The voice of the teacher cuts through the morning air like a drill sergeant's — "Arms up high! Reach! One, two, three . . ." — but the setting is a peaceful, private bit of shore along...















THE VOICE OF the teacher cuts through the morning air like a drill sergeant’s — “Arms up high! Reach! One, two, three . . .” — but the setting is a peaceful, private bit of shore along Lake Washington.

Julie Eitel and her sister-in-law are having their morning workout, in front of the “cabana.” It’s a two-story waterfront facility with a large central volume and a lofted sleeping area. Julie and her husband, Nick, completed it about three years ago. The cabana was designed around the family’s athletic lifestyle, which includes fitness workouts. It serves as a staging area for swimming, boating and waterskiing, and accommodates Ping-Pong tournaments and parties; it also doubles as a guesthouse. And once or twice weekly, it is the setting for vigorous workouts with a private exercise instructor.

In winter, the furniture, on ingenious wheels, rolls easily to one side to make an expansive interior where two people can stretch, jump, lunge and lift. In summer, the front door, consisting of four glass panels, slides to one side, dramatically opening 16 feet. They work out on the large front deck, facing the serene lake. If it is too hot, they take advantage of the deeply overhanging roof and set up in the shade.

“I never liked the gym,” says Julie. “I’d rather be outside.”

“OK, on the mats. Power squats,” says instructor Laura Martin, keeping the hour-long session moving along crisply (LauraMartintraining.com). The workout itself relies on just a handful of lightweight equipment: a few dumbbells, some resistance straps and a mat. In many ways it’s the antithesis of a gym, which is crowded with very specific gear.

As a home trainer, Martin is accustomed to bringing just a few necessary items and using them in creative, diverse ways. She also takes advantage of whatever the home provides.

In this case, the cabana is at sea level, 100 feet below the home, and the winding steps between provide an opportunity for aerobic activity or warm-up. The lush grass in front of the cabana, the only usable level land on the entire property, is a place to do some jogging. But mostly the workout consists of a focused series of exercises that incorporate weight training, yoga and Pilates mat, all of which can be done in a relatively small space with a minimum of fuss. However, a few larger items, including a treadmill, are hidden behind the cabana’s swing-out bookcase.

Building the cabana was no easy task. Permits took several years, even though a structure with a bathroom had been on the spot, because it is waterfront and because of the steep hill. They used an architect relative, Bari Arlo Thompson, from Lake Oswego, whom they admired for doing clever work with small spaces. The first item assembled, still a delight for kids of all ages, was the open tram. It brought construction materials down to the site.

The interior décor is a loose riff on tropical themes. Julie put it together with her mother, an interior designer. The upstairs floor and banister are bamboo; the coffee table is a converted surfboard. Between the décor and the way the house front opens up, the effect is like being in Hawaii, where the living is light and easy, and indoor and outdoor blend together.

In the lofted upstairs there is a Murphy bed, and a side room with couches that convert to beds for kids. Guests occasionally come for a week-long visit. Or sometimes the family (two kids, 8 and 10) moves down for a mini campout. During the summer especially the couple enjoy using their substantial cabana. They kayak, swim and entertain. They run across the lake by boat to Kirkland for dinner. They host “cabana fest,” a blowout for more than a hundred friends and relatives, and competitive Ping-Pong parties. Nick is also an avid water skier, so he just might be that person you see out at 6:30 in the morning on the calm, virtually empty lake.

And every week of the year, Julie is doing her advanced workout alongside the tall trees and glistening water. “A lot of people do not use their waterfront,” she says. “We do.”

David Berger is a freelance writer based in Seattle. He can be reached at dab20@aol.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.