It’s a great conundrum for an architect to encounter: Which view should you emphasize when there are stunning vistas in every direction? Such was the pleasant dilemma facing architect John DeForest when the owners of this Whidbey Island property asked him to create their new home.
While visiting the site, he was immediately struck by the expansive scenes of Puget Sound, but he realized that any future structure would also look over a sweeping meadow and wooded ravines. “Part of the challenge of the house was that you don’t want to look away from the obvious view, but there are really special moments in other directions,” the architect notes. “It’s a good problem to have.”
Before purchasing the land, the owners faced a puzzle of their own: Should they add on to their existing abode or start fresh and build a residence better suited to entertaining their blended family? They found the answer when they discovered a 38-acre parcel near their former dwelling. The then-owner of the property would only consider selling to people who would agree to honor the land’s beauty. It was a requirement the current homeowners, who have deep Whidbey Island roots, were eager to meet. “We knew it would take a couple of years for us to find an architect and design our house,” the wife says. “That was fine— we really wanted to get to know the site and let it speak to us.”
As honoring the surrounding environment was a priority, the homeowners brought in landscape architect Kenneth Philp to design the gardens, meadow and entry drive. General contractor Donald Heggenes, a second-generation Whidbey Island builder who had worked with the husband previously, was another essential addition to the team. Finally, designer Whitney Maehara was hired to ensure that the couple’s forever home would feature comfortable interiors.
Working with project architects Michael Knowles and Meredith Kelly, DeForest designed a structure composed of two barn-like forms attached by a spine of glass that contains the center stairway. “This is a good example of how the best design solutions work in multiple ways,” he says. “It evokes the traditional form of buildings on Whidbey without being literal about it, while also providing the drama of the contrast between the two views.” Practically, it gave the owners a residence that works for two people just as well as it does for entertaining extended family; the primary bedroom suite and living areas are on one side, with guest bedrooms and office space on the other.
The dwelling also takes advantage of the views by encouraging seamless transitions between the indoors and outside. From the small, private terrace off the main bedroom to the large folding doors allowing the living area to spill out onto the patio, DeForest’s design ensures the homeowners are never far from nature. However, that doesn’t mean that the architect was tempted to build an all-glass abode. He notes that having a contrast between big, open expanses and one special, smaller window looking down a path or into the woods is what makes the structure varied and engaging.
In the living spaces, Maehara kept the furnishings relatively simple. “The most interesting part of the house is its ability to open to its surroundings,” she says. “We took that into account when designing the vignettes within the rooms.” Aside from maximizing the views, flexibility was also key. The living room sectional is the family’s main gathering spot, but Maehara also incorporated ottomans that can be used for extra seating or tucked away under a console when not needed. In the dining room, the table expands to accommodate guests, while the breakfast area provides a cozy nook if the couple is dining à deux.
In the end, it’s a perfect fit. “The team did an incredible job, and we have to pinch ourselves to believe that we live here,” the wife notes. Recalling a winter day with the fireplace roaring and snow falling outside, she compares living in the home to being inside an enchanting snow globe. “It’s beautiful,” she says. “Truly a magical setting.”