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  • Writer's pictureTim Rhodes, RA., AIA

5 Materials We Love & How We Apply Them Into Our Designs

Updated: Apr 14, 2023

At Rhodes Architecture + Light, our Architects are always on the lookout for new materials to incorporate in your design. Instead of just relying on the same materials we have for years, we want to be sure we provide our clients with the best quality options for their residences.

Here are five materials we’ve recently been adding into Pacific Northwest architecture projects that we think are uniquely pleasing and will last for many years to come.

1. Porcelain Tile

Porcelain tile is becoming inexpensive, allowing homeowners to choose this hardy option more regularly. Aside from the preferable price point, this is also a popular material because it is extremely durable. As an added bonus, it now also comes in many finishes.

While you may have just one specific style in mind when you hear about this material, porcelain tile has become increasingly diverse. It, for example, now comes in a finish that looks like wood, a great option for flooring. It also comes in finishes that look like steel and oxidized metals, so the choice is yours.

This material is often used in kitchens and bathrooms as you can see in our design for the Kirkland Avenue home here, where it provides as an aesthetically-pleasing, natural stone look.

2. New Composite Materials

The materials that fall under this category include Resysta decking and siding, vinyl flooring, Anderson Windows Series 100 Fibrex window and door frames, and Fiberon siding. These are all man-made and are becoming increasingly popular because they are less expensive, low maintenance alternatives to wood.

Because these materials are so advanced, it makes using them quite exciting! Resysta, for instance, is a fiber reinforced hybrid material that is made up of about 60% rice husks, 22% salt, and 18% mineral oil. It is almost identical to tropical wood but doesn’t come with any of the downsides that natural material does. It’s water and weather resistant, and you won’t have to worry about splinters, fungi, or insects.

There are numerous ways Pacific Northwest Architects choose to incorporate this material. This includes outdoor furniture, decking, roofs, and house facades.

Kirkland Avenue - Seattle Architects

3. Corten Steel

This is a tougher material, also known as weathering steel or Cor-Ten steel, that can be used for siding, exterior finishes, and accessories such as planters. It provides a naturally rugged look.

What sets this material apart is that you want it to rust. A surface layer of rust naturally forms, providing that distinctive look, and this layer protects the steel underneath from deteriorating. Once the surface layer is oxidized you won’t need to keep up with maintenance or provide any finishing.

Corten steel is becoming especially beloved in Pacific Northwest architecture because when you’re in an area with especially rainy weather, a material that benefits from rusting is extremely convenient!

In the Kirkland Avenue house, we used this material for the sheltering containers. Ultimately, it’s a great choice for any client looking for materials that are tough and low maintenance

4. Shou Sugi Ban

Shou Sugi Ban is a technique that the Japanese have used for centuries, but it’s only recently become popular in the United States as the benefits become more widely known.

This process involves purposely burning wood that, once charred, is resistant to rot and insects. Burning neutralizes the cellulose in the wood, which is the carbohydrate that attracts bacteria, fungi, and termites. Once charred, the wood is also more resistant to sun and water damage. It can make the material last much longer.

It is typically used for siding and finish, and can also be used for flooring, ceiling cladding, and furniture. Aside from those benefits, it also creates a unique, stylish look. This material would be a great choice for anyone who wants a rustic, natural aesthetic.

It also comes in different finishes, so if you think the jet-black charcoal look is too intense, you can choose a lightly charred finish instead. Also, expect it to evolve over the years and know that the black look will fade to a dark brown or even light grey.

5. Powder-Coated Steel Railings

Powder-coating is becoming a preferred alternative to painted railings. If you’re not familiar with powder-coating, it is the process of using a spray gun to coat the railing with polymer resin in powder form, then baking the layer of powder on in order to provide an airtight seal and uniform finish. This process bonds the resin to the metal, making the railings resistant to corrosion and incredibly durable.

Paint, on the other hand, can chip and crack more easily. Powder-coating is also more resistant to UV rays than paint. That means it’s an especially great option in homes when you want to allow in as much natural sunlight as possible.

While this is a more expensive option than a traditional wood railing, it will not block as much of your view since the slats are thinner. This is also a stronger option than wood, despite its thinner shape.

For the Medina Residence, we chose it as one of the materials as it’s a durable, low maintenance material and adds complementary aesthetics and texture to the design.

Medina Residence - Seattle Architects

Finally, there are some standard materials that have been used in Pacific Northwest architecture for years that we continue to depend on today. One example is Portland Cement Plaster, which is a natural, traditional material that we use for a classic aesthetic, like in this West of Market residence. It provides a beautiful, timeless look, while also standing up to the elements as it’s rot, rust, and fire resistant.

At Rhodes Architecture + Light, we have over twenty years of experience in Pacific Northwest architecture, so you can trust that we have the expertise to know exactly what materials will suit your project best. And while we will continue to build with innovative techniques and materials, we know that it’s often a combination of new and old that works best.

West Of Market - Seattle Architects
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