Project 7:

Orcas Island House

The Orcas Island House is a blend of Japanese inspired vernacular architecture, cost and energy efficient SIP construction and a client’s desire to build their own house on forested Orcas Island.  

The owners of this house, who are artists, gardeners and naturalists, originally purchased the forested piece of property on Orcas Island in anticipation of retirement.  Having spent some time on the property they had clear intentions how they wanted to ease into living on the property.

Their first project was a small simple house with plenty of storage that would eventually be their studio.  They wanted to live on the property before making decisions for their eventual larger permanent residence. 

The site for this house is in a small clearing near a large rock outcropping.  We situated the building parallel to and a modest distance from the rock outcropping so as to have space for outdoor rustic patio area.  The house design is inspired by traditional Japanese vernacular architecture, with the use of exposed timber frame with some distinctive joinery, as well as a porch that wraps around 3 side of the building.  

My client’s plan was to build this first house themselves during summer breaks.  The goal for the first summer was to complete the exterior shell to be ready for the wet winter that lay ahead, the next summer they would finish the interior.  Still, to complete the full shell in three months for a house on an island was an ambitious and necessary goal.  They requested that I help them build the house, specifically to fabricate and erect the Japanese influenced timber frame.  Having started my career as a design/build contractor, I willingly accepted this challenge.

The house is a simple rectangle with plenty of both indoor and outdoor storage along the cold east side.  The balance of the house is a single open room open to the porch and the rock outcropping which anchors the site.  Once the owners completed the foundation and floor framing I arrived to build the timber frame with them.  For a simple clean aesthetic, and expediency of construction, at each rafter/beam/post connection we used a ¾” dia. threaded rod inserted through a series of drilled holes aligned with the center of the post that tie all of these members together.  The 20” long threaded rod is epoxied into the top of the post and washer/nut at the top of the rafter secures the connection.  For the interior purlin beams we used glulams for their dimensional stability.  They have elegant locked joints that are supported by balanced brackets.  All of the vertical connections in this assembly were also locked together with the threaded rod detail.

Once the frame was complete, the owners installed the structural insulated panels (SIP) over the walls and roof.  These provide excellent insulation, lateral bracing and air sealing while minimizing thermal breaks in the framing.   With windows, board and batt siding and a metal roof installed, the owners just finished the shell that first summer.  Upon completing the house the following year they spent summers there until they retired and moved in full time.  

After a few years they contacted me again.  They had fallen in love with the house and surroundings and could not imagine not living in that house, but they needed a real bedroom and a comfortable bathroom for it to be their permanent residence.  Could the house be added onto?  It was an interesting design problem as the house felt in such perfect balance with the site. 

I saw that we could add a bedroom wing that would augment the relationship of the house with the rock outcropping by tying the new construction to the existing house at a 105 degree angle.  By slightly overlapping the addition and the existing porch we form an entry vestibule and a pleasant transition between the living and bedroom areas.  The new wing does not diminish the views from the existing portion of the house and the new wing engages with the rock outcropping from another vantage point.

The addition is of similar construction and detailing, although we opted for 2x6 stud framed exterior walls for the simplicity of wiring.  In the bedroom and new bath we provided hydronic radiators and baseboards for space heating.  The original house uses a wood stove for primary heat with electric baseboards as a backup.  The owners have also built a detached studio that completes their goals for their own built environment.