Coupeville House: Modern Carpenter Vernacular Outside and In

Presented by: Linda Zimmer, Peter Keyes

Coupeville House: Modern Carpenter Vernacular Outside and In Like many homes that designers build for themselves this modest vacation house is an ongoing experiment as well as a dwelling. The initial design was driven by a desire to understand and respond to historical context and a need to facilitate incremental construction. As the design evolved, a simple straightforward “carpenter vernacular” vocabulary was used to define space and provide a practical fitted out interior. It was important for us to respond the historically important landscape and town of Coupeville Washington at every scale; site design, landscape, house form, interior space, materials, furnishings and color. While a variety of historical styles are represented in over ninety structures on the historic register in Coupeville we related most strongly to 19th century gabled structures such Haller house. Our house takes on the same familiar gable end shape and uses traditional elements, but proportions, composition and layout are all clearly modern. A balloon framed structural shell, built by a general contractor, provided a starting point for our incremental construction process. Four levels (basement, split main floor and loft) are connected vertically and unified by an angled central stair. A clear spatial order combined with a basic materials palette (a white interior volume paired with exposed wood structure) was defined at the outset. Interior elements built over the course of eight summers expanded and clarified our ideas. Pragmatic considerations dictated that the house, designed for a family of three be flexible for many friends and guests. Because the house is essentially one room wide, interior space is defined primarily through level changes and extensive built-in cabinetry. By articulating the edges of the small rooms with functional cabinetry, we preserved the center for activity and circulation. Built-in seating expands occupancy and storage capacity while beds incorporated into cabinetry alcoves boost sleeping capacity to twelve. Our vernacular philosophy was not driven so much by appearance but by a clarity and simplicity in use of readily available and economical materials. White shell and wood structure are further articulated by “screen” elements (wood slats, galvanized wire fencing, polycarbonate sheets). These provide layering both outside and inside. Painted cabinetry defines room edges and alcoves. The central stair is composed of both screen and cabinet elements. Painted bead board wraps the stair tower whereas guardrails protruding from the tower are galvanized wire fencing. A slatted screen wall mediates between entry and kitchen/dining while polycarbonate cladding defines an ancillary bathroom. Screens are typically clear finished. Cabinetry is painted in definable hues related to traditional milk-paints. Freestanding furniture is simple and practical: a small collection of easily moved Windsor chairs and wing chairs comprise the bulk of the loose furniture. Like other vernacular houses we admire, the Coupeville house uses the intermediate scales of cabinetry and furnishings to reinforce the larger moves that relate the house to the context. We intend all these scales to read and we want them to reflect the place, the people and the clutter that is the special province of vacation houses. We continue to tinker.