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Saratoga Hill House

Designs Northwest Architects

Shared By

Dan Nelson




  • Dan Nelson, AIA


  • Other: Lucas Henning Photography

Project Status


Year Completed




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Project Description

Located on the west side of Camano Island, the Saratoga Hill house is a new single family residence designed for a couple who have raised their family and wanted to downsize to a smaller home on the beach. They wanted a home that was modern and used low maintenance materials. Creating areas for gardening was also important. There is no road access to the site so the clients have to park in a common parking lot and walk to the house along a path that runs adjacent to the beach bulkhead.
The homeowners inherited the beach property that had a small cabin on it, which has been in the family for three generations. The husband grew up spending summers at the beach here, so it was important for him to continue a family tradition for his children and grandchildren.
The Saratoga Hill House sits at the bottom of an extremely steep slope that experiences periodic shallow surface mud slides. A geotechnical study of the slope found that the site was unsafe for conventional building techniques. The initial suggestion from the Geotechnical engineer was to build a large 10 foot tall retaining wall which would be able to catch any debris coming down the hillside and protect any structure built on the site. However, since the site is located along a remote beach which has no vehicular access, building a retaining wall was infeasible. It would have been too difficult to bring in heavy equipment and concrete trucks. As an alternative, the architects devised a strategy which would allow any debris to flow through the structure rather than trying to resist it. The architects took this idea to the geotechnical and structural engineers and together they developed a structure that is raised above the ground on low profile steel columns. In the event of a surface slide, material will flow beneath the structure leaving the house and the occupants unharmed.
To keep columns away from the drain field area and from cutting into the toe of the slope the northern end of the house is cantilevered above grade.
The design of the house is a direct response to the site. The open lower level is a response to the geotechnical issues and the upper two floors respond to the topography and views. There is no habitable space on the lower level so it is used for beach storage and the northern end will be developed as a fern garden under the cantilever. Since the site is relatively small a roof top garden terrace was created on the third level, accessed through the den.
The third level is also used by guests and has access to its own sitting deck.
The west elevation of both floors takes advantage of floor to ceiling glass to open up views to the waters of Saratoga Passage. The east side of the house faces into the steep slope and this is addressed with more opaque walls with limited windows giving selective views of the vegetation beyond. The home is clad with metal siding to withstand the harsh weather of its coastal environment.
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