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Modern nature retreat surrounded by a tranquil forest on Whidbey Island

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This modern nature retreat was designed by David Van Galen Architecture, located just 25 miles northwest of Seattle across Puget Sound on Whidbey Island, Washington. Nestled among the thick Douglas Firs and Alders, this dwelling featured high ceilings and expansive glazing to enhance natural light into the space while enabling the inhabitants to be part of the natural surroundings.

The project is entitled “Little House / Big Shed “. The larger structure is 918 square feet (Little House) encompassing the kitchen and living spaces with the ‘aviary’ bedroom on the second floor. The smaller structure is 223 square feet (Big Shed), a studio that doubles as a guest suite for occasional overnight visitors.

DESIGN DETAILS: ARCHITECT David Van Galen Architecture CONTRACTOR Jade Craftsman Builders STRUCTURAL ENGINEER SSF Engineers LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Moffett & Moffett Landscape CONSULTING ARCHITECT Taproot Architects

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This inland island site was likely logged in the first half of the last century. Three acres of the 5-acre site are now established second-growth woodlands that tower above the rolling meadow at the site’s entrance.

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A narrow swath of alder remains among the dominant firs, rising from the bottom of the ravine to a glade of ferns near the meadow.  Invasive holly and briars had laid claim to an old tractor path leading into the woods. It’s here, at the confluence of the alders and brambles, that the House and Shed have been placed. Through this careful siting within the evolving forest, only a small number of alders were removed (and will heat the house for several seasons); the firs remain, undisturbed.

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Among these firs, this modern nature retreat is set at the ravine’s edge. Opening to the west, the House reaches for a lone fir within the alders.  A linear stand of firs is addressed by the north edge of the deck. One of the site’s oldest firs provides a focal point to the south.  Nearby, the Shed nestles in at the edge of the glade of ferns.

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A new gravel drive traces the old tractor path. Disturbed portions of the site are being replenished with native plantings; salal, vine maples, and ferns are replacing invasive species.

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The program was simple: a secluded small home for a couple who sought a place to prepare and enjoy meals, to read by the fire, to write and paint, to lodge guests, and to sleep among the trees.

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During the design process, the studio and guest quarters were combined into a separate smaller structure. This reduced the overall mass of the House and allowed the siting of House and Shed to etch a place in the woods, pivoting at the remains of an old-growth fir and the younger tree being nourished from its roots. 

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Corten steel panels, punctuated by stained cedar trim and aluminum-clad wood windows, are topped by standing seam metal roofs.

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While architectural applications of Corten are typically pre-oxidized to provide a uniform patina, the steel in this project has been left to naturally rust, bringing the House and Shed into dialogue with their surroundings. Much like the trees themselves, each building surface uniquely responds to time, wind, water, and sun.

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Net Zero.  A 9.3kW solar array with battery backup offsets all energy used on site. Building systems include an air source heat pump with in-floor hydronic loop, high-efficiency wood stove, hybrid heat pump water heater with recirculating pump, low-flow fixtures, high-efficiency appliances and fans, all LED lighting, and insulation above code minimum.

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What We Love: This modern nature retreat offers its occupants complete privacy with its peaceful forest setting. Sliding glass doors opens the interior to the exterior, offering a wonderful indoor-outdoor living experience. We are loving the compact floor plan that was designed to feel open and airy and the beautiful location of this home, a place to relax, unwind and connect with nature.

Tell Us: Could you find yourself right at home in this compact Whidbey Island retreat surrounded by forest? Let us know in the Comments below!

Note: Be sure to have a look at a couple of other amazing Whidbey Island home tours that we have showcased here on One Kindesign: Waterfront shelter has amazing beach-chic lifestyle on Whidbey Island and Whidbey Island retreat designed with a unique camp-like setting.

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KEY PRODUCTS

Ceiling Fans: The Modern Fan Co., Ball Fan
Cladding: Bridger Steel vertical shiplap, COR-TEN
Cooking Appliances: Miele
Refrigerator/Freezer: Bosch
Sinks: Elkay (kitchen); Lacava (bathrooms)
Countertops: PentalQuartz Coastal Gray, polished
Decking: Envision EverGrain composite decking, Cape Cod Grey
Entry Doors/Door Hardware: Simpson Door Company; Emtek Helios Hardware; Linnea
Faucets: Grohe (kitchen); Hansgrohe (bathrooms)
Spiral Stair: Salter Spiral Stair
Tiles: Daltile
Toilets: TOTO
Washer/Dryer: Blomberg
Water Heater: Rheem hybrid electric water heater
Water Softening: Culligan
HVAC/Radiant System: Daikin air-to-heat water pump
Lighting: BEGA (exterior); Juno (track lighting); Vibia Halo Lineal pendant (dining); Sonneman Stix (wall mount)
Photovoltaics: Whidbey Sun & Wind Silfab PV Modules (9.3 kW)
Roofing: Champion Metal standing seam Zincalume
Windows: JELD-WEN EpicVue
Window Systems: LaCantina folding doors (living area); Overhead Door (shed studio)
Wood Stove: Morsø

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PHOTOGRAPHER Lara Swimmer

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