Suncrest – By Heliotrope Architects

Hey guys, welcome back to DESIGN Exploder – this is the place where we take a closer look at homes and spaces that we love and uncover some of the secrets behind the design!

It’s often the most subtle of design decisions that create the largest impact.  Really good designers work hard to make the homes they design look simple, feel natural, and blend with the surrounding context.  That’s much easier said then done.  Joseph Herrin of Heliotrope Architects has made a career doing just that.  Suncrest, a home on Orcas Island in Washington state, epitomizes how subtle design decisions can make a huge impact on how we live.

The site is in charge here

It’s human nature to want to dominant the landscape, to find the prime spot on the land and place our homes there.  But what happens when we let the property maintain its importance and majesty, without imposing upon it?  Joe Herrin worked with his clients to locate this new home, not on the crest of a hill, but instead, nestled in a natural hollow just short of the hill’s apex.  The hollow is the border between the beautiful Madrone lined forest (unique to this part of the country) and the rocky outcropping and fields beyond.

Once sited, the home’s shape (low, long, and thin) was formed by finding views through the natural clearing to the water beyond.  Important places within the home, the living area, the outdoor dining space, bedrooms, and the guest suite, all focus on the view, each with their own unique perspective. However, the long views are not the only thing to look at here.  Herrin creates framed views of the surrounding forest and focuses on the beautiful Madrone trees.  These more intimate views connect the homeowners to their immediate surroundings and remind them how integral they are with their environment.

This subtle design decision places the home in a secondary role to the land. The placement reinforces the beauty and accentuates the majesty of the property while giving the homeowners a special connection to the land and the long views beyond.

The design orchestrates the experience

Another subtle, but conscious decision by the design team was to expose this dramatic site to the visitor in an orchestrated manor.  As one approaches the home, driving up the hill and through the native forest, the home emerges and blocks the long views to the water.  This is designed with a purpose. It helps create a sense of the drama to the experience.  There is no full exposure to the view right at the start, but instead, a gradual unveiling.  Along the journey to the front door, small, well-placed openings in the solid wall of the home provide little glimpses of what is to come.  These small views create interest and we are drawn to see what comes next.  It’s not until we are invited in the home that the lost distance views become clear.

Herrin designs the user’s experience in a way that enhances the overall drama of the site.  In an age of instant gratification, we are made to wait, just a bit, before getting to experience the full exposure and grandeur of the site.

Just a little bend makes a big difference

The subtle design decision to bend the home slightly, at its midpoint, may seem to be a simple move, but in fact it is a tough one for most architects to make.  If done without skill, this bend could make the home undeservedly complex and lead to visual distractions and construction nightmares.  But, in the experienced hands of Herrin and his design team, this bend is handled with ease and creates a simple elegance to the home.

The bend acts to position rooms and strings them across the length of the home, tilting them towards the water views beyond.  Each portion, with its unique orientation, focuses the views to the optimal long-distance vista.

But the bend does more than focus outward, it actually works to create rooms and spaces that turn towards other parts of the home.  There is something special that happens when you can see one part of your home from another. You become more connected to the activities within the home. Plus, it provides a sense of security knowing who’s up and about.

The slight bend in the home feels natural, just right.  It’s like the site was calling for it and Joe Herrin delivered.  It’s almost impossible to imagine this home now without this simple design decision made by the Heliotrope team.

For more of Heliotrope Architects’ beautiful, site sensitive, and user centered designs, check out their website, and be sure to follow them on all of their social media channels. 

Thanks for watching – I hoped you enjoyed this Design Exploder.   

Welcome home to your modern cottage!