Our Daydream of Living on an Untouched Island Comes True in Washington

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By Kelly Dawson / Published by Dwell
Seeking a quiet retreat, a couple builds a 1,600-square-foot property where simplicity reigns.

Although there was no home on this piece of rugged shoreline in Washington State’s San Juan Islands National Monument, a couple held strong ties to the site. They had owned the land for seven years by the time they contacted Heliotrope Architects. Principal Joseph Herrin sums up their request for construction with a succinct adage: they wanted a property that presented quality over quantity. The pair wished for their two preschool-aged children to grow up relishing a small setting on the sea, where indoor spaces are open to nature and there’s just enough space for guests to come by and enjoy the views. The couple also wanted to be aware of certain neighbors, the endangered wild salmon and orca who are also dependent on this place, and they asked Herrin to build a hamlet that did little harm. "The form of the house was a result of two primary elements: our desire for a garden roof, and a form that related to the slope of the land when seen from the water," Herrin says. The family’s new address fits in well with its surroundings—so much so that it almost disappears from sight behind the trees.

Our Daydream of Living on an Untouched Island Comes True in Washington - Photo 1 of 8 - "There had been two or three primitive cabins on the property in the past, which resulted in a clearing that we utilized for the site," Joseph Herrin says. "This allowed us to avoid any further tree removal for construction, and provided an opportunity to begin to restore that portion of the property with native landscaping."

"There had been two or three primitive cabins on the property in the past, which resulted in a clearing that we utilized for the site," Joseph Herrin says. "This allowed us to avoid any further tree removal for construction, and provided an opportunity to begin to restore that portion of the property with native landscaping."

Our Daydream of Living on an Untouched Island Comes True in Washington - Photo 2 of 8 - "The layout and openings allow ample flow to the exterior, and paths and decks have been developed to ‘flatten’ the sloping site enough to create generous outdoor gathering areas," Herrin says. "These areas take into account sunlight at different times of day as well as protection from prevailing wind," he adds. One-by-six-foot ipe planks comprise the decking, and hemlock end grain by the Oregon Lumber Company was installed indoors.

"The layout and openings allow ample flow to the exterior, and paths and decks have been developed to ‘flatten’ the sloping site enough to create generous outdoor gathering areas," Herrin says. "These areas take into account sunlight at different times of day as well as protection from prevailing wind," he adds. One-by-six-foot ipe planks comprise the decking, and hemlock end grain by the Oregon Lumber Company was installed indoors.

Our Daydream of Living on an Untouched Island Comes True in Washington - Photo 3 of 8 - "The home is quite small, but designed in such a way that you don’t feel it," Herrin says. Lift-slide openings by Quantum Windows & Doors, which were fabricated fewer than 50 miles from the house, make the main living space seem larger.

"The home is quite small, but designed in such a way that you don’t feel it," Herrin says. Lift-slide openings by Quantum Windows & Doors, which were fabricated fewer than 50 miles from the house, make the main living space seem larger.

Our Daydream of Living on an Untouched Island Comes True in Washington - Photo 4 of 8 - A sofa from Design Within Reach opposes a Hi Turn chair by Bensen in the living room.

A sofa from Design Within Reach opposes a Hi Turn chair by Bensen in the living room.

Our Daydream of Living on an Untouched Island Comes True in Washington - Photo 5 of 8 - A Design Within Reach bed is steps away from a Second Floor sink by Duravit that’s outfitted with an Essence Grohe faucet. Benjamin Moore’s Templeton Gray is painted on the master bathroom’s wood paneling.

A Design Within Reach bed is steps away from a Second Floor sink by Duravit that’s outfitted with an Essence Grohe faucet. Benjamin Moore’s Templeton Gray is painted on the master bathroom’s wood paneling.

Our Daydream of Living on an Untouched Island Comes True in Washington - Photo 6 of 8 - One of the main goals of the construction was to do as little harm as possible to the existing environment, which includes waterways that salmon depend upon. Herrin and his team created a garden roof that covers the full extent of the home to meet this objective. "This helps control storm water runoff and also replaces lost insect habitat—insects being a critical food source for juvenile salmon," he says.

One of the main goals of the construction was to do as little harm as possible to the existing environment, which includes waterways that salmon depend upon. Herrin and his team created a garden roof that covers the full extent of the home to meet this objective. "This helps control storm water runoff and also replaces lost insect habitat—insects being a critical food source for juvenile salmon," he says.

Our Daydream of Living on an Untouched Island Comes True in Washington - Photo 7 of 8 - "The liberal use of wood roots the structure in the landscape and provides the owners with an experience strongly connected with location," Herrin says. The exterior’s Western red cedar shingle siding has a semi-transparent stain, half Fieldstone and half Burnt Hickory from Cabot.

"The liberal use of wood roots the structure in the landscape and provides the owners with an experience strongly connected with location," Herrin says. The exterior’s Western red cedar shingle siding has a semi-transparent stain, half Fieldstone and half Burnt Hickory from Cabot.

Our Daydream of Living on an Untouched Island Comes True in Washington - Photo 8 of 8 - Three 28.1 Single Mini pendant lights by Bocci hang above a dining table that was custom-built by the owner and her father. Bikappa dining chairs by Kristalia mirror the clean lines of the vintage chair in the living room.

Three 28.1 Single Mini pendant lights by Bocci hang above a dining table that was custom-built by the owner and her father. Bikappa dining chairs by Kristalia mirror the clean lines of the vintage chair in the living room.