Mike and Liz Hilton’s stunning ‘legacy’ property honors the family’s island roots and establishes a new base for their daughters, and beyond.

Share story

AS IF IT’S in their DNA, kids naturally flock to “the cool house” — a tremendously rewarding affirmation for those loving parents who (perhaps deliberately) triggered the migration with a bulging fridge and every video game ever coded.

Can’t really blame them — parents love having their kids home. Even once they grow up. Even, maybe especially, once they move out.

Mike and Liz Hilton have set a spectacular new “cool house” standard that just might fill their nest forever. They have created a true legacy home — a perfectly stunning, $10 million-plus Whidbey Island beach getaway — for themselves; for family and friends, current and future; and for their two daughters, always.

“They wanted to make sure the Northwest always felt like home,” says architect Steve Hoedemaker, of Bosworth Hoedemaker. “The place they’d always come back to.”

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

They’re off to a good start. Whidbey actually is in the Hiltons’ DNA.

Exposed scissor trusses rise in the great room. The dining table (behind the sofa) was custom-made in France from reclaimed wood, interior designer Rocky Rochon says; the space called for a “really narrow table.” (Benjamin Benschneider / The Seattle Times)
Exposed scissor trusses rise in the great room. The dining table (behind the sofa) was custom-made in France from reclaimed wood, interior designer Rocky Rochon says; the space called for a “really narrow table.” (Benjamin Benschneider / The Seattle Times)

Mike’s grandfather and great-grandmother have history on the island. And over the years, the Hiltons, with daughters Megan, 18, and Emily, 21, created their own, renting the property next door “many, many times” long before their current homesite became available. “We fell in love with Mutiny Bay. We have pictures of them very young, playing on that beach,” Mike says. “Whidbey is a great combination of beautiful and accessible, but you get the feeling of being away, especially on the west side.”

If you’re going to get away (the Hiltons also have a home in Leschi), this is The Getaway to get to.

Big-picture, the property makes a breathtakingly beautiful big picture: Its three new-but-rustic-looking buildings — a sweeping 6,500-square-foot waterfront main home with three breezeway-connected pavilions, a perfectly appointed guesthouse and a huge multipurpose barn with a top-level game room — surround an expansive common area called The Meadow.

The girls’ wing oozes romantic bibliotheque with pops of modern cool. “They had lived in Paris, and both love libraries and reading,” Rochon says. The one-of-a-kind pillows feature mug shots of Jane Fonda and David Bowie; the table is a converted old tile cabinet with books under the glass. (Benjamin Benschneider / The Seattle Times)
The girls’ wing oozes romantic bibliotheque with pops of modern cool. “They had lived in Paris, and both love libraries and reading,” Rochon says. The one-of-a-kind pillows feature mug shots of Jane Fonda and David Bowie; the table is a converted old tile cabinet with books under the glass. (Benjamin Benschneider / The Seattle Times)

Saltwater blues, meet grassy greens. His, meet hers.

“Liz loves land and animals and really wanted a farm,” says Hoedemaker. “He wanted a place to walk out onto the beach.” (Mike, who co-founded and sold the software behemoth Concur, has an office facing the water; Liz’s faces The Meadow.)

The stone mass wall at right separates the public and private spaces in Manlowe’s home; clearly, nothing separates the home from that view, and 1,000 square feet of outdoor living space. “You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to know to use as much glass as possible,” Manlowe says. “We wanted people to not know the inside from outside.”  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
The stone mass wall at right separates the public and private spaces in Manlowe’s home; clearly, nothing separates the home from that view, and 1,000 square feet of outdoor living space. “You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to know to use as much glass as possible,” Manlowe says. “We wanted people to not know the inside from outside.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Pacific Northwest Magazine: 2016 Fall Home Design Edition

Anchoring that meadow, and underscoring the family-forward concept, is what Liz calls a “legacy tree,” a pin oak ceremonially planted as “a symbol to the younger kids now coming to the house,” says Mike. “They’ll be 50 or 60 and will have seen the progression of the tree turning gigantic.”

