Keep it Green, Make it Beautiful: Matthew Coates

Matthew Coates is an award-winning architect and President of Coates Design Architects in the Seattle area. His firm has been focused on green building and sustainable design from its inception.


Thanks for joining us, Matthew. Tell us a little bit about how you got started in interior design and how you ended up in a green concentration?

I worked at a few large architecture firms in Seattle before winning the Cradle to Cradle International Sustainable Housing Design Competition in 2005.  This propelled me to start my own firm, and we’ve been focused on green building and sustainable design since our inception.

You live and work in Seattle. What are some themes you carry into your design that might have originated in the city?

Because of our climate, there’s a strong desire for access to daylight.  We like to introduce a lot of natural light into our spaces, and we do that by increasing the volume of the space which helps light to bounce and disperse, and allows for more glazing to be used with an exterior wall.

With regard to materials, there tends to be an appreciation for natural materials, materials that are honest about what they are.  Cedar and douglas fir trees grow everywhere around here, so we use a lot of these two woods for both interior and exterior finishes.

All spaces are unique, but with a green concentration you must find that there are items you tend to repeat. What would they be? Which are most dependable? 

When designing interior spaces, it’s important to create more than one use within a given space.  So it’s common to combine an office with a library with a guest sleeping area.  We often include an open living plan in our designs, so the living, kitchen, and dining areas are combined in one functioning space.  By doing so you get a lot of “borrowed landscape,” so to speak.  This is a term usually designated to exterior gardens, but it’s true for the interior too.

What are you first priorities when meeting a new client in a new space? How much are you matching their needs to your education and inspiration? 

My first priority is to understand their needs and expectations.  So it’s really more about listening – critical listening – to be able to understand and interpret what it is they’re trying to accomplish, and what their expectations are in regard to scope, schedule, and budget.  I don’t come to the table as a designer with a predisposition to a particular outcome.  I look at each client and each design opportunity as its own, and I design to suit the client’s needs and context, rather than my own sensibility.

Seattle is known to have a few hardwood floors, which of course means more area rugs. Tell us how you use some of these in your designs.

Area rugs are important because they can really help to define a space, whether it’s a sitting area or a circulation path.  They send a visual or textural cue as to how a space should be used, or they can be used as a spatial organizer.  They add color, along with visual and physical texture to spaces.   They also help with acoustics, so that’s something to be mindful of if you’re creating a conversation area.

Do you have a type of area rug that you lean on most? Or is it a case-by-case basis?

Every situation and design opportunity has its own criteria, and so we pick something that fits that criteria. So we make decisions on a case-by-case basis, and it’s always different.

How much is too much when it comes to rugs? 

Accents are best used in moderation.  I would rather see larger area rugs than a bunch of little ones.  It’s definitely important for them to be visually independent from one another.

Any final words of design advice?

When choosing an area rug, be conscious of not only the color and the way it looks, but also the rug’s durability and longevity. Knowing what textures and fabrics you’re dealing with is very important.  Ask yourself: “Is this rug going to shed all over my house?”  Also, think about how easy or difficult it will be to clean.  Choose a rug that’s appropriate for the location you’re using it.

With regard to design, area rugs are not necessarily intended to be a focal point.  They’re an important part of the composition of creating a space, but they’re more like the glue that holds it all together.  I use them to support and enhance a good design that’s already there.

Where can readers see your work, or make an appointment for consultation?

Readers can view our work on our website, and we can be reached at 206-780-0876 or


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