Arlington home a mixture of sustainable with whimsical

  • By Jackson Holtz Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, January 17, 2012 7:31pm
  • Life

Despite the expansive view that sweeps over Mount Rainier to the south, the Olympics to the west and vast swaths of rural north Snohomish County, not a single neighbor’s home is visible from this impressive modern home.

“You can’t see any houses,” Wally Thomas said as he took in the view from the roof deck. “I like living somewhere where you can’t see any houses.”

The Thomas eco house, built in 2010, is a beacon of white modernity on a hilltop north of Arlington. The home is a mixture of contemporary design, cutting-edge sustainability and just plain fun: a fire pole makes it easy to be on time for dinner.

The home, designed by Dan Nelson of Design Northwest Architects in Stanwood, recently received attention for its sharp lines, highly efficient systems and spectacular views.

“It’s nice when you get a client like Wally who’s interested in contemporary architecture,” Nelson said.

The Northwest Washington chapter of the American Institute of Architects recognized Matt Radach, who works with Nelson, for the home’s design.

The project is Thomas’ dream home that he shares with his wife, Oahn, and two boys, Grant, 12, and Bryce, 15.

Despite its 11-acre setting, the home has a relatively small footprint and uses height to give the family living space.

Perched about 500 feet above sea level, the house rises another four stories and is crowned by the “bubble,” a small room surrounded by windows and the gateway to a generous roof deck.

The bubble is a bit under 10 square feet furnished with chairs, a coffee pot and a telescope.

“It’s an underutilized room that I’m really, really excited I have,” Thomas said.

The louvered windows in the bubble also act as a kind of chimney. When they’re open, they naturally draw the air from the lower three floors for air conditioning.

Several features in the home connect the building to the natural world, not least of which are the 22-foot floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room.

While there aren’t solar panels, the passive heat from the oversized windows provides so much warmth, mechanized shades typically are drawn down.

The home is heated with a geothermal system that relies on the consistent temperature of the earth — which stays about 50 degrees — to efficiently heat the home. Hundreds of feet of plastic pipe are buried about 10 feet underground.

Geothermal systems are much more efficient than standard heating systems, in part, because they start heating from the ground temperature instead of the ambient air temperature.

The house has 12-inch thick walls, a combination of Styrofoam insulation and poured concrete. This helps retain the heat in winter and maintain lower temperatures in summer.

Radiant heat built into the concrete floors keeps the home comfortably warm.

While many of the features of the home are designed with energy efficiency in mind, there are a lot that reflect Thomas’ sense of whimsy and appreciation of gadgets.

A three-story dumbwaiter ferries laundry between floors.

Beyond the kitchen with its six-burner stove, double oven and separate vegetable sink, is an outdoor shower.

It’s a nice way to cool off in the summer, or enjoy an invigorating hot shower in the winter. Gazing at the stars, warmed by a hot shower is a treat, Thomas said.

The home is organized with the main living area on the second floor, a guest room on the first floor, and two bedrooms for the boys and a master suite on the third level.

The master bathroom has a steam shower, not energy efficient, but a sweet amenity.

Borrowing an idea he picked up in Europe, Thomas placed a drain in the middle of each of the floors in all four of the home’s bathrooms. This makes for easy cleanup, and just makes sense for rooms with lots of water, Thomas said.

Perhaps the most unusual item is the fire pole that connects the bedroom level to the living room. Of course there are stairs also and a gate at the top to prevent anyone from falling through the hole in the floor.

Thomas’ wife refuses to use the pole, but he and the boys slide down daily. One of the boys has started shimmying up.

The various features and sustainable design made the project interesting for Nelson and his team.

“For an architect, it’s always great,” Nelson said. “It’s kind of a cutting-edge technology to use this kind of stuff.”

Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447;


Design Northwest Architects

10031 Highway 532, Suite B


Phone: 360-629-3441


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