Seattle Culture

This stunning Decatur Island cabin is the next best thing to owning a private island

AIA Seattle Home of Distinction: Queen Anne couple finds the perfect retreat from their urban lifestyle.

By Nia Martin May 2, 2017


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

When life gets too chaotic, demanding or just plain too much, it’s pleasant to daydream about escaping to a private island.

Though they don’t own a private island per se, what Louise and Jonathan Franklin do have is pretty darn close: a getaway cabin on gorgeous and secluded Decatur Island (in the San Juan Islands, just east of Lopez Island). With limited access (no ferry transportation, restaurants or stores) and a population of fewer than 100, it’s the perfect antidote to urban living.

The Queen Anne–based couple—she’s an attorney, he’s an associate dean at the University of Washington School of Law—make monthly escapes to the cabin and extended trips over holidays and summer vacations, often joined by their kids, Noah, 18, and Camilla, 22. They’ve been visiting Decatur for years, thanks to friends who had a place there. “We fell in love with the island, its natural beauty and quiet,” says Jonathan. “One day, we found ourselves talking about what we would do if we won the lottery. We agreed that we would love to have a cabin on Decatur. Soon after, it suddenly became a possibility, and we took the leap.”

After the Franklins decided to invest in a vacation home, Jonathan began researching options and came across a standout Methow Valley cabin. They approached the designers—Eggleston Farkas Architects—to help them realize their vision, which included creating a dwelling that used space efficiently, offered areas where the family could spend time together and took existing surroundings into consideration. One big challenge for the project was receiving design approval from Decatur Northwest, an organization of island residents that oversees the protection of the island’s wildlife and communally shared land from too much development. Requirements dictate minimizing the visual impact of buildings, and leaving the environment and character of the land as undisturbed as possible.

Photograph by Ed Sozinho
The communal spaces, where the Franklin family (pictured here: Louise, Jonathan and Noah Franklin with friend Kevin Reeves of the AIA) can enjoy spending time together, are a favorite feature  of their vacation cabin

As a result, very few fir trees and none of the madrona trees on the property were removed, and the footprint of the house was configured into the existing slope of the land. “We fit the footprint between rocky outcroppings and with minimal tree removal—far less than was allowable,” says Allan Farkas, lead architect on the project. “The floor level was recessed so that the structure appears much more compact when one approaches, or passes by, from the north. Similarly, the roof slopes and folds down to the eastern side, to minimize its profile from the community paths and provide privacy to and from the living spaces.”

Photograph by Ed Sozinho
The Franklins have a ringside seat from which to watch the island’s many creatures, including a herd of wild sheep. Roundups are held on the island to cull, shear and provide care for the sheep—descended from a herd set free on Decatur in the late 1800s

Exterior materials were chosen with an eye toward blending them in with the surroundings. “We had collected materials from, and had a photo collage of, the site that we worked with. Natural stone, grasses and mosses, madrona bark and leaf colors all influenced the palette,” says Farkas, who further achieved this natural fusion by staining the exposed structural lumber and installing the panel siding backward, with its coarse side facing out, to unite with the natural textures of the surroundings.

Inside the cabin, it’s the common spaces that create the biggest impression. “We [wanted] one open interior space where we could spend much of our time together,” says Louise. They often sit by the living room fireplace and watch nature through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows. The family’s Labradoodle, Tashi, especially enjoys this activity, which Louise jokingly refers to as watching “Decatur TV.” Creatures on view include deer, bald eagles, great blue herons and a flock of wild sheep that roams the island. 

One of the Franklins’ favorite features is the maple kitchen island, which extends into a dining table and connects the living and cooking spaces. “It ties the space together, permits the person in the kitchen to be part of anything happening in the dining area and really makes it feel communal,” says Jonathan. It fosters conversation during meal preparation and provides a space for a favorite pastime: playing board games.

Photograph by Ed Sozinho
The extended maple counter joins the kitchen and living space and has useful features, such as electrical outlets that can be popped up for use.

Other elements of the interior reflect the cabin’s efficiency. The kitchen area has a microwave that can be rolled in and out of a cabinet, and electrical outlets can be popped up or back into the island. In order to prioritize the communal spaces, the three downstairs bedrooms were kept small and minimal. There’s a loft space that provides extra sleeping room for guests and extends above an exterior shed (opposite the house from the cutout pathway). Outside, a table was built directly into the steel support column on the entrance terrace, giving the Franklins a space to dine alfresco.

Photograph by Ed Sozinho
The kitchen has a few streamlined surprises, such as a side drawer (shown above on the right  in its open position) that contains a microwave, which can be tucked in and out of the cabinetry

Much like the cabin’s design, the interior decoration is purposefully unpretentious and relaxed. The Franklins furnished their place largely with finds from Ikea, taking a “no fuss, no muss” approach. “One rule was that we didn’t want to care if a dog tore into something, if wine was spilled or if a chair broke for some reason. The fancier things get, the more stressful they can be,” says Jonathan. Ultimately, this cabin is about being closer to each other and to nature. According to Louise, “A cabin is a funny thing. It is always with you, even when you are not there.” We’re wishing we were there right now.

Photograph by Ed Sozinho
A cutout passageway leads to the terrace and front entrance, and separates the home (left) from an external storage shed (right)

This introspective cabin was selected by a panel of architects for the AIA Seattle Home of Distinction program as an example of a perfect getaway for members of a family to spend time together cooking, playing games and relaxing while feeling like they are sitting within the trees.

Editor’s note: Eggleston Farkas Architect Kevin Reeves is also the president of the AIA Home of Distinction committee. When homes are submitted by a firm that has a representative on the AIA committee, the representative is recused from participating in the selection and has no influence on the selection.

Eggleston Farkas Architects
Allan Farkas, co-owner and architect; John Eggleston, co-owner and architect; Jon Kwon, architect; 206.283.0250;

Quantum Consulting Engineers
Jack Wiggins, principal; Scott Tinker, associate; 206.957.3500;

Salvesen Construction
Paul Salvesen, contractor; 360.420.4123

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