When Prentiss Balance Wickline Architects was asked to design a vacation home on the San Juan Islands of Washington state, the Seattle-based design firm didn’t take the easy way out. The site, which overlooks stunning views of Griffin Bay, includes three beautiful old-growth trees that the architects wanted to preserve — a different approach to that of the client’s previous architect, who suggested chopping down the trees. With the existing trees kept intact, the North Bay house celebrates the beauty of the landscape while complementing the surroundings with a natural materials palette.


outdoor view of pavilion

green roof

The North Bay house serves as a family’s holiday retreat with plenty of space for entertaining yet feels like an intimate home when the couple vacations there alone. The 2,505-square-foot contemporary home embraces the outdoors with its abundance of glazing, an expansive green roof and the predominate use of timber and stone. To meet the brief for a low-maintenance home that could withstand periods of non-use when the clients were off the island, Prentiss Balance Wickline Architects used hardy materials like concrete panels for the chimneys and steel-framed windows sheathed in powder-coated steel.

On the left, kitchen with wood cabinetry. On the right, dining space with dining table and large windows.

concrete panel fireplace

Siting the home proved to be one of the project’s most difficult challenges. In addition to preserving the old-growth trees, the architects faced property setbacks and needed to establish privacy from a relatively busy nearby road. The solution came in the form of a stone wall that serves as an organizing element of the vacation home and a shield that blocks unwanted views and noise pollution. The stone wall is offset by the glazed pavilion that overlooks views of the water.

On the left, outdoor terrace. On the right, interior room with chair leading to outdoor terrace.

Living room with views

Related: Pine Forest Cabin achieves beautiful modern design on a budget

“The delineated concept is a stone wall that sweeps from the parking to the entry, through the house and out the other side, terminating in a hook that nestles the master shower,” the architects said. “This is the symbolic and functional shield between the public road and the private living spaces of the home owners. All the primary living spaces and the master suite are on the water side; the remaining rooms are tucked into the hill on the road side of the wall.”

+ Prentiss Balance Wickline Architects

Images by Jay Goodrich