PROJECT STATEMENT: The property’s obvious attribute is its view, yet sensitive design has allowed the land to reveal more.
Intentionally blocking the view with a dense Pacific Northwest ‘forest,’ a visitor must descend through this realm to the house. The walk offers a meandering engagement in all things minute and intimate.
At the house, an open front door reveals the view beyond, celebrated by sunlit terraces. Two environments are created side by side, each enhancing the other.
PROJECT NARRATIVE: The mid-sized residence is sited close to a cliff, overlooking a small horseshoe-shaped bay. A staircase provides access down to a small crescent-shaped beach. Facing Southwest, the maritime view includes dramatic views of the sun setting behind the distant Olympic mountain range.
Scope: The new residence must utilize the footprint of the former house. Site small secondary buildings (guest house and garage). Improve vehicular access and parking. Enhance privacy from the public road. Create spaces to enjoy the outdoors.
Size: See site plan.
Site: The residence, guest house and garage are situated at the margin between woodland and more open maritime cliff-top. The house sits forward to maximize the view. The guest house and the garage are held back slightly deeper into the woods.
Climate: Cool, dry summers and mild wet winters. Annual rainfall is 20” - 30.”
Geology/Soils: Glacial deposits. Clay and rock fragments from small pebbles to huge boulders are common in the coarse textured San Juan soils.
Flora: Plants native to woods, wood margins and coastal rocky outcrops include: Douglas Fir, Cedar, Madrone, Scoulers Willow, Vine Maple, Salah, Mahonia, Ocean Spray, Rubus, Ribes, Amelanchier, Shepherdia, Fringecup, Foamflower, Vancouveria, Foxglove, Lady Fern, Deer Fern, Maianthemum, Armeria, Saxafrage, and Sedums.
Social Context: Two elderly women had been the previous long-term owners of the property. Living simply, they had provisions brought in by boat and hoisted up the cliff by winch. Responding to grazing deer, they gardened in a protected enclosure of rock and wire fencing, growing flowers and vegetables for the house.
Sounds: The sound of the waves is always present, as is the wind in the trees. Ravens frequently fly overhead. The “kronk, kronk” of their call resonates across the bay.
Design Program and Intent: The site has two main experiential qualities, the expansive open view and the intimacy of the woods. A celebration of the view is a strong, clear design intent and is easy to achieve. However, the design seeks to do more; to give the more subtle charms of the wood experience an equal footing. Given the quality of the view, this presents a design challenge.
The program is also to include preserving and enhancing natural vegetation and to provide ‘buffers’ for privacy. The ‘woods’ have been designed to satisfy those requirements. A pathway leading to the house (and view) passes through these woods. The visitor on this walk is given an opportunity to develop an intimate appreciation of them.
By design, both qualities of the site have been celebrated.
Materials: Rock walls and flatwork are made from local “alger green” rock, as are the gravel paths. Custom, acid-etched pavers were selected to contrast with native stone. With the exception of the two small enclosed gardens, local and west coast natives were favored.
Environmental Impact: Limited septic drain field capacity determines the size of development. Well water could be susceptible to salt water intrusion if water demands are too high. Modest annual rainfall dictates landscape plant choices. Thirstier landscapes are limited to small enclosed gardens. The extensive use of “natural” screening visually reduces the visual impact of the three built structures, both from the public road and when viewed from the water.
Collaboration: Site planning for the three structures involved working closely with the architect. The location of many doors, windows, and floor elevations were shared decisions. For example: the master bedroom floor elevation was lowered to connect more gracefully with the exterior spa terrace. The spa grade was lowered to differentiate it with the main terrace. A “light tower” was a collaborative design element, acting as a beacon at night when walking down through the trees to the front door. During the day, ascending the tower takes one above the “forest canopy” and provides a view of the maritime experience.
Working with the clients, it was decided to limit thirsty grass to a rough meadow in front of the guest house. To satisfy the clients’ wish for some gardening opportunity, ornamental plantings were mostly limited to two small deer-proof enclosures, the Sun and Shade gardens. The Sun garden has become a popular place for weddings.