."

Does the house fulfill their original vision of home? "After you've lived in a house awhile, you think about things you might have done differently," says Sam. "But there's very little I can point to — it just feels right. It's fun to build houses, and it's really a wild experience to get to do it and then live there."

Living so close to the natural world delights Sam and Calla, yet there's something that pleases them even more. "Our family," they say, "is building a generation of memories and experiences together."

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