heliotrope architects' cabin lookout opens broadly onto lopez island's pacific shores

heliotrope architects' cabin lookout opens broadly onto lopez island's pacific shores

a cabin dwelling completes on lopez island


Located within Washington‘s San Juan Island archipelago, the newly completed Lopez Lookout by Heliotrope Architects stands as an example of resourceful design. Informed by the unique set of challenges of its site on Lopez Island, the residential project demonstrates how architecture can adapt to strict environmental regulations while maintaining a design-minded spirit. The scenic waterfront property presented a puzzle for the team. The buildable area falls within a confluence of protected zones — coastal geological buffer, aquatic wildlife buffer, and a class II wetland buffer. What’s more, an active bald eagle nest is perched less than 100 feet away. These restrictions severely limited the footprint to a compact 900 square feet, allowing for just a basic cabin on the site.

lopez lookout heliotrope architectsimages © Taj Howe



heliotrope architects’ take on cabin design


Designing its Lopez Lookout, the team at Heliotrope Architects introduces a three-bedroom retreat for a family of four, including young children. Despite its limitations, the architects fulfilled the program by strategically occupying the full building height that was allowed. The resulting design is a two-story structure with an additional loft, creating a vertical layout with private bedrooms on the upper floors and communal living areas at ground level.


The team drew inspiration from the typical vernacular of the Pacific Northwest island, employing a simple gable roof and divided-lite windows. They subverted this style by leaving the ground floor largely open. This creates a sense that the walls are peeled back, maximizing the connection between the home’s interior and the surrounding landscape. The expansive views and fluid, open interiors create a dwelling immersed in nature.

lopez lookout heliotrope architects
Lopez Lookout by Heliotrope Architects is a new residence on Lopez Island



contrasting openness and privacy


While the open ground floor encourages a connection with nature, the upper floor bedrooms feature more traditional glazed windows, lending a sense of privacy and enclosure — this contrast between openness and privacy creates a diverse spatial experience. An open staircase capped by a large skylight connects all three floors, bathing the lower levels in natural light. The exterior of the Lopez Lookout is clad in black, ensuring the home blends into its natural surroundings. This thoughtful material selection minimizes the visual impact on the public shoreline, prioritizing the preservation of the island’s beauty.

lopez lookout heliotrope architects
the project faced challenges due to environmental restrictions on the building site lopez lookout heliotrope architects
architects maximized the allowed building height to create a three-bedroom home heliotrope architects' cabin lookout opens broadly onto lopez island's pacific shores
large open areas on the ground floor blur the lines between indoors and outdoors


an open staircase with a skylight brings light to the lower levels

heliotrope architects' cabin lookout opens broadly onto lopez island's pacific shores
the black exterior blends the home into the surrounding landscape


bedrooms upstairs offer privacy with traditional windows

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