Nature plays a role in most home-building projects, but it truly set the pace for this compound of modernist dwellings. The remote Henry Island, Washington, site is set on a shallow bay reachable only by barge or private boat, and that’s when the tide allows, making deliveries—especially construction materials—a complicated logistics game. “You really leave the city behind here,” architect Ray Calabro says, which is precisely why the homeowners, a young Seattle family, knew it would make a close yet faraway retreat for lengthy camp-like vacations.
The original abode was designed by the Bohlin Cywinski Jackson team and completed in 2012, but it had been unoccupied for several years, making renovation necessary. “After the new owners purchased it, they reached out to us,” says Calabro, who welcomed the callback. “It’s always a wonderful opportunity to revisit something you’ve done years ago.” At first, the brief dealt with the main structure: refreshing the home inside and out, including updating the kitchen, creating a mudroom and green roof (both of which were part of the original design but never completed), and adding bunk beds for the children. “But as we talked, we discovered that the clients would be coming to the island with extended family, so we started to conceive a guest house, as well as a workshop and games pavilion,” the architect adds. To create a cohesive feel, the new components were designed to relate to the original residence, “like cousins,” he explains. “These buildings connect people to this place in a visceral way, and the experience of arriving at the island and the approach sequence shaped the location of each new structure.”
In the decade since the first dwelling was built, there have been advances in technology and building materials. Although the team took advantage of these, the spirit of the original abode was preserved. “When we designed the initial home, the firm was very interested in Case Study Houses—works by Koenig, Eames and Neutra. We were inspired by steel framing and wood joists as both the roof and the exposed ceiling, for example.” For general contractor Chris Huggins, that was both the beauty and the challenge of the project. “The structure itself is the finish, requiring rigorous dimension and design control,” he says. “Cabinetry, windows and door alignment all had to be understood and coordinated when doing the foundation work.” Add to that the numerous complexities of the location. “You can’t just run out and get more nails,” Huggins quips. And if 2:30 a.m. was the only time a cement truck could be barged over to the island, that’s when work happened. Indeed, the pickleball court was poured in the middle of the night.
“All of the buildings are elegantly choreographed to the location,” Huggins continues. “Ray respected geological conditions and areas of historic significance rather than manipulating the site.” The new guest house, for instance, now occupies a gentle slope, with one bedroom “tucked into the fir and cedar trees with a terrace” and the other featuring “a deck that floats above the earth, giving occupants different views,” Calabro explains. “Inspired by the main residence’s covered breezeway, we conceived the guest house living area as a porch with sliding glass doors and screens that open the space to the outdoors.” The new workshop pavilion is its own Zen-like retreat, and the semi-enclosed “game shack” is designed for table tennis, entertaining and hot tubbing. Calabro furnished the pavilions (old and new) with built-ins and custom pieces, including large indoor and outdoor dining tables. “With kids and large dogs, we didn’t want anything too delicate, and Ray really listened to us,” the wife notes, expressing gratitude in particular for performance rugs.
“It’s pretty idyllic,” she continues. “There’s tons of space for the kids to run around or take a kayak or rowboat out in the bay.” But it’s not just the children who are having a good time. “Foxes sometimes steal our dogs’ toys—they’ve been spotted playing with them on the beach!” the wife adds. Be they human or Canidae, “this home is all about bringing families together and being immersed in nature,” Calabro says. “The scents, the sounds—the piercing cries of the bald eagles as they swoop down over the water—everything is different here.”