On the Key peninsula in Washington state, a refuge house surrounded by nature: where nature itself, with its colors and its atmospheres, inspires the project

A cherished location for a retirement home. This was the idea of a couple who had owned a small cabin on the beach for 35 years, and decided to make their dreams come true by purchasing a nearby plot of land on which to build their house.

The previously neglected site is on a promontory facing the Key Peninsula in the state of Washington. The potential of the land was immediately clear to the architects of the studio Mwworks, creators of the project.

“The first drawings enabled us to communicate the potential of the site to the clients, and the way the house could adapt to the landscape,” says the architect Eric Walter, in charge of the project.

The owners wanted to have a modern, sturdy and informal house that would blend into the natural setting and become an ideal place for spending time with family, friends and the many dogs entrusted to their care.

The first phase of the design was to make the best of the natural landscape, creating access routes in tune with the environment, without disrupting it. This led to the construction of an access drive covered in gravel, which is barely glimpsed from the road.

“The first ideas about the structure focused on the organization of the outdoor space, with visual corridors and paths that wind through the rocks standing on the site. The area thus recovered descends towards the rocky shore in a natural way, while the house has been inserted under the green roof that seems to extend the lawn, making it invisible from the outside,” the designer emphasizes.

The structure thus exploits the natural slope of the terrain, blending into the surrounding trees. For the choice of materials the architects took their cue from the colors of the Douglas fir trees in the vicinity.

The result is a light work of architecture that rests, almost floating, on two concrete pillars.

“We wanted to opt for local, authentic, solid materials. And to make the concrete more natural and fluid, imitating the nearby rocks, we made slight modifications to its composition.

The outcome is a surface that is able to capture the grazing evening light, highlighting these simple forms. Inside and outside, we have used raw wood varieties, including the local knotty oak, bringing a certain informality while at the same time adding consistency to the finishes.”

From the country road a gravel drive leads to the house, passing by a barn. In the distance, where the slope is lower, you can glimpse the house, and upon approaching the planted roof seems like a continuation of the ground level: a patch of lawn has already become the habitat of frogs and birds. At the entrance, impressive fir trees rise like enormous columns, and the posts and beams of the structure are carefully crossed over the roots of the trees, making the building and the forest share the same terrain.

Still outside, an access walkway is like a suspended bridge, underscoring the connection between the structure and nature. When the entrance door is opened, a striking view immediately appears: each room has its own connection with the landscape, on a larger or smaller scale.

The large sliding windows open the house to the external context, projecting the living area into the surrounding woods, also thanks to a panoramic outdoor deck welcoming the relaxation area of the owners: from here they can enjoy the spectacular sunsets offered by the location. The décor takes on the same philosophy as the structure: natural colors and comfortable furnishings accentuate the spirit of the house, which is functional, elegant and informal at the same time.

The whole house has been designed to encourage convivial pleasures: the large living area, the kitchen and the guestrooms are all close and interrelated.

Only the master bedroom and the private bath have been hidden in a separate volume, behind the row of trees, to create a private refuge. Every person has their own space, including the four-legged friends for whom the architects have designed a space apart - “mudproof,” as the owners put it – to which to return after long walks in the woods.

The design of the house, which began during the Covid period, causing inevitable delays in the entire process, took a bit more than four years. As the owner says: “during construction there were some unexpected challenges, including Covid, which altered the program and the possibility of obtaining supplies. This tried our patience, but in the end it was well worth it.”