Modern Steel Framed Beach House by Designs Northwest Architects

Steel framed house by Designs Northwest

Designs Northwest faced a number of challenges when designing the one-of-a-kind Camano Island home.

Site and environmental constraints meant going off the beaten path and taking a different approach to design.

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The firm designed the home for a couple who splits their time between a Seattle condo and Camano Island. When their kids left home, the couple decided to sell their large Seattle home, build a home on Camano Island and purchase a modest condo on the outskirts of the city.

Although it’s only used part-time, the Camano Island home can handle just about anything nature throws at it.

Designs Northwest Architects

The team at Designs Northwest Architects has been recognized for their innovative designs and focus on sustainability. The firm has handled both simple and complex projects ranging from commercial to residential, multi-family and civic markets.

With a staff of 12, the firm of able to offer a wide range of professional services, including:

  • Architectural design
  • Feasibility studies
  • Urban design and planning
  • Programming and space planning
  • Construction administration services

Designs Northwest has worked on several projects in Washington State, both in dense urban areas and rural communities.

The firm has tackled projects that present unique environmental challenges. The Camano Island home demonstrates Designs Northwest’s talents and ability to innovatively tackle environmental issues associated with waterside living.

Camano Island – A Modern Beach House with a Steel Frame

modern beach house
A Modern Beach House

The Camano Island home sits along Washington’s Puget Sound, nestled at the base of a hillside. Presenting a number of site and environmental challenges, architect Dan Nelson had to get creative when designing this waterfront home.

Home Specs

  • 1,900 square feet
  • 2 bedrooms and an office
  • 2.5 baths
  • Location: Camano Island, Washington

Design Challenges

Elevated Steel Framing Foundation

The shoreline bulkhead and the hillside limited the amount of buildable space. Construction had to be timed around the spawn timing of surf smelt.

To design this home, Nelson used the principles of resilient design. In other words, the design would be based on the environmental situation. 

Fortunately, the modern design of the Camano Island home suited the owners’ tastes. The contemporary home, which features a steel frame, offers large expansive windows that take advantage of the panoramic water views.

shoreline view

One major concern when designing and building this home was the hillside. Mud and debris commonly slough off the hill. A feasibility study was conducted to prove to the county that if a mudslide occurred, the home would not be impacted.

To meet this requirement, Nelson built upward. The firm had recently worked on another project on Camano Island, called the Tsunami House. Building codes required 5-foot piers that allowed floodwaters and strong waves to flow under the home.

Nelson used 9-foot piers for that home, and then used that design solution for the Camano Island home. If it works for water, Nelson thought, it should – theoretically – work for soil and debris. A geotechnical engineer signed off on the idea, and the home got off the ground running – literally.

To tackle the site size constraints, the team made the home high, wide and shallow. But the team faced yet another challenge: the timing of surf smelt spawning. Contractors had to get permission from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to drive equipment down to the beach, which is a critical habitat for surf smelt. Construction was timed around the spawning, and a biologist was required to monitor the eggs every week.

The home maximizes the use of its vertical space. A roof deck on the top of the home gives the homeowners space for a garden. A smaller roof deck is situated between the guest bedroom and study.

A concrete block structure houses the units, and the stairs leading to the home’s main level are made of concrete.

A Simple Layout

The home’s layout is simple yet practical and beautiful. The main level consists of the master suite, kitchen, dining and living areas. The second floor is home to the guest bedroom and the loft lounge/study. There are also two roof decks on the second level.

The home’s entrance directs your gaze to the sprawling wall of windows with stunning views of the water. The west side of the home is made almost entirely of glass, so the owners can enjoy a full view of the sunset.

The Camano Island home is yet another demonstration of how steel can be used to overcome architectural and environmental challenges without compromising on design or function.

For more information please visit Designs Northwest online at