HILLSIDE SANCTUARY || A Peaceful Personal Retreat in the San Juan Islands

Imagine dining in a floating glass box suspended above ground surrounded by a forest of trees.

This Hillside Sanctuary in the Pacific Northwest emerged from the vision of Hoedemaker Pfeiffer by working around the technical challenges of the remote site set in the San Juan Islands, Washington. The property owner came to Hoedemaker Pfeiffer looking for a personal retreat inspired by a home lost to fire decades earlier in the hills of Appalachia. Inspired by the unique site location, the team envisioned a set of simple stone volumes. From that concept emerged the main house and a guest house, each responding to its own unique location on the site. Together they provide friends and family with comfortable accommodation while offering a sanctuary for the owner at the main home.

The main house and the guest house.


Taking full advantage of sweeping views of Puget Sound, the main home is sited on a small plateau high on top of a steeply-sloping hillside. With a view on one side and a road on the other, the site suggested a stone plinth and stone wall to form the base and rear of the house. A pair of stone fireplace volumes support the concept, rising together to form the boundaries of a central stone staircase that separates the main level into public and private realms.

The main house facing towards the view.

Atop the low stone base then perches a light-filled wood structure. Its simple shed roof tips low in front to protect from the summer sun while offering space for a photovoltaic array above. Winter light in turn penetrates deep into the main living spaces through a wall of glass running continuously across building’s south elevation. The relative height difference between this wood pavilion and that of the adjacent stone volume also allows consistent north light to flood into the primary living spaces via a series of clerestory windows, which release warm air high on the leeward side of the structure.

Clerestory windows draw in light to the living space.

Perfect nook for reading and relaxing with a morning coffee.

The pairing of polished, light wood paired against exposed stone walls that mirror the exterior architecture brings the outside in. Various nooks are designed into the communal and private spaces within the home to take advantage of the flood of warm sunlight from the windows.


The bedroom is kept simple, highlighting the beautiful nature surroundings with a view deck and reading nook; an intricate divider made of the same polished wood provides added privacy for the dressing area, where a space-saving floor-to-ceiling storage system offers ample room for belongings.

The simple aesthetic and contemporary design elements extend into the bathroom, where darker tones prevail to set the tone for a relaxing shower or soak in the tub. The open shower and tub space creates a feeling of freedom and openness in this private sanctuary.

Contemporary and refined interiors.


The site for the guest house came with more significant technical challenges. The concept begins with a stone tower set near the center of the small circular parcel. From this, the team developed program elements that would extend from this central column. A sweeping view deck opposite the main entry on the upper level extends from the main living area, looking out across the water.

The dining room was conceived as a three-sided glass object floating in a forest of trees. Two steel beams carry its entire weight and extend deep into the floor system. To enhance the concept, the team preserved trees only a few feet from the dining room by developing custom retaining walls capable of avoiding critical root zones.

The bedrooms are located on the lower level of the Guest House and has an exit out onto a small clearing where a picnic table allows guests to enjoy the outdoor weather in private, shielded by surrounding trees and steep slopes.

The dining room extends out and is cantilevered by two steel beams supporting its weight.

Hoedemaker Pfeiffer created a quiet sanctuary utilizing innovative design elements and creative solutions to work around the technical challenges of the site. The result is a set of residences built using materials that reflect the characteristics of the stunning natural surroundings and blend seamlessly into the surrounding forest.


Hoedemaker Pfeiffer (Architecture)

Schuchart Dow (Contractor)

Allworth Design (Landscape Architect)

Malsam Tsang  (Structural Engineer)

LPD Engineering (Civil Engineer)

Nelson Geotechnical Associates, Inc. (Geotechnical Engineer)

Island Tree Doctor (Arborist)

Photography by Kevin Scott