Vacation homes appeal to us on an almost primal level because they hold a promise of freedom—from formality, self-consciousness, fussy posturing. It's no accident this full-time home also sheds those shackles. It was originally conceived as a second home—until the owners decided they couldn't put the chains back on come Monday.

It all began when the retired couple bought a small cabin along Sequim Bay in Washington State and tapped Seattle-based Vandeventer + Carlander Architects to execute a modest renovation and addition. “Their [primary] house was more formal, and the rooms were more compartmentalized,” principal Tim Carlander explains. “They wanted an open plan.” After he proposed numerous remodeling schemes, the clients opted to abandon the original plan in favor of an entirely new structure, and then decided midstream they would give up their Bellevue, Wash., home to live full-time in Sequim.

The clients' wish list was simple: a compact home with built-in flexibility to accommodate guests. Once that was established, Carlander let the site—an almost 2-acre sloping parcel—dictate the design. He nestled the house among the mature fir trees and oriented it along a north-south axis to maximize the water views. The plan permits cross-ventilation and takes advantage of the light, Carlander says. Large overhangs mitigate the intense late-afternoon sun.

“Because of the site and to keep the footprint small, I proposed a two-level plan,” he says. He also tucked the structure into the hill and limited its width to one room so all rooms open to a landscaped terrace and capture views. The original vacation-home program called for main living areas on the upper level and the master suite downstairs, but Carlander inverted the arrangement to facilitate one-level living for his clients. The master is now upstairs and guest quarters are below.

The primary-home program also brought freedom to pursue a richer palette of materials. So the architect and clients rejected the masonry block base in favor of Pennsylvania stone. Alaskan yellow cedar siding and windows and a metal roof provide a hardy exterior, while cherry and cedar upgrade the quality of the interior. Despite the seemingly delicate materials, the house is designed to weather gracefully inside and out. And an outdoor shower evokes a summer idyll.

The entire project took two years, but Carlander says the results were well worth the time and effort—a credit to the contractor, Formost Construction. The clients now have a modest-sized house that makes retirement feel like the best vacation ever.

Sequim Bay Cabin, Sequim, Wash.

Vandeventer + Carlander Architects, Seattle

general contractor:
Formost Construction, Sequim

project size:
2,500 square feet

site size:
1.75 acres

construction cost:

Steve Keating