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Dream Cottage on the Washington Coast

This idyllic retreat lends itself to love
By Christy Heitger-Ewing
Published: November 1, 2007
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This redesigned cottage is nestled perfectly within its lush landscape.
Photo by Andrew Buchanan
Over the past decade, a handful of lucky lovebirds have exchanged I Do’s and other sentimental declarations at a very special getaway on Vashon Island. This rural island located off Washington’s coast is 10 percent larger than Manhattan but holds 1/150 of the population. These fortunate couples who have pledged their love to each other not only get to do so before an idyllic scenic backdrop – they also get the use of a private retreat.
  
Not every cabin owner would willingly – and happily – offer folks the use of his place, but that’s precisely what the magnanimous owner of this 2,400-square foot cottage has done time and again. He has generously offered up his cottage to friends, family members and coworkers who want a relaxed, romantic, secluded spot for a wedding or commitment ceremony. One look at this cottage, complete with lush gardens, sandy beach and a hilltop gazebo with a breathtaking view of Puget Sound, and it’s clear why folks jump at the chance to proclaim their love here.
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Providing a visual and literal connection to the outside, these French doors allow more light inside the cottage.
Photo by Andrew Buchanan
Love at first site

Love was certainly in the air the day the owner first set eyes on the property in 1987. With the forest, the beach, the greenhouse and the sparkling ocean just steps away, it was the perfect place for dogs to frolic, children to build sand castles and friends and family to enjoy lazy-day kayaking. And the charm of the 1957 log kit cottage couldn’t be overlooked. With an ideal location – close to the owner’s home of Seattle while still providing detachment from the hustle and bustle of civilization – the deal was clinched.  

This idyllic retreat can only be accessed via a 15-minute ferry ride from Seattle, as no bridge connects to the island. The ferry journey is followed by a half-mile trek down the winding wooded driveway before dropping down to a sheltered forest to where the cottage is nestled.
   
“The site is very private. You don’t even know it’s there,” says Patricia Brennan, of Patricia Brennan Architects, who worked with the owner in 1996 to renovate and remodel the cabin. The motivation behind the remodel was to make the home lighter and brighter. In winter in particular, with lower placement of the sun in the sky as well as limited daylight hours, the cottage seemed rather dark. Plus, typical rainy northeastern weather contributed to the darkened interiors. So, the primary goal during renovation was to incorporate any and all ways to allow more light into the home.
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The kitchen was moved to provide better access to the beach, water and sunsets.
Photo by Andrew Buchanan
Light and bright

The original rectangular design, with the kitchen sandwiched in the middle of the house as far away from windows as possible, meant little opportunity for natural light to enter the structure. Adding on and remodeling the cabin into an L-shaped design ameliorated this issue.
  
 “Now the entryway is smack dab in the middle of the ‘L’, which brings in far more natural light and also offers the entire house a better view of the property and water,” says Brennan. The kitchen was moved to the southwest on the waterside of the cottage, which not only allowed in more natural light but also enabled a more direct path to the beach. Plus, French doors – that open onto two glistening ponds – were added in the master bedroom.
   
The architectural team used a combination of wood, windows and lighting to add life to the cottage. New interior spaces were vaulted. The ceiling’s heavy timber frame construction is a combination of purlins (horizontal structural members in the roof) and 2x6-foot car-decking (structural tongue-and-groove material that provides lateral roof stability and enhances the ceiling’s aesthetic beauty). Recycled 100-year-old oak flooring of various widths replaced the existing Berber carpeting and created a visual warmth and lightness that didn’t previously exist. Slate tile graces the floors of the entry and kitchen.
   
The owner installed surface-mounted halogen lights at regular intervals in between the purlins and add xenon fixtures beneath the kitchen cabinets. The xenon fixtures feature lightbulbs that repeat every six inches in a continuous strip.
   
“Halogens and xenons give the feel of sunlight,” says Brennan. “Plus, they’re more energy efficient than standard incandescent bulbs.”
   
High windows and ceilings also let in a good deal of light, as does the cupola, which is “inviting, friendly, and playful,” says Brennan. “It adds a nice dimension to the home.”
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Vaulted ceilings, reclaimed barnwood floorboards and new windows lend warmth and comfort to the living room.
Photo by Andrew Buchanan
Scenic setting for romance 

All this adds up to a perfect, cozy romantic spot to exchange vows. One couple, who married in mid-December of 2006, opted to hold their ceremony in the cottage’s living room to have the benefit of the natural light, which now streams in through the high windows. The living room also offered a great view of both the Puget Sound and the gardens.
   
Other couples have chosen to exchange their vows outside, despite the difficult task of trying to select just the right quiet spot for their nuptials. By nosing around the property, however, it’s easy to see that cottage guests simply can’t go wrong in their choice of locales; each turn of the head offers its own bit of beauty, its own sense of serenity, its own taste of true romance.
   
Some ceremonies have been held by the ponds, complete with chirping crickets and the occasional quacking duck or croaking frog. Couples who have held their reception at dusk on the front of the property have been blessed with the sounds of crashing waves and squalling seagulls as day fades to evening.
   
Actually, all parts of the property have been utilized in some way for these weddings. Even the cozy gazebo, which sits on a hilltop facing the ocean, has made its way into a ceremony. Though its small size prevents the betrothed from exchanging vows while standing in it, couples have improvised by having the bride start the procession from the gazebo and slowly walk down to the blooming garden that is bursting with sweet-smelling perennials.
   
Ponds … creeks … gardens … forests – it’s the natural blend of peaceful ambiance and simple elegance that makes this place so magical and so memorable – not only for weddings but also for other occasions as well.
Land preservation

The owner of this Vashon Island getaway also occasionally invites guests for events such as garden tours and environmental fundraisers to raise money for land preservation in eastern Washington. Preserving natural landscapes is important to him. Of course, the protection of this Vashon Island property, in particular, is near and dear to his heart.
   
Five years ago, the owner had a conservation easement placed on the property, which permanently limits development of the unspoiled 28 acres of land. Additionally, accord-ing to the easement, no logging is allowed there. Along with protecting the land, the owner also has chosen to safeguard the groundwater, soil, local flora and fauna and Puget Sound by using strictly organic materials in the garden. Through these actions, the natural beauty of this setting is likely to be available for succeeding generations.  
   
With a generous heart, the owner of this Vashon Island cottage has allowed numerous joyous occasions to take place at his retreat. It’s a special location for his friends, family and co-workers to share their love.

Sixteen years ago, freelancer Christy Heitger’s brother popped the question to his girlfriend while vacationing at the family’s northern Michigan cabin. This past summer the couple celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary. Congratulations, Dan and Jeanette!

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