Whidbey Island Residence

Honor Award

Residential Design

Whidbey Island, WA, USA
Berger Partnership

"On a wooded, waterfront site on Whidbey Island in Washington State, this house sits back several hundred yards from the edge of a bluff at the interface between forest and meadow, deliberately protecting the visual integrity of the coastline. A rain garden filled with native plants and a vegetated roof help immerse the home in the landscape on the forest side, and a grassy meadow on the water side allows views of Puget Sound. Understated yet profound, this is a home that tells an important story of how human values must include deep respect for the natural world."

- 2019 Awards Jury

Project Credits

  • Berger Partnership (Landscape Architect)
  • Design Team:
    • Jonathan Morley
    • Shannon Leslie
  • Miller Hull Partnership (Architect)
  • Julie Smith Lubke (Structural Engineer)
  • Arup (MEP Engineer)
  • Brian Hood Lighting Design (Lighting Design)
  • Pacific Landscapes of Whidbey (Landscape Contractor)
  • Kamera & Gilles (General Contractor)

Project Statement

The clients, a wildlife photographer and a blacksmith, relocated to this wooded 80-acre waterfront site on the southwest corner of Whidbey Island, a 20-minute ferry ride north of Seattle. They placed the majority of the site in a permanent conservation easement and retained an acre to build a 2,000-square-foot main house, guest cabin and workshop. They situated their home in a location that is not readily visible from the water, with the philosophy that that if they wanted to experience the water’s edge, they could walk out there rather than mar the view of this undeveloped piece of the island for others. As a result, the home sits several hundred yards from the edge of the bluff at the interface between forest and meadow. Subtle grading and vegetated roofs create the impression of being immersed in the landscape on the forest side, while open and expansive on the water side. The result is a thoughtful and beautifully crafted home that feels as if it grew out of the site.

Project Narrative

A Simple Palette Brings the Outside In

A palette of stone, metal and wood seamlessly connects indoor and outdoor spaces through simple and compelling expressions. Context-sensitive design and sustainable strategies address water reuse, site impacts and visual character, maintaining ecological integrity to this abandoned homestead site along the high bank bluff of Whidbey Island’s west side. Landscape architect and architect team strategically sited bedrooms, bathrooms, mudroom and a media room to open up to fern grottos, evergreen trees and the sound of frogs from the wetland pond below the house.

Environmental Sensitivity

Keeping in mind the ultimate commitment to sustainability, the owners and design team worked together to research and source materials that were Red List free and low in heavy metals. Finishes exposed to weather are low maintenance, intended to darken and patina with age. Decking, wood paneling, wood sills, wood counters, steel bolts and bridge washers were reclaimed and reused from an old family home. Where reclaimed materials were not available, materials were sourced locally. A 9.02 kW ground-mounted PV array sits out in the meadow and rainwater is harvested from the pavilion roof and rain garden and stored in 8000-gallon cisterns before being pumped to a filtration system located in the garage to be used for toilet flushing, laundry and spot irrigation.

Interface between Forest and Meadow

One first experiences the site meandering slowly through the deep forest on a double track dirt and gravel road. The arrival drive rolls and bends around huge second-growth firs with little evidence of human intervention. After what seems an eternity, a hairpin turn rises up a small hill, and as you crest the top, the views through the forest start to open up and a bluff is visible in the distance—the arrival experience of surprise and subtlety sets the tone for the overall design.

The gravel drive continues to a small turf parking area that allows for a slight glimpse of a structure through the open forest. From there, a gently curving and lightly lit footpath begs visitors to follow it toward the house. The path descends into the lush landscape, creating a sense of calm and decompression as guests walk to a slender, covered walkway that connects the main house and the garage. Here, the partially buried, metal-clad exterior of the main house begins to emerge.

Vegetated Green Roof and Rain Garden

A bright green vegetated roof covers the forested side of the home, and scuppers direct rainwater into the absorbent landscape of the rain garden below. The roof combines red columbine, phlox, yarrow, and alpine anemone, grounding the architecture and adding to the immersive experience desired by the owners.

Using primarily native plants, the rain garden responds to the various microclimates and ecozones created by topography and exposure. It is composed of several types of rushes, such as creeping spike rush and dagger leaf, to provide a wilder grassy feel that is distinctly different from the upland areas.

Open Meadow Views

Beneath the covered walkway, a single post lands delicately on a huge boulder, retaining grade just to the right of the front door, as if the home were built around it. A slim gap in the walkway allows water to flow from one side of the rain gardens to the other. The water-like textured glass front door opens to reveal the interior of a light-filled wood and glass pavilion with floor-to-ceiling windows that provide a surprising and expansive view across a bright grassy meadow and Puget Sound beyond. The striking contrast of the dense forest and the soft meadow environments is the intentional result of a careful and collaborative exploration of siting by the owners, architect and landscape architect.

Beyond the meadow, the view transitions to the bluff. Hidden yet open, grounded but filled with light, architectural restraint, an immersive landscape and a simple palette embody the homeowners’ values and vision.


Product Sources: HARDSCAPE

  • Green Jointed Driveway Paving: Turf Block by RCP Block & Brick

Product Sources: GREEN ROOFS

  • Green Roof: Greenfeathers Live Roof

Plant List:

  • Alpine Anemone
  • Beach Strawberry
  • Bleeding Heart
  • Blue Elderberry
  • Blue Wildrye
  • Blue-Eyed Grass
  • California Brome
  • California Oat Grass
  • Columbia Brome
  • Common Camas
  • Common Rush
  • Creeping Oregon Grape
  • Creeping Spike Rush
  • Daggar Leaf Rush
  • Davidson's Penstemon
  • Deer Fern
  • 'Dwarf Snowflake' Mock Orange
  • Evergreen Huckleberry
  • False Solomon's Seal
  • Idaho Blue Eyed Grass
  • Indian Plum
  • Inside Out Flower
  • Large-Leaved Lupine
  • Maidenhair Fern
  • Nodding Onion
  • Oregon Iris
  • Oregon Stonecrop
  • Pacific Bleeding Heart
  • Prairie Junegrass
  • Red Columbine
  • Red Fescue
  • Red Flowering Currant
  • Redtwig Dogwood
  • Redwood Sorrel
  • Roemer's Fescue
  • Salal
  • Serviceberry
  • Slender Rush
  • Small Flowered Blurush
  • Snowberry
  • Spreading Phlox
  • Trillium
  • Tufted Hair Grass
  • Tweedy's Lewisia
  • Vine Maple
  • Western Sword Fern
  • White Flowering Currant
  • White Stonecrop
  • Wild Ginger
  • Wintergreen
  • Wood Sorrel
  • Yarrow