Seattle Culture

AIA Home of Distinction: A Light-Filled Case Inlet Cabin

This modern Northwest cabin on Herron Island establishes a connection to its natural surrounds with expansive windows, wraparound glass doors, plus a hidden sunken tub that gives the illusion of soaking among the trees

By Lauren Mang February 22, 2017


This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Seattle magazine.

The living room opens out onto a covered patio with gas fireplace and is owner Karen Starns’ favorite feature. “It’s a really wonderful gathering place to use year-round.”

Kirkland couple Karen Starns and Paul Stoddart were itching to get their hands on a renovation project after stumbling on a property in need of restoration in Starns’ hometown of Danville, Illinois. Until, of course, reality set in. “It would be rather silly of us to buy a house halfway across the country,” Starns says. 

Instead, the pair started searching for a much closer getaway for their family of four, including kids Kate, 14, and Jack, 11, which led them to an old, slightly rundown shack on the tranquil half-acre enclave of Herron Island, near the Olympic Peninsula.  

The home prominently features wood, utilizing white oak floors and cedar ceilings and exteriors. Interior designer Mandy Callaway (architect Taylor Callaway’s wife), chose all of the home’s finishes, including the countertop for the bar along the kitchen window—made out of reclaimed wood from an old crab boat

“We bought the house and spent about a year in it [on weekends and whenever they could get there] imagining what it might be,” she says, “until ‘what it might be’ turned into ‘We need to tear it all down and start over.’” Among its deficits: 7.5-foot-high ceilings, a dark interior and a tiny kitchen that prevented the couple from fully enjoying their love of cooking together. 

They approached First Lamp Architecture, a Georgetown firm, to design and build the new 1,900-square-foot abode. The project began with an exhaustive site analysis, evaluating the waterfront lot’s steepness, views and the sun’s path. The firm was also conscious of the couple’s desire for a homey retreat with a modern Northwest aesthetic that would allow them to feel immersed in the island’s tranquil wooded environment. 

Natural light floods through floor-to-ceiling windows of the master bedroom, with extra height from the shed roof

Because the house is downhill from the road, how to access it was an important consideration. “It made sense to enter on the second level, which triggered the bridge concept,” Taylor Callaway, owner and principal architect at First Lamp, says of the 20-foot-long steel bridge—accessed via a set of timber stairs winding down the hillside—that leads to the two-story home’s main entrance. 

Here, you’ll find the family room and bedrooms, while the kitchen, dining room and living room are on the lower level, a reverse living concept that works because the lot’s incredible slope ensured wide-open views from all floors, Callaway explains. “We love the flow and how the cabin reveals itself in a somewhat unexpected way,” Starns says. 

Indeed, the spectacular forest and water views are the star attraction in this home, thanks to oversize, floor-to-ceiling windows and wraparound glass doors that open onto a large, partially covered deck with an outdoor fireplace. “When you’re designing in the Pacific Northwest, natural light becomes as important a material to work with as anything else,” Callaway says, noting the use of open, unobstructed glass throughout and the way light filters in from windows on the side without those views. A soaring wall of windows, made possible with the structure’s single slope roof, helps to let in as much brightness as possible. 

In the master bath shower, a deep soaking tub is revealed once the custom ipe wood floor grates are removed, enabling the owners to feel immersed in nature while enjoying a relaxing soak

In the master bathroom, the shower is encased on three sides with windows, with a special treat for the homeowners hidden beneath custom ipe wood grates: a sunken bathtub that’s flush with the floor. When the grates (created with wood left over from the decking) are in place, the user has the whole area to stand on while showering, a solution First Lamp devised for this compact space that couldn’t otherwise fit a large shower and tub. “It’s a deep tub, and when you’re in it, you’re immersed in nature, surrounded by the trees,” Stoddart says. “I’ve never been to a spa anywhere in the world that outshines our bathroom.” 

The First Lamp team took the site’s steepness and wind directions into account, making the most of the views and sun exposure for the cabin’s Northwest modern design

Despite once toying with the idea of a vacation home some 2,000 miles away, the homeowners have discovered that Herron Island is just far enough away to feel removed from the family’s busy day-to-day life. “It’s quiet and calm, and I just crave being there all the time,” Starns says. 

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