Smaller-picture, already-gigantic delights reside in the smallest of details: The exterior trim and shake were hand-dipped, using a four-step process, to create the variations of gray in the textile-like matte. Reclaimed materials and state-of-the-art techniques make all the newness — and everything is new — look like family heirlooms. There are 12½ miles of naturally textured wood paneling.

The theme is: There is no consistent theme, except, possibly, perfect imperfection. “Everything about the house is eclectic, a fusion of different times and styles, so it looks like it was built over generations,” says interior designer Rocky Rochon. “Unless it’s eclectic, you don’t have that soul.”

“Soul” can be oh-so-elusive in such a grand home, but, says Hoedemaker, “If the proportions are right, it feels intimate no matter how many people are in it.”

Mike loves to cook, especially for other people, so the kitchen is a crucial part of the house. Liz influenced the Hiltons’ kitchen in Seattle, says Mike, but, “Here, she said: ‘You drive it. Make the kitchen of your dreams.’ It was a dream down to every detail: the flow, appliances, materials; every last detail is an absolute joy.” Rochon sourced the center island from a French patisserie and added zinc to the shelves, modernized the sliding drawers and put new Carrara marble on top. (Benjamin Benschneider / The Seattle Times)
Mike loves to cook, especially for other people, so the kitchen is a crucial part of the house. Liz influenced the Hiltons’ kitchen in Seattle, says Mike, but, “Here, she said: ‘You drive it. Make the kitchen of your dreams.’ It was a dream down to every detail: the flow, appliances, materials; every last detail is an absolute joy.” Rochon sourced the center island from a French patisserie and added zinc to the shelves, modernized the sliding drawers and put new Carrara marble on top. (Benjamin Benschneider / The Seattle Times)

“It’s an important concept for a property of this size — a potential real trap,” Mike says. “We’ve had 25-30 people stay here, almost a hotel. You have to design for that, and increasingly much smaller groups as the kids go to college. Steve and Rocky were thoughtful in design and flow; it’s livable and comfortable for two.”

The snugly sunroom off Mike’s dream kitchen, for example, fits perfectly for couples coffee, storm-watching and “the one place for TV,” he says. (“He wanted TVs everywhere; she wanted them nowhere,” Hoedemaker says; a compromise TV in the great room drops down from a hidden soffit spot.)

“Getting two people who are married 23 years and have never undertaken a project like this together, other than a remodel in Seattle — this is what causes divorces,” Mike says. “Rocky was masterful at finding common ground. Do we have a shared vision? Outside of the kids, this is one of the best things we’ve ever produced together.”

Every one of the doors on the lower level of the cedar board-and-batten barn holds a different surprise, says Hoedemaker (“You never know what you’ll get!” ): a bathroom, a tiny garage for storage, a bigger one for cars (with a Tesla plug-in) and boats, a mechanical room and more. (Benjamin Benschneider / The Seattle Times)
Every one of the doors on the lower level of the cedar board-and-batten barn holds a different surprise, says Hoedemaker (“You never know what you’ll get!” ): a bathroom, a tiny garage for storage, a bigger one for cars (with a Tesla plug-in) and boats, a mechanical room and more. (Benjamin Benschneider / The Seattle Times)

The kids, of course, propel that overarching shared vision: Keep them coming home.

The Hiltons decided to leave the upstairs room of the barn open, Hoedemaker says, for wide-ranging recreation or “farm-to-table dinners and parties.” In addition to the 11 inflatable beds stored in the closet for guests, there’s also Ping-Pong, pool, TV, “a really old-school analog turntable” and smartphone-operating capabilities. (Benjamin Benschneider / The Seattle Times)
The Hiltons decided to leave the upstairs room of the barn open, Hoedemaker says, for wide-ranging recreation or “farm-to-table dinners and parties.” In addition to the 11 inflatable beds stored in the closet for guests, there’s also Ping-Pong, pool, TV, “a really old-school analog turntable” and smartphone-operating capabilities. (Benjamin Benschneider / The Seattle Times)

“Liz and I are both very family-oriented,” Mike says. “The word ‘legacy’ has come up a lot. … Not only can we enjoy it, but dear family and friends can use it as a gathering spot, and long after Liz and I are gone, this is a place our children, and theirs, can enjoy and create memories.”