On Orcas Island, up in the northwest corner of Washington state, the rains can pound. Residents seek out the area for its natural beauty, but that serenity can turn chaotic quickly, and houses have to be able to withstand extreme weather conditions. Seattle-based Heliotrope Architects kept this duality top of mind while designing Lone Madrone, a weekend getaway right on the shoreline: The clients wanted to capitalize on big views but also needed a barrier strong enough to keep the torrents out.
What protects the cabin is a set of delicately carved wooden screens on the home’s two long sides. When the screens are pulled open on temperate days, oversized sliding glass doors turn the house into an open-air pavilion; but those wooden screens can also be closed when the cabin isn’t in use and during storms to protect the glazing. When it rains, “it’s like the fire department is out there with their firehose shooting it straight at the house,” says firm principal Joe Herrin. “And that’s literally what we did to water test the screens.”
At just 1,600 square feet, the cabin is compact, with most of its space given over to the open-plan living room, dining area, and kitchen. Lined with bleached western red cedar panels and Douglas fir floors, bookshelves, and cabinets, these spaces feature richer materials and more extensive detailing than the two bedrooms and small bunkroom, which were kept minimal—in both scale and finishes. When the large sliding glass doors are open, this common space expands out onto decks that line three sides of the cabin, one looking back onto a hillside, the others out onto Rosario Strait. The waterfront deck was pushed to a code-maximum height to forgo a view-obstructing railing.
The cabin itself is nestled into a ravine between two knolls, and its slanted roofline becomes an extension of the larger hill’s downward slope. A naturally seeded green roof makes the home’s volume disappear into the landscape, even from the vantage point of the fire ring and outdoor seating area on-site. “The intent was to root it in the landscape,” Herrin says.
But the site also presented challenges: Being at the bottom of a ravine in a rainy area, stormwater runoff has to be accounted for and directed into drains and around the house to avoid flooding. The exterior’s cedar shingles are another coping mechanism, as they are able to move, swell, and contract with the moisture. But these choices were made to defend against the elements, not bow to them: No sterile waterproof bunker, Lone Madrone strikes a careful balance and is as open or closed to nature as it needs to be.
Project: Lone Madrone, Orcas Island, Wash.
Architect: Heliotrope Architects, Seattle
General Contractor: David Shore Construction, Orcas Island
Living Space: 1,600 square feet;