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Lone Madrone house by Heliotrope Architects
Timber clad home with floor to ceiling sliding doors overlooking the ocean
Timber verandah looking to timber interior kitchen-dining area

From its picturesque coastal perch on Orcas Island, Washington, Lone Madrone House captures expansive ocean views and enjoys a harmonious relationship with the surrounding, sensitive landscape. Minimising its impact on the site was central to the success of this ecologically sensitive home – both in an environmental and visual sense.

Designed by Heliotrope Architects, the home was created with a low-impact ethos and an immersive connection to the land and sea. Used as a vacation retreat for a family of four, the resulting home is comfortable but with a modest size of 150 sqm/1,600 sq.ft.

Stone path leading to sustainable timber house
Outside view of a timber home with a green roof and outdoor dining at dusk

Special consideration for sensitive shorelines and marine life directed the design. Since the land is located inside the San Juan Islands National Monument, there were many factors to consider – such as retaining habitat for insects that provide a critical food source for endangered Chinook salmon. It was also crucial the team pay special attention to the ecosystem on the land. To counterbalance any loss of natural vegetation during construction, the home is topped a green roof of native, drought-tolerant plants. This has made a huge impact with over 90% of the vegetation replaced.

View across timber dining table to the lounge room with timber shelves
View from Lone Madrone lounge room sliding door towards the island

A storm water system was installed to help solve poor water quality issues, typical to the Islands. The drainage system closely resembles the natural system in place before construction began, minimising disruption to natural storm water flow and addresses issues with shallow soils.

The location and exposure of the build site means punishing weather hammers the home throughout the seasons. In response, the sides of the home are protected by rolling panels that offer a layer of armor during storms and also security when the home is unoccupied.

Related project: If you love the idea of escaping to a sustainable island getaway, take a look at Manitoulin Island house by Solares Architecture.

Black outdoor armchair around fire pit overlooking the island
Outdoor dining table overlooking the sea on the deck of timber clad home

While protection was important, marrying the interior to the spectacular views beyond was essential to the family and the designers. So on fair-weather days the living spaces can open up to the outdoors with the help of a custom lift-slide door system.

To reduce the visual impact of this ecologically sensitive home, the solution was to tuck the home into a natural depression in the landscape, and carefully selected, locally-sourced materials were used to blend into the forest. Douglas fir from the area was used for floors and trim throughout the space, with western red cedar was used for external cladding and was also used to line the internal walls and ceilings. Regionally-available pacific madrone crafted into furniture for the home.

Timber facade with timber sliding doors open
Timber facade with timber sliding doors closed

The wedge-shaped design follows the contours of the landscape and allows for the home to be flooded with natural light through expansive glazing, with mesmerising ocean views on the south and the outdoor garden area to the north. Bedrooms take in the forested westerly-facing views and the kitchen opens to a rock promontory to the east.

Head over to our Sustainable Architecture section, to read more stories about sustainable homes.

Master bedroom with views to forest
Lounge room with timber bookcase surrounding fireplace

Sustainability specs:
– Ecologically sensitive home
– Minimisation of disruption to the site was crucial to the design
– Green roof replaces over 90% of the vegetation lost during construction
– Drainage system closely resembles the natural system in place before construction began
– House can be opened up to optimise natural light and ventilation or closed up to protect against harsh weather
– Locally sourced materials, including extensive use of timber
– Compact footprint to minimise disruption to landscape

Distant view Lone Madrone house
Dusk view of sustainable home outdoor dining overlooking the ocean
From the architect:

Our drainage design captures runoff along the up-slope footing and disperses it in an un-concentrated 1/1 ratio just downslope of the structure, replicating as closely as possible the pre-construction runoff condition. Lastly, the firm worked to satisfy the program requirements as efficiently as possible in order to minimize structural footprint and massing. The result is a 3 bedroom, 2 bath home that feels much larger than its modest 1,600sf size would suggest.

Images courtesy of Heliotrope Architects. Photography by Sean Airhart
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