THE CLIENTS WERE A YOUNG COUPLE IN THEIR late 20s with lots of creativity, plenty of stamina, and a fair sprinkling of idealism. They were determined to build their own digs on upscale Bainbridge Island, Wash., in spite of a budget that would have sent most home buyers in search of a nice townhouse or condo. After a year-long hunt for property with architect Miles Yanick, they happened upon an oddball parcel at the right price: an extremely narrow (roughly 80 feet wide by 1,000 feet deep) piece of land that was heavily timbered and erratically sloped, with a creek running through it.
Gaining construction access to the property required crossing that creek, but the budget couldn't spare any extra funds to build a bridge. So Yanick found a detour. “We discovered an undeveloped road in the woods that had been plotted about 100 years ago and arranged with the city to officially vacate it, which gave us alternate access to the site,” he explains. “Once we got rid of that road, we were relieved of some of the setback requirements, so in essence, we ended up getting more property without actually getting more property. Part of our justification for decommissioning the old road was so that we could build farther away from the wetlands on the site, thereby protecting them. That went over well with the city.”
Following through on that promise, the house stands a respectful 40 feet from the creek bed and treads lightly on the local ecosystem. Its unusual, splayed footprint makes the most of 160-degree views of the forest, while negotiating the site's tricky topography with aplomb. “We had to spread the house around a little knoll and dig it into a small hillside,” says Yanick. “A bit of it is actually earth sheltered.”
The front entry, carved into the interstitial space between the two split masses, features a large expanse of glass. These windows fill the house with quiet, natural light and exploit the façade's due-south exposure for passive solar gain. A cast-concrete floor on the first level absorbs and retains heat.
Given the tight budget and the home's woodsy aesthetic, interior finishes were deliberately left raw and somewhat spare. Exposed joists and simple casings of locally harvested Douglas fir create texture in an otherwise restrained space. “There are almost no walls in the house, meaning there is very little gypsum wallboard and very little trim,” says Yanick. “This was a cost saver, too.”
Total square feet: 1,400
Lot price: $90,000
Construction and design cost (including site work): $250,000
Cost per square foot: $140
Total price tag: $340,000
Project: Bainbridge Island Residence, Bainbridge Island, Wash.; Size: 1,400 square feet; Builder: Central Sound Construction, Kingston, Wash.; Architect: Miles Yanick & Co., Bainbridge Island