This black cabin in the San Juan Islands takes shelter in the woods

modern cabin exterior

Heliotrope Architects has designed this black cabin retreat on Lopez Island, Washington, situated within the beautiful San Juan Island archipelago. A challenging property, the developable portion of this unique west-facing waterfront property in the San Juan Islands fell within a coastal geological buffer, aquatic wildlife buffer, class II wetland buffer, and is situated less than 100 feet from an active bald eagle nest.

These constraints meant that all new construction was confined to a 900-square-foot rectangle defined by the footprint of an existing primitive cabin. There is a total building area of 2,300 square feet.

DESIGN DETAILS: ARCHITECTURE Heliotrope Architects INTERIOR DESIGN Heliotrope Architects CONTRACTOR Thomas Fragnoli Construction LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Field & Grove Design Studio STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Swenson Say Fagét

modern cabin exterior

The program called for a three-bedroom retreat house of modest scale and budget for a family of four, including two young children.

modern cabin patio with alfresco dining

The firm was able to accommodate the program within the limited footprint by utilizing a generous allowable building height, creating a two-story plus loft structure with private spaces upstairs and public spaces at grade. The expression is suggestive of a modest island structure of indeterminant age – with a simple gable roof and divided-lite windows.

modern kitchen

This vernacular form is upended by a nearly complete lack of enclosure at the ground level, as if most walls went missing, leaving just enough to support the house above.

modern kitchen

This architectural intervention maximizes the connection between landscape and view and nearly eliminates the distinction between inside and out.

modern great room

Smaller, more traditional glazed openings in bedrooms above provide a sense of protection and enclosure, and the contrast in spaces above and below weave an experience rich with variety.

modern kitchen and living area

The house is clad in black in deference to its surroundings, ensuring that the home remains nearly invisible from the public shoreline.

modern staircase with floating treads

The three floors are connected by an open stair capped by a large skylight, which pours light into levels below.

modern staircase

What We Love: This family retreat features a beautiful gable structure that maximizes views of the water from all three levels. Expansive walls of glazing from the main floor kitchen, living, and dining areas help to capture the tranquil water vistas. We are especially loving how the home is clad in black to blend in with its surroundings and make it nearly invisible from the public shoreline.

Tell Us: What are your overall thoughts on the design of this black cabin retreat on Lopez Island? Please share your thoughts in the Comments below!

Note: Check out a couple of other amazing home tours that we have featured here on One Kindesign in the state of Washington: An inviting modern refuge with the most scenic views of Lake Washington and This urban sanctuary in Seattle connects with its natural environment.

modern living room

On the main floor, the kitchen/living area boasts uninterrupted walls of glass, offering an expansive 180-degree water view that seamlessly merges with the outdoor decks.

modern bedroom

Upstairs, you’ll find three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

modern bedroom

modern built-in window seat

modern cabin in the woods

modern bathroom

modern bedroom

modern staircase

The third-floor loft includes a kids’ play area and a flexible space for remote work, reading, yoga, or a good nap!

modern black cabin exterior

modern cabin exterior

modern black cabin exterior in the woods

The property also has a separate studio apartment for friends or relatives to visit.

modern black cabin exterior in the woods


One Kindesign has received this project from our submissions page. If you have a project you would like to submit, please visit our submit your work page for consideration!

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7 months ago


Pat Lukes
7 months ago

Perfect home. Curious about the windows. Brand?

7 months ago

This is just perfect! Love the San Juans.