Wittman Estes recently completed Hood Cliff Retreat, a multi-family retreat, and series of cabins nestled into the landscape on the western shore of Hood Canal, Washington. Replacing an existing opaque, cedar cabin built nearly fifty years ago, the new transparent cabins were built for a nature loving family.
In addition to the new cabin, which reuses reclaimed materials from the original, exists a new bunkhouse and bathroom to the north. The clients, who are avid bird watchers and scientists, sought a place where their friends and family could gather together while also experiencing a moment of solitude and reflection. The three single-story volumes with large glass openings, sliding doors, and continuous decks allow for such gathering and reflection.
The architecture defers to the landscape, inspired by nature and in particular the native killdeer bird. "Unlike most birds, the killdeer doesn't bring outside vegetation to build its nest - it pulls away from the existing brush, burrowing into the existing forest, and nesting on the ground," explained architect Matt Wittman. Hood Cliff Retreat seeks a similar relationship with the ground that feels both connected to and protected from the elements of nature. Reclaimed beams and siding from the original cabin were re-purposed as countertops and interior cladding. Simple details and a restrained material palette kept the construction budget to a minimum.
"We sought to dissolve the barriers between the inside and out, between forest, garden, and structure," Wittman added. Sunlight warms the plywood walls and ceilings, grazing the warm cedar boards and cast-in-place concrete-allowing shadow and light to transform the simple interior into something more complex and subtle. In the main cabin, the indoor-outdoor kitchen has a pass-through window that extends the interior countertop into the outdoor concrete counter and built-in wood barbecue. There is a built-in Murphy bed that allows the main cabin to be a flexible sleeping area when needed. High clerestory windows allow views outdoors and natural light inside.
A reclaimed cast iron tub in the master bath creates the feeling of soaking in the outdoors without interrupting moments of repose. Outside, the rough sawn cedar siding and cement panel finish patina naturally over time until the cabin volumes converge with the colors of the forest. This inside-outside connection is how the architects approach building sensitively in nature.
The three dwelling structures are a continuous interconnected series of experiences composed to celebrate the beauty of family gathering in natural sunlight and fresh air. The retreat is an expression of Wittman Estes' "tactile modernism," connecting the family to the sensation and physical experiences of the Puget sound ecosystem in a place that is beautiful, functional, and built for the sustainable long term enjoyment of the nature-loving family.
Photography: Andrew Pogue