July 11, 2018

Studio Willmer Brings Thoughtful Order to a Pacific Northwest Retreat

The house is tucked into a conifer forest just north of Fir Island in Washington. Photography by Eric Rorer.

Sited on a secluded Pacific Northwest hillside, this contemporary retreat is scaled to the modest needs of its inhabitants, a couple, Laurence and Bill, both retired professors. Designed by architect Sarah Willmer as a contemporary shed nestled in the woods, the house is clad in corrugated pre-finished metal siding, a reference to the farm buildings that dot the Skagit River plain. Access is by way of a bridge leading to a fir-lined entry porch carved into the glinting metal facade.

The interior materials and color palette—fir and oak, white and soft grays—create light and airy spaces for the couple’s books and art. The brightness and warmth are necessary to counteract a certain gloominess that permeates the heavily wooded site. “Laurence told me that she found the property dark and depressing,” Willmer says. “I thought, ‘How do I mitigate or celebrate that?’ While a large expanse of glass opening to the view would be desirable, too much would expose the house to that dark and damp feeling.”

The Pacific Northwest has a long rainy season, so creating a comfortable and cozy fireplace was a key element of the program; during summer, the homeowners can retreat to a south-facing sundeck that overlooks the Skagit River. Photography by Eric Rorer.

Willmer found her answer by balancing generous amounts of glazing with large areas of white-painted walls that create a sense of embrace and protection. The client offers eloquent confirmation of Willmer’s success: “The house introduces thoughtful order in the wilderness,” she says. “As Baudelaire wrote, ‘There, there is nothing else but grace and measure, / Richness, quietness, and pleasure.’ Sometimes I think about being in the house that way.”

Flooring throughout is oak stained a custom gray. Photography by Eric Rorer.
A bridge over bedrock outcroppings ushers visitors to a covered porch lined with locally sourced Douglas fir; the rest of the siding is corrugated metal, a reference to vernacular barn structures. Photography by Eric Rorer.

Project Team: Megan Carter; Megan Suyehira.

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