When is a back yard not a back yard? Well, if it’s at the edge of the glistening waters of Puget Sound, with Mount Rainier rising majestically in the distance, that little patch of land behind a residence is more out-and-out paradise than anything else. No wonder designers David Hopkins and Dawn Gogel sited the front of a house edging Fox Island’s Hale Passage at the back of the lot. “The front of the house is in the back yard, but the front entry is at the back of the house facing the street. It’s all very confusing,” says Hopkins, laughing. But there is plenty that’s easy to grasp about the striking house.
Such as? Hopkins, the design-build team’s residential designer, deftly positioned the structure to maximize every topographical asset on the land. And he designed its program to play to the family’s wants and needs now—and in the future since the couple were making a permanent lifestyle change. “We were moving to the island for good after having a weekend cabin here for a couple years,” explains the husband.
They needed a house to accommodate their three boys, with one still living at home and the other two visiting frequently, and to function well with beach life. It also had to be clean-lined, open and airy, like the beloved 1960s ranch they were leaving behind. And most significantly, the couple wanted to enjoy the spectacular views and use every square foot of space. “We didn’t want formal rooms or precious furnishings we’d never use,” says the husband.
Hiring the right team was a major consideration, and the husband and wife were each referred to Hopkins and Gogel independently. “We liked the fact that they could do it all, from home design to interiors, and really understood what we were after,” says the wife. Besides streamlined design that pays homage to modernism, they were looking for “lots of light and inviting outdoor living spaces,” she adds.
Hopkins brought their vision to fruition but also updated the aesthetic and gave the house an imaginative 21st-century demeanor with a series of smaller boxes that intersect a large, soaring rectangular one. “I started with the large box, then threw all the rooms up in the air to see where they’d land,” notes Hopkins. “Figuratively of course.” He then followed with a little smoothing to perfect layout and flow. All of the public spaces and two bedrooms landed on the main level, and a master suite settled on the second level.
To build the structure’s expansive spaces, “we used steel I-beams but left them exposed. Then, we topped them with a sloped shed-style roof. But it’s rigorous and refined, not rustic,” he points out. To maximize views, most of that frame was edged with commercial-grade glass window walls. Finally, “we added concrete for durability and wood and stucco to warm things up,” he adds.
Together, Hopkins and Gogel filled in the interior, designing and fabricating many of the furnishings and dreaming up creative finishes for walls and floors. “David establishes the vision and design program and oversees the building process,” explains Gogel. “I follow his lead with materials, finishes, furnishings and art.”
Custom pieces were brought to life, such as a weightless walnut-and-acrylic coffee table and a steel-framed wood-plank dining table, both fabricated in their own shop using materials they painstakingly hunted down regionally. They were equally assiduous about finding unique custom papers for wallcoverings and a burnished bronze finish to stain the concrete floors; the tones were chosen for depth and warmth.
The finishing touch was a protected fire pit Hopkins designed in the back yard, in “front” of the house. But the couple is most tickled by another flip-side to the residence: “One of the first-floor bedrooms is also a master suite,” says the husband. So whether the couple uses that extra bedroom as guest quarters for future grandchildren or as their own room once they no longer wish to take the stairs, their long-term planning is clear—they have indeed settled there for good.