Relative comfort

Flexibility rules a getaway built
for two sisters' families

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Sometimes, sharing is the best solution. Such is the case in this serene vacation home on Orcas Island, Washington, owned by two Seattle sisters and their husbands. The house gracefully accommodates both couples ― Jonathan and Carol Buchter and Susan and Carl Dreisbach ― and their family and friends in 2,000 efficiently designed square feet.

The overall goal was to create the feeling of a summer camp, where there are different outbuildings for various functions. The home that architect David Coleman designed isn't literally a series of outbuildings, but his plan captures that rustic spirit. Three pavilions, one housing a great room (kitchen, dining room, and living room) and two housing master suites, are connected by an interior porch or gallery. "If you think about the project like a shish kebab," explains Coleman, "the porch is the skewer."

Privacy is one benefit of the unique plan. "Because every bedroom is self-contained, there are no common walls," says Carol. Each master suite is a little structure with its own entry, unlike traditional vacation homes, says Coleman, in which bedrooms all open directly to a dark corridor.

The light and airy interior porch is framed in wood, with huge windows that run all the way to the ceiling. In the summer, the windows can be opened to integrate the home with the surrounding landscape, turning the house into a breezeway. "I like the fact that I always feel like I'm outside when I'm in the house," says Jonathan Buchter.

Built-in flexibility "People use vacation homes in different ways at different times," explains Coleman. Sometimes one couple pops up for a weekend of decompression; other times both families are joined by friends. Each November they gather for a big Thanksgiving dinner. "Last year we had 14," says Carol, "12 of whom slept over."

Two sets of sliding barn doors, which run the width of the interior porch, are key to meeting the home's ever-changing needs. "You can open up the barn doors and connect all the public spaces," Coleman says. "But if you're with more people or want more privacy, you can close one or both of the barn doors and create several separate rooms."

"The nice thing about the house is that even though it's small, you can get away by yourself or be with others," says Jonathan. So if the large group in the living room gets a little rowdy, simply pull a barn door closed for an instant cocoon.

 DESIGN: David Coleman/Architecture, Seattle (206/443-5626)

A plan for sharing

Key design elements make it easy for the Buchters and the Dreisbachs to share and maintain the home.

 Transition spaces. The entrance to each master suite is a small hall with built-in shelving, which provides a layer of privacy between main living areas and the bedrooms.

 Versatile sleeping areas.The deep window seats in the living room can convert to attractive sleeping quarters for additional guests.

 Plenty of storage. "Hide as much as you can inside cupboards and cabinets so there are fewer surfaces to keep clean," advises Jonathan Buchter.

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