IT’S ALL HOW you look at it. Or don’t.
In the case of Jim and Birte’s house on rural and wild Lopez Island, it was both.
The couple was concerned not only about the placement of their home for themselves, but also about building a place that was discreet and respectful to the island and all who live there. It was so important to them that the couple spent a few years living in a rental down the road, walking the previously untouched property, getting to know every inch of it. Acreage that sits on a point, water on three sides, trees ancient and grand, nurse logs hosting new life, eagles sweeping the sky.
“Our goal was to be part of the woods here and not be jumping out,” says Jim.
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“That we could sit here in private and observe everything around us,” adds Birte.
This is just what she’s doing as she says it. Seated in a living room wrapped in glass and the forest wrapping the house. Through the trees and across the way there is a quietly grand view of Fisherman’s Bay.
“The orienting of the property was crucial,” Birte says. “From the git go, Bob understood that. He had a great sense for it.”
Bob is architect Bob Hull of the Miller/Hull Partnership. His careful clients never imagined that they would own a destination home. They have long enjoyed the Northwest wilds, supporting preservation organizations, belonging to the Nature Conservancy and others. But Jim found the property on a bike ride, describing it as the preservationist’s equivalent to “stumbling upon an abandoned Thoroughbred.”
“We followed the protocol of (nonprofit) the San Juan Preservation Trust to enhance native plants and animals; screening to preserve views, lighting muted and downward-directed.” During construction, a nearby nurse log was fenced off for protection.
Hull, meanwhile, designed a low-profile, 1,360-square-foot contemporary cabin that gently cantilevers off the land. The roof slopes from 8 to 13 feet, opening to the forest: “We don’t consider the water view the superior view,” Birte says.
Colors were chosen to mimic those outside the glass walls. The exterior is steel panels in sage green and knotty cedar. (Knotty because that’s how it’s found naturally.)
The main living space — kitchen, dining and living room — is called the pavilion. “Some people can’t make themselves cozy around this much glass, but we cozy up against nature,” says Jim. “The foliage is part of our walls.”
Behind the main space is the home’s core: office, powder and laundry room. And in the back, bedroom, bath and closet.
A prominent canopy at the entrance is tethered there to a large rock. It offers a dry place to sit in every kind of weather. “We think this is Bob’s master stroke,” says Birte.
Nearby is a detached guesthouse, compact quarters for two grown children with families. Much of the furniture in both structures is Ikea. Out back are three 3,000-gallon cisterns collecting irrigation water.
Jim and Birte are their own park rangers now, walking the land, identifying plants, planting native flowers.
Birte used to describe coming up the road “like walking into a cathedral.” Now? “It’s no more than we need, and everything that we wanted.”
Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.