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Living in Beauty Without Excess: A Small Coastal Home With Views to Spare

On the remote southwest side of San Juan Island, away from the crush of summer tourists, this 715-square-foot, 1-bedroom home melds with the landscape to offer private coastal views.

Completed in 2012 by noted Seattle firm Prentiss Balance Wickline, this home displays the architects’ devotion to “living in beauty without excess,” which won this home the Honor Award at the 2013 NWAIA Design Awards.

The home’s design suits the client’s desire to enjoy the 5.3-acre site’s rugged solitude to the fullest. From this point overlooking the island’s rocky coastline, you can see multiple straits, where whale-watching boats cruise, and beyond – the Olympic Mountains of Washington state.

Careful placement of the home on the lot means the rolling hills and stone outcroppings act as a natural privacy barrier from neighboring residences, as well as insulation from winter weather.

A living roof planted with native grasses creates the illusion that it is rising out of the landscape. The cedar siding is allowed to age naturally, like the driftwood on the shoreline below.

This home is a year-round dwelling rather than a seasonal vacation spot, so efficiency is key to maintaining comfort in all weather. Thanks to 8-inch walls with formaldehyde-free insulation, a thickened roof, and triple glazing on all north-facing windows, the house retains heat even on the coldest days.

The architects note that “solar gain in the winter is significant enough that the client almost never uses the radiant heaters or wood stove.” An on-demand water heater allows for hot baths and showers without the energy output of a large standing tank.

Inside the home, walls of windows give a feeling of spaciousness and continuity with the outside scenery. The focus is on clean lines and economy of space, so all of the comforts of a larger home are present without imposing on the smaller footprint.

Storage is built into the walls where possible, and there is a minimal basement for additional storage and laundry.

A wall of windows in the living room presents stunning views of the surrounding straits from the armchair or dining table. A wood stove in the corner is perfect for evening fireside reading on the couch. Floating bookshelves line the side wall for organization and a subtle play of color.

The kitchen features a long stretch of counter space above a bank of low cabinets. Cooking is easy with a full-size sink, a four-burner gas range, a wall oven and a refrigerator.

The cozy bedroom windows allow sunrise wake-up calls, but they also have blinds for sleeping late in the plush queen-size bed. Floor-to-ceiling closets behind grain-matched wood doors fit an entire wardrobe.

The spacious bathroom has both a shower stall and a deep tub with windows overlooking the landscape.

The most remarkable aspect of this home’s design is the way it spotlights the surrounding landscape in the lead role. Built with natural beauty and year-round comfort in mind, this house is the place to connect with the land in every season.

Photos by Adam Waldo.

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