U.S. Building of the Week

Whidbey Farm

9. March 2020
Photo: Kevin Scott

Whidbey Island, located in the Puget Sound north of Seattle, is a scenic island dotted by small farms. One such farm is the setting for a single-family residence designed by mwworks, whose design maintains as many trees on the site as possible. The architects answered a few questions about the project.

Project: Whidbey Farm, 2019
Location: Whidbey Island, Washington, USA
Client: Withheld
Architect: mwworks 
  • Design Principal: Steve Mongillo 
  • Project Architect: Drew Shawver 
  • Project Team: Eric Walter, Briony Walker, Suzanne Stefan
Structural Engineer: Jim Harris / PCS Structural Solutions 
Landscape Architect: Kenneth Philp Landscape Architects 
Contractor: Dovetail General Contractors 
Civil Engineer: Davido Consulting Group, Inc. 
Site Area: 49.58 acres 
Building Area: 4,830 sf 
Photo: Kevin Scott
Please provide an overview of the project.

Located on a rural site on Whidbey Island, a local family sought a new home and retreat on the site of their existing family farm. Out of respect for turn-of-the-century agricultural buildings located on the site, the home tucks into the edge of a densely forested hillside, overlooking chicken sheds, a weathered red barn, cattle fields and a fishing pond. The house appears intentionally modest and humble from the valley, deferential to the pastoral farmlands below.

Photo: Kevin Scott

With a palette of naturally weathered woods, concrete, locally quarried stone walls, deep oak window jambs, soft plaster walls, and black steel accents, the house strives to be warm and rustic yet simple, clean, and open — a house that honors both the timelessness of the forest and agricultural heritage of the site. 

Photo: Kevin Scott
What are the main ideas and inspirations influencing the design of the building?

The house was designed as both retreat and part-time residence for a multi-generational growing family with strong local roots going back several generations on the island. Client meetings typically included the owners, their three adult children, and sometimes their teenage kids as well. Intended for summer BBQs, fishing retreats, and family gatherings, the house was designed to be flexible and durable, and reflect the layered history both of the site and of the family itself. While designed to be comfortable for two, the house accommodates up to twenty people, with a four-bedroom main house and a compact bunkhouse for the many grandchildren and guests.

Photo: Kevin Scott
How does the design respond to the unique qualities of the site?

The Whidbey Farm house tucks into the edge of a dense forest of large Douglas Fir, Hemlock and Madrona trees, overlooking a turn of the century family farm. The view of the house is intentionally discreet and modest from the agricultural areas and nearby road, with the intent that someone may not even notice it. The house captures views overlooking weathering barns, a fishing pond and organic cattle fields, but still feels deferential to the landscape and the agricultural history of the site. Within the forest, the house massing is designed to slip between tall Firs and wrap around a modest clearing within the dense forest. Each building wing was carefully situated to preserve as many significant trees as possible. At the owner’s request, intense care and effort during design and construction placed the protection of the trees over construction expediency. 

Photo: Kevin Scott

Stones site walls were designed to slip directly adjacent to and between the Fir trees, looking as though the trees grew around the walls over time. Specially engineered foundations for the stone walls used a mix of traditional stem wall, pin piles and shallow in wall beams to span over and dodge critical roots as needed. What little tree fall required was carefully stored on the site, and is being used as lumber for the farm, cattle fencing and seasonal firewood for the fireplace and the new fire pit at the edge of the meadow. 

Photo: Kevin Scott
Was the project influenced by any trends in energy-conservation, construction, or design?

The design of Whidbey Farm is designed for longevity and low-maintenance, reducing the life cycle cost of the house for the owners. Nearly all of the exterior materials are designed to be super low maintenance with materials that don’t require an applied finish, or materials they are meant to remain durable for decades to come. Perhaps most important of all, the design is meant to timelessly inspire and delight, keeping the building further away from wasteful remodels and the wrecking ball. 

Photo: Kevin Scott

The building envelope is designed to exceed Passive House standards for airtightness using a fluid-applied water/air barrier and spray foam air seals. The average roof insulation level exceeds R-60. The wood window system uses low-e squared, argon filled glass panes with large panes reducing thermal bridging, with an average U-value of 0.28 or better. 

The building is heated using a super high efficiency gas boiler with radiant heat. Large operable panels of glass throughout encourage natural ventilation and passive cooling, from breezes coming up the hill from the pond, eliminating the need for air conditioning. 

The flat roofs are designed to be structurally green roof ready if the owner decides to move forward with the planted roofs. Green roofs reduce storm water run-off, purify the air, mitigate the urban heat island, and increase longevity of roofing membranes. 

Photo: Kevin Scott
What products or materials have contributed to the success of the completed building?

Renewable natural materials and a low maintenance exterior, chosen to increase in natural beauty with age, emphasize durability and minimize waste stream contributions over the building's life cycle. 


  • Locally sourced Huckleberry Basalt stone
  • Exposed concrete with 50% fly ash in lieu of cement, no maintenance required
  • Integrally colored exterior panel siding requires zero maintenance or painting. 
  • Locally sourced Western Red Cedar exterior siding, stained and left to naturally weather (no additional finish required)
  • Locally sourced Western Red Cedar interior siding
  • Low VOC water-based paints and finishes
  • Formaldehyde-free cellulose insulation

Email interview conducted by John Hill.

Photo: Kevin Scott
Photo: Kevin Scott
Photo: Kevin Scott
Photo: Kevin Scott
Photo: Kevin Scott
Drawing: mwworks

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