Miller Hull

Whidbey Island Retreat

Whidbey Island, WA
Encouraging people to live their passions
Size The Main House: 2,300 SF / The Guest House: 560 SF
Completion 2018

Set on a high bluff of Whidbey Island in Washington state, this main house and guest house retreat is strategically nestled between wind-swept evergreen trees. The owners, a wildlife photographer and a blacksmith, wanted a retreat designed for two artists who live and work their passions.

The Main House

The main house sits several hundred yards from the bluff’s edge where a forest meets a meadow. Subtle grading, vegetated roofs and abstractly-arranged, steel-clad volumes on the north create the impression of being immersed in the landscape. Slim, carefully-placed windows within the volumes open to fern grottos, evergreen trees and the sound of frogs from the nearby wetland pond. On the south, a rectangular, open and expansive wood-framed pavilion overlooks Puget Sound. Inspired by indoor/outdoor living, covered porches extend on three sides creating usable space during the summer and shoulder seasons.

The Guest House

While the main house is located on the seam between the forest and the meadow, the guest house is settled deep into the trees. Submerged into the landscape, the simple, concrete structure is virtually unseen from passersby on the road. The green roof and berm are covered with native grasses and ferns, creating habitat for the abundant wildlife. The light, wood interior creates a feeling of spaciousness, despite the small footprint. Hidden on the northside, a small sauna and outdoor shower supports the owners’ daily sauna ritual.

Environmental Sensitivity

As lifelong conservationists and outdoors-people, the owners are deeply committed to sustainability, so creating a retreat with a small indoor footprint that encouraged year-round indoor/outdoor living was a primary goal. Their vision was to create something that feels as if it grew out of the site.

Both structures on the retreat utilize materials that are Red List free and low in heavy metals. Using a purposefully simple materials palette, materials like weather-exposed finishes are low maintenance and intended to patina with age. Decking, wood paneling, wood sills, wood counters, steel bolts and bridge washers were reclaimed and reused from an old family home. Where reclaimed materials were not available, materials were sustainably harvested and sourced locally. All wood paneling was finished with low- to no-VOC pigmented sealers and the insulation consisting of ecobatt and cellulose.

Thoughtful siting of the home and the guest house yielded minimal impact to the habitat. While the guest house exemplifies passive strategies with thick concrete walls sunken into the earth, the main house consists of large windows and skylights to provide balanced daylight with hydronic radiant floors. A 9.02 kW ground-mounted photovoltaic array sits out in the meadow, while rainwater is harvested from the pavilion roof and rain garden and stored in 8,000-gallon cisterns before being pumped into a filtration system located in the garage.

The main house was designed in 2013 by Robert Hull, who unexpectedly passed away in 2014 after construction began. Cassie Hillman Picard saw the home’s completion through and designed a complementary guest house for the site. The guest house was finished in 2018 and the retreat concept was fully realized.