For Seattle-based artist/designer Roy McMakin, simple things can be very complicated. And vice versa. Take, for example, the house his firm, Domestic Architecture, designed for a longtime friend: a music manager who spends one third of his time in Los Angeles, one third traveling, and one third escaping to his McMakin-designed retreat on Vashon Island, just a 20-minute ferry ride from Seattle. Seen from a distance, the house appears as a quaint farmhouse—a metal gable roof, board and batten siding, double hung windows—set on 13 acres of forest and pastures with views of Puget Sound. But come closer, and you understand why the homeowner says he lives “inside a sculpture” and why, for him, it is a place where personal history and love of art collide. As a dedicated collector of McMakin’s work (furniture and objects that turn nostalgia and domesticity on its head), he turned to his friend to help shape his memories—of the wild meadows of Northern California’s Marin County, where he grew up, as well as his grandmother’s farm in Iowa, where, as a child, he spent his summers—into what he calls “functional art.”
McMakin, who lives on Vashon Island, may not be an architect, but, says Domestic Architecture project architect Ian Butcher, AIA, “he knows architecture. He’s learned it.” According to McMakin, he and Butcher have a kind of “mind meld” going on after six years of working together, with McMakin as lead designer, taking abstract ideas about the familiar, the vernacular, and human perception, and subverting them. Butcher, in turn, articulates those ideas as drawings and then, as real buildings.
The program for this house called for two floors with an open, irregularly shaped living, kitchen, and dining area, a study, and three bedrooms, each with its own bath. The client also wanted a basement that could be accessed from both inside and outside the house, much like his grandmother’s home. He had admired a drawing from McMakin’s 2003 book of sketches of residential work that showed a barn-like structure with a row of uniformly spaced windows. Bringing that sketch to life for the client, McMakin and Butcher created a home with natural light in mind. “First, we oriented the main living spaces of the house toward the water, which is where the winter solstice sun sets,” says McMakin. “Then, we oriented the other side of the house for the summer solstice sun. Reconciling those two geometries gave us the crazy roof structure.” That crazy roof results from two volumes that collide at an obtuse angle, with adjoining walls either removed or made transparent with floor-to-ceiling glass, as well as a master suite that cantilevers out over a patio below. The sequenced windows that the client so admired are there—double-hung and regularly spaced regardless of what they run into, such as corners, cabinetry, or walls they must bend around. “The sequencing sets up an order and a logic,” says McMakin, “but that logic gets bent.” The whimsy continues with a third form, a concrete lean-to that functions as both entry and laundry room.
It’s a complicated house, in many respects, but it’s also a comfortable place to live. “Mostly,” says the owner, “it’s just my home. When I get on that ferry to go there, I feel the stress just melting away.”