Progressive vernacular is what Bernie Baker calls his architecture. And he's both amused and pleased that clients from both sides of the great style divide seek out his firm. “A lot of people are drawn to us because they see the traditional bent of our work,” he says. “And some people see the same collection of houses and look at it as contemporary.”

“I like to think of architecture as something moving and living that goes beyond a set of styles,” he says. The architect has been revising his vision of home for 60-plus years but admits his upbringing among Pennsylvania Shaker-style buildings is a lens through which he still gazes. Mostly, though, his decades of practice have been an exploration of what makes a house truly livable, regardless of its vintage or label. And that's taught him to kick back and just design, without regard to the party line.

“I like to realize where influences are coming from but let each individual house just flow based on listening to the client and the site,” he says. “I don't really know where all of my reference points will pop out in a house. It just happens.”

What pops out in this Bainbridge Island, Wash., house is a double-pitched roof like those found on utility buildings coast to coast. Corrugated steel roofing, shiny cylindrical smokestacks, and shiplap siding extend the outbuilding vocabulary. A few unexpected moves push these time-honored forms into the modern world: extreme angles to the roof pitches, compressed fenestration with staggered window sizes, and square dormers. “The dormers are completely modern,” concedes Baker, “but I wanted to add an edge and control where light entered the building.”

Industrial touches, like a wood-and-steel bridge that doubles as a great-room ceiling and second-story floor, update the interior spaces. Inside is where Baker focuses most keenly on his ideas about livability. It starts with a simple floor plan, one that moves easily and contains few divisions. “There can be mystery and intrigue,” he says, “but keep it moving.”

Fill those flowing spaces with natural light from at least three directions, not all of them necessarily horizontal, advises Baker, who has an affinity for skylit cores. Then mix in texture and vary volumes for a balance of intimate and grand moments, he adds. Those moments include the 10-foot-high great-room ceiling/bridge with double-height openings on either side. And then there's the kitchen ceiling, which drops to a cozier scale, and the daybed cubby retreat under the stairs.

Ultimately, Baker isn't seeking some earth-shaking fusion of modern and contemporary in the houses he designs. What he wants most to discover about his houses is: “Do people enjoy living in them?” project:
Private residence, Bainbridge Island, Wash.

Bernie Baker Architect, Bainbridge Island

general contractor:
Michael C. Raymond, Port Townsend, Wash.

interior designer:
Bill McKnight Designs, Bainbridge Island metalwork:
Paul Schneider, Seattle

case work:
Arkadia Woodworking, Seattle

project size:
2,100 square feet

site size:
0.21 acres

construction cost:

Bill Holt