Pacific Northwest | October 12, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineOctober 12, 2003seattletimes.com home
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CONTENTS
COVER STORY
Hood Canal
West Seattle
Lopez Island
Central Seattle
Vashon Island
TASTE
NOW & THEN
PREVIOUS ISSUES OF PACIFIC NW


WRITTEN BY DEAN STAHL
PHOTOGRAPHED BY BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER
Fall Home Design

A blend, a match: A cabin snug enough to accommodate friends as well as eagles
 
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In the deep-blue glow of a warm evening, a wide window wall that faces the shore has been rolled open to catch the breeze. Low-voltage lights attached to inside rafters are reflected like starlight in transom windows.
BUILDING ANY house is a challenge, but when you want a family vacation house with a small footprint in a fragile landscape, special solutions are called for. As Sally and Tom Reeve might tell you, it helps if you're not in a hurry.

In 1992, the Reeves, who live in Bellevue, were looking for a vacation house on San Juan Island. Somewhat discouraged after a deal fell through, Sally stopped on Lopez Island, camcorder in hand, and shot images of two available parcels on the south end.

The properties were large, unconnected pieces; the seller was keeping a block of land between them. When Sally and Tom saw her tape, they were both so taken with the beauty of the coastline and woods that they bought both parcels, parked a 36-foot travel trailer on their new purchase and stayed in it summers and most weekends.
 
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Cutler Anderson Architects designed this Lopez Island house to sit unobtrusively in a hillside niche. A sod roof and stone retaining wall enhance the camouflage effect and link the three pavilions. Windows face the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
"We moved into the trailer with one toddler and one newborn, and moved out 10 years later with four kids and two dogs," Sally says.

They met their island neighbors at the laundromat or in line at public showers and got better acquainted with their land by walking it in all seasons. They used solar power and a generator, and spent many a rainy afternoon at the library to escape the confines of the trailer.

This is not to suggest they were pioneers. When the time was right to build, they chose the well-known Bainbridge Island firm of Cutler Anderson Architects. They were attracted to James Cutler's reputation for being able to wed structures to land with a minimum of site disturbance.
 
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The great room includes a conversation area, library and mezzanine office as well as kitchen and dining area. High-powered binoculars on a tripod are aimed to take in shoreline, bird life and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The angle of the sun is low enough in fall and winter for light to enter the room directly.
Sally recalls that as they were leading Cutler to their carefully chosen bluff-top house site, he stopped short of the goal, pointed, and without hesitation said, "The house goes right there," indicating a saddle-like declivity in a rock outcropping.

He soon convinced the Reeves that the sheltered spot would protect them from winter winds, be safer for children and — key to the couple's mandate to Cutler — blend better with its surroundings.

"Family compound" was a term that first came up in talks with Cutler and the firm's project architect, Janet Longenecker. So they, along with fellow architect Julie Cripe, developed plans for three pavilion-style buildings.
 
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The view from the stone terrace, just outside the great room, is to the southwest. The owners and their children, who divide their time between Bellevue and Lopez, stayed in a travel trailer on this property for a decade before they were ready to build.
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House and rock appear to merge in this view, and nearly do in actuality, satisfying the architect's desire to emphasize visual harmony and respect for place.
Now the Reeves and a large contingent of friends have an ideal place to share good times. Three distinct structures, or modules, are separated by breezeways and angled differently for view and privacy. Together they comprise a 450-square-foot master suite, a 1,200-square-foot communal room and a 900-square-foot guest quarters/bunkhouse.

The buildings are linked by a common roof, though it is anything but common. Long and sod-topped, it looks to be an ideal landing strip for migrating birds, and is tipped to mimic the shear of neighboring wind-swept trees. When seen from nearby rocks, the roof and house nearly disappear. It's not unusual for a mature bald eagle to land on a tree near the roof edge and calmly preen.

The sod's potential weight required structural components up to the task, and dictated the house's exterior framework. Waterproof membranes lie under the soil, and insulation beneath that, though the turf itself is an insulator. Water that would normally go down a drainpipe is siphoned to an underground holding tank, where it's reused to irrigate the roof in the dry season.

Under a snug roof, adults and children have their own spaces during long getaways. The younger kids and their friends always sleep in the bunkhouse loft, Tom says. Parents and older children choose from three bedrooms in the same module. For the more adventuresome, there is a studio with a futon down by the beach.
 
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A breezeway separates the master-bedroom module, left, from the main living area, with steel and wood cross-bracing for extra strength. Though the homeowners have a short walk between rooms, there are wide eaves overhead, and a breezeway door that can bolt shut during storms.
The bunkhouse, like the other buildings, offers views out over the rocky coastline, a hundred yards or so away and on the other side of a meadow, all part of the Reeves' holdings. The bedrooms have Arkansas-pine paneling on the walls, beech floors and Cutler's open-view approach to construction. His plans called for precise, finish-carpentry work for framing and structural materials that are designed to remain visible, which describes much of the great room.

Everybody eventually winds up in the great room, because it incorporates a kitchen, dining area and living room, a conversation corner, a reading nook and a library. High ceilings, extra-wide sliding-glass doors, light-toned floors and framing materials make this room feel more like a loft than a cabin.

Recently, the Reeves were able to purchase the middle section of property to complete their logistical puzzle. They now have 120 acres of coastline, woods, meadows and rocky outcroppings — a most rare privilege. A conservation easement restricts future home-building. Biologists review their inventory of plants and trees.

Cutler has done other work for the Reeves family, including a barn for llamas and sheep, a chicken coop and a couple of privies with composting toilets. As Tom says, "Jim draws a lot when he travels by air."

Sally, who serves on the board of San Juan Preservation Trust, a conservation body for the islands, describes herself as a "low-intensity birder." She and Tom recently saw puffins on a rocky outcrop off their beach.

Their house was winner of a 2002 American Institute of Architects Honor Award for Washington Architecture. "A collection of structures respond in a beautifully refined way to the site," the judges commented.

Meanwhile, the collection of people there this past summer responded in a relaxed and happy way; all look forward to more good times in years ahead.

Dean Stahl is a Seattle free-lance writer. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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