Hood Canal Is Cabin Friendly -- A Designer Uses Tricks To Capture A Roomy Feeling
HIGHWAY 106 IS A two-lane thoroughfare that skirts the southern edge of Hood Canal from Belfair to the Skokomish Indian Reservation. There, in the shadow of the Olympics, snow-capped peaks seem to appear around every corner, while feathery clouds of fog hang lazily over the water.
Fran Arnold has been traveling this roadway for more than 50 years. During World War II, she would save up her gas rations and make the three-hour trek from Seattle so she could dance at her favorite nightspot near Union. Little did she suspect that 50 years later she'd be living across the street from that very same club, in a custom-designed home bordering Hood Canal.
Arnold decided to make the move a few years ago, after the death of her husband, William. She sold their three-bedroom home on Queen Anne, and bought a 650-square-foot cabin on the water.
Initially, she just wanted to remodel the cabin. But after securing a contractor and hiring Seattle designer Dorian G. Muncey to draft some plans, she discovered that the place was infested with carpenter ants and had to be condemned. With just one week to go before the construction crews were scheduled to arrive, Arnold asked Muncey to design an entirely new structure. He obliged, using the opportunity to correct some of the deficiencies in the existing home.
The resulting structure, which cost about $230,000 to build, was designed around the peculiarities of the site: a long, skinny parcel facing the roadway at one end and 35 feet of beach at the other. To maximize every square inch of the property, Muncey built out to the setbacks, creating a narrow, single-story box crowned with a blue metal roof (the homeowner's sole request). Lattice walls draped with clematis frame an entry courtyard in front, creating a buffer between the house and the road.
Ten feet to the south sat a dingy World War II Quonset hut, which the neighbors had converted into a home. For a screen, Muncey installed lattice panels over all the south-facing windows. The lattice obscures the view of the hut, while still admitting light - and some interesting shadows.
Most of the rooms open up to the roofline, making the 1,400-square-foot home feel more spacious than it really is. Beams crossing overhead lend a sense of scale to the rooms, and conceal uplights that bounce illumination off the vaulted ceiling.
Whenever possible, Muncey eschewed solid walls in favor of interior windows so rooms could share sunshine pouring in from the half-dozen skylights. Mirrored walls fill every available niche, reflecting both views and light. "We used as many visual tricks as possible to make the house feel bigger," Muncey says.
The living room, dining room and kitchen share a single space at the back of the house, where tall windows and an even taller set of French doors frame views of the canal and surrounding shore. To make the journey from the front door more interesting, Muncey added a few twists and turns to the central hallway, and flanked it with niches that make the hall feel like part of the adjoining rooms.
The designer's goal was to make the home as comfortable as a beach house, but fashionable enough for year-round living. He had most of the furniture custom-made in a traditional style that's softened by medium-color woods, rounded edges and plump cushions. The living room is divided into two separate seating groups, so the space wouldn't feel daunting when Arnold is home alone. One grouping is anchored by a small sleigh bed heaped with pillows and a throw, where Arnold likes to curl up with a book while she contemplates the view.
The few furnishings that made the transition from the owner's old house were given cosmetic updates. For instance, a 1960s pecan dining set was refinished in a deeper stain and embellished with ebony-colored trim. The result? A convincing replica of 19th-century Biedermeier, at a fraction of the price.
The home gets its white, taupe, black and celadon color scheme from the living-room carpet: a Chinese art deco-style piece that came with the old cabin. Muncey repeated the celadon - a kind of pale celery - on some of the walls, to prevent the interior from feeling too austere. "It's one of those colors that's sort of a non-color," the designer explains.
The master bedroom is divided from the living room by a set of multipaned pocket doors. Muncey made the pockets extra wide to accommodate both the glass doors and the sheer curtain panels affixed to them. When the doors are open, Arnold can enjoy the view of the canal from her bed. Closed, they provide privacy while still admitting light.
Muncey ran a couple of strips of crown molding up the wall behind the bed, and continued them in a rectangle on the ceiling above, creating the look of a canopy bed without the posts. Downy bedding trimmed with Battenberg lace completes the cozy scene.
Not that Arnold spends much time lounging about. She hikes every week with some friends, and joined them three years ago for a 17-day trek in New Zealand. The year before, Muncey persuaded her to go skydiving. She liked the experience so much, she plans to do it again in 1998 - in honor of her 80th birthday.
----------------------- THE BIG AND SMALL OF IT ----------------------- TO MAKE A SMALL house feel larger, try some of the tricks designer Dorian Muncey used in the Arnold house:
- Eliminate walls between rooms, and use glass doors and transoms to minimize the walls you do have.
- Expand the ceiling to the roofline, or bounce light off it to make it appear higher.
- Paint the walls and ceiling a light color. Don't be afraid to break up white walls with a pale accent color, like the light green in the Arnold house.
- Pocket doors take up less floor space than swinging doors, giving you more room for furniture or circulation.
- Mirrors will reflect light and views, making a small room appear larger.
- Instead of placing a cabinet against a wall, use just a floating shelf. Similarly, furniture with legs will appear to take up less space than pieces with solid bases.
Fred Albert writes regularly about home design for Pacific Magazine and other regional publications. Greg Gilbert is a Seattle Times photographer.
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