Are you in or out? You can barely tell the difference in this modern cabin full of natural materials and expanses of glass
Jess Chamberlain and Joanna Linberg
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Blurring the boundaries
The seastars scattered over the beach clinched it—Harry and Claudia Bray knew this bit of land on Washington’s Key Peninsula was for them. “Walking up the forested driveway with the sun coming through the trees, and seeing the water and the mountains … it was just what we were looking for,” says Claudia.
What they weren’t looking for but got anyway was a cramped red cabin with no insulation and a slight tilt. But the family—including daughter Alexandra, now 21, and son Jonathan, now 18—toughed it out for three years of rugged vacations. (The family’s permanent home is in Portland.) “It was charming and sweet,” Harry says. “But it was hot in the summer, and freezing and damp in the winter.”
With a new structure in mind, the couple—both physicians—contacted Seattle-based architecture firm MW Works to translate the wide-open features of homes in their native South Africa into a modern, low-profile retreat. “I wanted an indoor-outdoorness that makes the best of the Northwest climate,” Harry says, “where it’s so easy to be inside, yet almost feel outside, even on the rainiest day.”
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Inviting nature in
To that end, the glass-encased living room and a wall of windows in the master bedroom set the Brays in the middle of the landscape. The property is so private (there are no neighbors in sight) that the couple decided not to use curtains in the common rooms. “We didn’t think we needed drapes in our bedroom either,” says Harry. “But we soon discovered how bright moonlight is on water. Our first night here, it felt like someone was shining a flashlight on my face.”
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Enjoying the surroundings
Trips to the cabin are not always this quiet. A lower level holds two small bedrooms for Alexandra and Jonathan, as well as extra rooms for overnight guests. “It’s the genius of the design,” says Harry. “When it’s the two of us, we just use the upper level and there’s no echoing emptiness. Or there can be six of us here and it doesn’t feel like too many people.”
Whether it’s just the couple or a crowd, though, the agenda remains pretty much the same: kayaking, beachcombing, foraging for mushrooms, even oyster farming (they’re expecting their first harvest this summer). The dwelling may be modern, but it’s a cabin life.
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A long exterior porch spans the kitchen, effectively doubling the room’s square footage. A cantilevered roof allows for a deck on top of the home. And the master bathroom opens to another cantilevered deck. “It’s something a native Northwesterner might not think about,” Harry says. “Even in winter when it’s storming, we can have the bathroom door open to the deck, like a hot tub.”
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Elevating the rustic
For the interior, the couple had one request: Keep it “rustic, and not too precious,” says architect Eric Walter, who designed the home with architect Steve Mongillo. “Claudia and Harry wanted to be able to come up here with their wet dog and muddy boots.” So Walter and Mongillo chose honest, unfinished materials—cedar siding, ipe flooring, walnut built-ins—and crafted them into unobtrusive design details. Closets and pantry doors almost disappear into the hallways, flooring extends from the kitchen to the deck, and simple window frames seem to fall away so all that’s left is the view.
“Mornings we can sit here and stare out for hours,” says Harry. “The other day, we saw some western tanagers,” Claudia adds. “I said, ‘You make the coffee,’ and Harry said, ‘No, you make it.’ ” Neither of them could walk away.
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Window walls frame Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains on one side, and a dense forest on the other.
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The Swedish wood-burning stove makes for cozy winters (though it’s not the cabin’s main heat source).
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The kitchen walls slide aside to access the 450-square-foot deck that includes a barbecue station.
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Red components in industrial-style stools add life to the otherwise subdued palette.
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A built-in walnut storage cabinet separates the open kitchen and dining area.
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Setting up a sanctuary
A sliding glass door, skylight, and cedar siding make the bathroom feel alfresco.
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Making an entrance
What looks like the front door is actually the home’s mudroom. A small outdoor porch leads to the more formal entry in between the mudroom and the main part of the house.
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Hiding in plain sight
Virtually seamless closet doors surround the window seat in the hallway. Just beyond, you can see the built-in, low-profile desk in the master bedroom.
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Surrendering to flow
From the vantage point of the deck looking back into the kitchen, you can see the outdoor barbecue station, the way the ipe flooring merges indoors, and how the refrigerator and pantry doors almost disappear. The glass walls slide almost completely aside to make the deck and kitchen function as one large room.
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Forging a practical path
The path up from the beach leads straight to the mudroom. The floor drains so the Brays can hose off their muddy boots and dog.