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The Architect Is In: A Low-Impact Summer House on Orcas Island, Multiple Views Included

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The Architect Is In: A Low-Impact Summer House on Orcas Island, Multiple Views Included

June 29, 2013

This week, Joe Herrin from Seattle-based Heliotrope Architects talks about creating a low-impact and low-maintenance summer home on the San Juan Islands of Washington state. He is available for the next 48 hours to answer any and all questions. 

With their deep connection to a magnificent site offering water and meadow views, the clients of this new build house were interested in immersing themselves into their idyllic property (with little or no desire at all to separate themselves from it). With this in mind, Heliotrope Architects, members of the Remodelista Architect and Designer Directory, made a series of process-led design decisions that began with creating a flat garden roof in order to filter rainwater for irrigation purposes. Some walls later (just enough required for lateral stability), the architects ended up with a glass box that has as few walls and as many views possible. 

Photography by Sean Airhart and Ben Benschnieder.

North Beach Heliotrope 01

Above: The house is in both a coastal flood plain and a zone of archeological significance, requiring it to be lifted off the ground.  The architects achieved this with a “mat-slab” foundation which sits five feet in from the edge of the building footprint. 

North Beach Heliotrope 18

Above: “The owners were adamant about not having walls; they have a deep connection to the property and did not feel any desire to separate themselves from it,” Herrin says. “The choice of materials reinforces the challenge of making the architecture disappear to as great an extent as possible.” 

North Beach Heliotrope 17

Above: The living room has double aspect views of the beach on one side of the house and the meadow on the other. “What we’ve observed is that there isn’t the need to open all of the sliding doors in order to feel like you are outside,” Herrin says. 

North Beach Heliotrope 02

Above: The galley kitchen pantry, like the rest of the house, offers views on both sides. Kitchen items are stored in open shelving made of plastic laminate over plywood (ApplePly), which is durable and easy to clean. The kitchen floor is made from white Carrara marble tiles. 

North Beach Heliotrope 03

Above: Finishes remain consistent from inside to outside as ceiling, wall, and floor planes continue uninterrupted.

North Beach Heliotrope 12

Above: The glass box behind the dresser in the master bedroom houses supports spaces like the bathroom and is clad in translucent laminated glass panels (some fixed, some sliding) that float off the walls and cabinets behind. “The glass helps to ‘dematerialize’ the support spaces,” Herrin says. “Obviously we couldn’t make these spaces disappear, but our intent was to push that idea as far as possible.”

North Beach Heliotrope 09

Above: A sliding glass pocket door on each side of the support box separates the master bedroom suite from the rest of the house. 

North Beach Heliotrope 11

Above: The continuity of the finishes in the kitchen into the bedroom enhances the concept of a house without walls. The floating glass behind softens the visual impact of the wall beyond.

North Beach Heliotrope 08

Above: Inside the box: “We didn’t want the support spaces within the glass box to feel like containers, so, while the bath space is defined, it is done minimally,” Herrin says.

North Beach Heliotrope 06

Above: The two guest suites share a shower space where the framless glass is sandblasted for privacy above which it is open to the sky. The shower fixtures are by Lacava and are plumbed through the floor.

North Beach Heliotrope 07

Above: The guest bathroom suite has been tiled with Carrara marble tiles and separates the two guest bedrooms.

North Beach Heliotrope 05

Above: At night, full-height sheer curtains control the varying degrees of separation.

North Beach Heliotrope 14

Above: “We used glass for its reflective qualities and to soften the apparent scale,” Herrin says. The table was designed by the owner and made from Spalted Alder that was pulled from a local pond. 

North Beach Heliotrope 04

Above: For exterior siding, the architects used a standing seam metal roofing material vertically.

North Beach Heliotrope 16

Above: An exterior dining area appears to extend out to the beach.

North Beach Heliotrope 19

Above: Solar collectors are just visible at the end of the garden roof.

North Beach Heliotrope 21

Above The roof garden blooms in spring. 

North Beach Heliotrope 22

Above: A site plan illustrates the integration of the house into the landscape.

The Architect Is In A LowImpact Summer House on Orcas Island Multiple Views Included portrait 2

Above: The “dematerialized” box in plan.

Carrara marble is a favorite with Remodelista editors. See My Dirty Secret or How I Learned to Live with a Marble Backsplash to see how Michelle’s fantasy became her nightmare. 

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