Flexible two-family getaway

Get ideas from a summer home built for sharing on Washington's Hood Canal
Daniel Gregory

Good friends and vacations don't always mix, but when they do, it can be the best of both worlds. For two Washington families, vacationing together worked so well that they decided to build a joint getaway home in the northwestern part of the state. Paul and Lisa Mutty have been friends with Libby Williams and Craig Rusk for 20 years; each couple has two children. Their original plan was to find and purchase an existing structure on Hood Canal and turn it into a weekend retreat where the kids could bring friends and everyone could enjoy the outdoors.

Then one day during their search for the perfect place, a beautiful 2½-acre lot ― right by a stretch of water ideal for swimming ― turned up. "It had everything we were looking for except the house," Lisa says. So the two families changed course and started on a new plan to build their dream cabin together.

Design by committee

With a single mortgage signed by both couples and financing from the landowner for one year, the friends drew up their plan of attack and began looking for an architect. The previous search for a cabin helped everyone agree on an agenda ahead of time, so when the group was ready to start working, everything went smoothly. They found architect Thomas Lawrence through his website.

Each adult had an equal voice. "It was an amazingly simple process," Lisa recalls. "Everyone proposed what they wanted, and we all picked the same design." They made wish lists, got construction estimates, and trimmed several items to stay within the budget. "Tom would email all four of us and we all responded. It was design by committee, and we all felt we participated," Lisa says. "When something really mattered to one person, we respected that and tried to accommodate it."

The key design requests were for a one-story, water-oriented house that promoted outdoor living and was flexible enough for each family and their guests to use anytime ― whether the other family was there or not. Lawrence came up with a simple shingle-and-plywood shed on a concrete slab, with five major spaces facing the water and lofts at the rear facing the forest. The house is organized as a single row of rooms facing the water, with a master suite at either end. Between them are the rooms shared by both families: a main kitchen/dining and living space, the kids' bunk room, and a screened porch used as a flexible space for table tennis and overflow sleeping. "Each master bedroom is exclusive to one couple, and each child has his or her own bunk in the bunk room," Lisa explains. "The kids' friends get air mattresses."

An entry porch faces the trees and is sheltered from the weather by the house and the roof overhang. A patio off the kitchen/dining space and screened porch overlooks the water. There's an outdoor shower and a fish-cleaning station near the bunk room. Lisa sums up what both families like about the house: "It's all about being outside ― the design just draws you out. Even when a lot of people are around, there's always plenty of room."

Next: Lessons in the art of sharing 

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