When the property became available, it was so emotional,” says the owner of a newly built Whidbey Island, Washington, abode. “I thought, ‘This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get this place that we love.’ ” Situated on the west coast of the island, the land had once belonged to the homeowner’s family. He and his wife hadn’t exactly planned on buying a house in the Pacific Northwest, but “for many years, we’d had the romantic notion that we’d have a home in that part of the world—someday,” the husband explains. Determined to avoid regrets, they purchased the 2 ½-acre property, and a project was born.
At first, the couple thought they might remodel the existing structure, but as they explored their options with architect Eric Terry, it quickly became clear that it would make more sense to start from scratch. The couple wanted the new house to fit into the vernacular of Pacific Northwest architecture with traditional forms but also feel fresh and modern. They imagined something low maintenance and with just a single story to suit seasonal usage and their stage in life as they reached retirement age. To that end, Terry selected materials that could stand up to the site’s sometimes harsh conditions of rain, wind and salt air—a metal roof and windows, and concrete and composite siding.
However, when Terry came back to the clients with his plans, they hesitated. Something didn’t feel quite right, so they temporarily tabled the project. Back at their primary residence in Texas, the couple was downsizing, and “it tweaked our sensibilities about what we really needed,” the husband says. Along with Terry, they decided to embark in a new direction, creating a more intimate space that would be sympathetic to the site—not only did the floor plan shrink, but the siting was reconsidered. By flipping the orientation of the dwelling and pulling it back from the bluff, the primary suite is now tucked into the privacy of the trees and the views are greatly improved.
With the couple’s approval of this new concept, Terry redrew the plans for a two-bedroom home and separate guest cottage. The owners then brought in Linda Eyles, an interior designer they had worked with on a previous project, and general contractor Donald Heggenes, who had been recommended by local friends. With the design team in place, they refined the layout further. “The house is really settled into the site,” Terry explains. “We worked hard to find that magic floor elevation on this sloping lot.”
For the interiors, Eyles took inspiration from the landscape and her knowledge of the couple’s aesthetic sensibilities. “The palette was influenced by what we could see outside,” Eyles notes. The home’s colors and stone surfaces all look like they could have been found on the beach below. In fact, the wife brought Eyles a pebble from Whidbey that the designer kept on her desk throughout the process. The challenge was to bring warmth into the spaces while maintaining their minimal character. “They appreciate a more contemporary aesthetic, but they also like it to be soft—a comfortable modern,” the designer explains.
Unlike some clients building a second residence in a distant state, the couple was very involved in every aspect of the design process, participating in weekly calls with the team. “They knew the right questions to ask,” Heggenes says. That extra attention shows in the details of the final house, like the precisely aligned lighting in the wood panels of the ceiling as well as cabinetry that comes together elegantly with the walls. “It’s a really well put together space,” the general contractor adds.
Building a home together proved to be a rewarding process for the couple, but more importantly, the return to Whidbey Island brought them a special joy. “When my husband is on the island, I see all his stress melt away,” the wife says. “When he looks out at the water, I see his happiness.”