A beach cabin with a whim­si­cal tower.


Arts and Crafts Homes - - PORTFOLIO - By donna pizzi | photographs by black­stone edge stu­dios

THE OWN­ERS OF THIS WHIMSY, Bill and Deb, bought a lot in Can­non Beach in the late 1980s. Bill’s fam­ily have va­ca­tioned very near here, on the Ore­gon coast, for a hun­dred years. Fi­nances and job changes after the birth of their son, Ni­cholas, kept them from build­ing right away, but they dreamed and doo­dled. When Deb re­ceived an in­her­i­tance from her fa­ther, Mac, they were able to scrap their doo­dles and go to an ar­chi­tect; thus the fond name they gave the cabin, Mac’s Shack.

“We thought they were way out of our league,” Deb says of ar­chi­tects Larry and Lani John­son, whose own son Lewis was friends with Ni­cholas. “We didn’t think they’d be in­ter­ested in de­sign­ing a small cabin.”

But they ap­proached the firm and, in fact, the John- son Part­ner­ship (Seat­tle) was very taken with the project. Deb de­scribed want­ing an “ar­chi­tec­tural folly,” which Lani in­ter­preted on her be­half, con­vey­ing ideas to Larry and to Ellen Mirro, the project man­ager. Larry’s sketches—for a de­sign that ev­ery­one agrees hardly changed from con­cept phase to con­struc­tion—fea­tured many Arts & Crafts de­tails. (Larry John­son is known as “Mr. Bun­ga­low” for his work in the Seat­tle area.) The ar­chi­tect re­spected the cou­ple’s de­sire to keep the foot­print small, and to embrace a ca­sual cabin style rem­i­nis­cent of the 1920s and ’30s.

“Be­cause they’re set back from the beach,” John­son ex­plains, “they wanted an aerie or tower so they could look over neigh­bor­ing houses at the view.” That prac­ti­cal re­quire­ment met up with Deb’s idea for a folly— with a

light­house tower the re­sult.

Bill brought his fam­ily to a nearby ten­nis court and used mask­ing tape to re­pro­duce Larry’s house plan on the court. Deb ex­plains: “We walked through it. Then Bill went to the aerie, Ni­cholas to the liv­ing room, and I sat in the nook by the foot of the stair­case.” Con­vinced they would have pri­vacy even in 1,000 square feet, they gave the de­sign a thumbs-up.

Ni­cholas gives credit to his dad, Bill, who built him a tree­house when he was grow­ing up, and turned a sand­box into a two-story play­house with re­cy­cled win­dows. “My fa­ther wanted it to look as if the house were on a wood foun­da­tion, like the orig­i­nal old beach cot­tages. So we ap­plied split fir half-rounds to the ex­posed con­crete.”

It was Ni­cholas who sug­gested the built-in set­tle in the liv­ing room. “I wanted a bed/sofa to en­cour­age peo­ple to sit and talk,” he says, “and not go hide in their bed­rooms.” Bill was keen to have shelv­ing span room perime­ters so he could dis­play his beer bot­tle col­lec­tion.

The fam­ily ea­gerly fol­lowed the build­ing process. The tower had to with­stand a 120-mph wind­load; ar­chi­tect John­son met with en­gi­neer­ing firms to solve the prob­lem.

“I had to re­ject the first so­lu­tion be­cause it would have blown the bud­get,” John­son says. The hy­brid de­sign sank four 30'-long 16" x 8" can­tilevered beams into a 4'deep foun­da­tion filled with con­crete and com­pacted gravel. Ellen Mirro ex­plains that the house is in an earth­quake zone: “There is a lot of re­bar and a huge foun­da­tion.”

A master craftsman built the stair­case. “Larry sug­gested the oc­tag­o­nal newel posts to mimic the shape of the tower,” Ellen says. John­son ex­plains that the cir­cle­cutout balus­ters are a nod to English Arts & Crafts ar­chi­tect Wil­liam Lethaby.

When he's at the cabin, Bill, who is now re­tired, en­joys kite-mak­ing in the aerie and works to com­plete the land­scape de­sign by David Mar­shall. He also reads—there's no TV. “When I was eight years old,” Bill muses, “my par­ents bought a TV for $250. For the same price at the time, my dad could have pur­chased a water­front cot­tage. I don't have to tell you what that would be worth now!”

The en­try porch has fac­ing built-in benches, a de­tail the ar­chi­tect re­mem­bers from beach houses in Cape May, New Jersey. OP­PO­SITE: A built-in bench with stor­age tucks into the tower stair­case. Tower win­dows crown book­cases.

ABOVE: Son Ni­cholas spot­ted the an­tique lan­tern at Cut­tysark Nau­ti­cal An­tiques in Seat­tle and knew it was per­fect for the aerie. The ar­chi­tects in­cor­po­rated it by drop­ping it through a ring at­tached to metal col­lar ties

on the beams. RIGHT: Not quite an ar­chi­tec­tural folly, the tower was de­signed to look like a light­house. The ex­te­rior stair echoes balustrades

and the tower stair inside. A sec­ond bed­room is un­der the stair at left.

TOP: A din­ing area sits be­tween the liv­ing-room set­tle and the pas­sage to the tower stair in the ca­sual, open-plan in­te­rior. IN­SET: Owner Deb re­ports that ar­chi­tect Larry John­son of­ten uses this stair­case de­sign— ta­pered balus­ters with cir­cle cutouts—in pre­lim­i­nary client sketches.

This fam­ily says that’s just what they wanted!

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