Waterfront San Juan Home Brings the Outdoors Inside
A San Juan Islands vacation home practices an open-door policy with the outside
By Sheila Cain
August 3, 2016
When the doors open wide at this waterfront residence on one of the San Juan Islands, it’s hard to tell where the indoors ends and the outdoors begins. Sliding glass panels at both the north- and south-facing sides of the1,600-square-foot house retract to open up the entire living area to the sights and sounds of Rosario Strait’s rocky shore.
PHOTO: Sean Airhart. Sliding glass doors reveal stunning views of Rosario Strait from a San Juan Islands vacation home. Inside, the living room features a custom built bookcase wall.
“We watch an otter family, bald eagles—it reminds you of our world and all the life around you,” says the homeowner, who, with her husband and two small children, is savoring her second summer at their recently built vacation home. “It’s easy to lose sight of that in the city.”
PHOTO: Sean Airhart. The interior kitchen and dining areas seamlessly blend leading onto the outdoor deck featuring a table for summer dinners outside. On the garden roof are native plantings that replicate the surrounding landscape.
PHOTO: Sean Airhart. A variety of natural woods including Douglas fir, end-grain fir and cedar were used throughout the project including on the deck stairs
Clear sight lines are not a problem here. The kitchen blends in with the dining and living areas in an open floor plan that optimizes the view of the water. Interior/ exterior borders are blurred by the use of uninterrupted finishes, such as the cedar ceiling that extends through to the soffits over the front and back decks. Private quarters—the master bedroom and bath, guest bedroom and bath, and bunk room for the kids—are modestly tucked in at the west end of the home. “Big bedrooms and luxurious bathrooms are not where people’s hearts are when they’re up here,” says Joseph Herrin, principal of Heliotrope Architects, the Ballard-based architecture firm that designed the home. “We’d rather rob some funds from those spaces and spend them on better materials in the areas where you spend the most time.”
PHOTO: Sean Airhart. Douglas fir trees soar above the San Juan Islands property. The south facing waterfront parcel slopes so the house is tucked into the landscape at a natural low-point, allowing a seamless connection to the surrounding environment.
PHOTO: Sean Airhart. Cedar ceilings and sliding barn doors increase the earthy ambiance of the home.
Splurges for the project included cedar ceilings throughout, which were important to the home owners for the natural, earthy ambiance they offer, and white washed,1-inch-thick end-grain fir floors in the living area, a departure from conventional hardwood flooring. Outdoors, the garden roof features native plantings that replicate the surrounding landscape. “There’s as much on the roof as there was [on the property] before construction,” says Herrin. “The goal was to minimize impact to the site by putting it all back.”
For interior inspiration, the owners turned to Andy Beers, owner of Ballard’s Ore Studios interior design firm. “The site, and the way the house opens to it, is incredible—there was really no point in trying to one-up it with decoration,” says Beers. “At the same time, the house needed to be made really comfortable and cozy through furnishings. We worked hard to find pieces that were visually quiet and felt warm without overfilling the space. Everything breathes.”
PHOTO: Sean Airhart. Seating in the living room includes a vintage Dux chair.
PHOTO: Sean Airhart. An outdoor fire pit provides the perfect spot to watch the sunset.
The several-acre property is typical San Juan island waterfront, with rocky outcroppings, a steep staircase to a tiny pocket beach, dozens of Douglas firs and a single madrona tree. Its location on the east side of the island features southern exposure, providing plenty of sun in the summer, but opening the property up to inclement conditions during the San Juans’ often wet and windy winters. “[During storms] it’s like the fire department parked a truck in front of the house and fired up the hose,” says Herrin. The project’s rolling cedar “barn” doors button up the home and a portion of the decks on both the north and south sides, fending off the prevailing southerlies and keeping water from leaking in along the retractable glass doors.
PHOTO: Sean Airhart. Natural light and views of the strait are visible from almost every part of the living areas of the home.
But with winter weather still in the distance and late summer in full swing, the homeowners are preparing for plenty of extended weekend visits—with the doors wide open. “The home expands so greatly,” says the homeowner. “It really is the most relaxing spot in the world.”