WHIDBEY ISLAND M.C.S. HOUSE
Single Family Residence
New wood frame, Non-toxic
Greenback, Whidbey Islans, WA
10 acre site | 3350 sq. ft. home
This Whidbey Island home was built for a client with a complicated and diverse group of allergies known as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. (Commonly referred to as M.C.S). The over riding purpose of this project was to build a non-toxic home.
Early in the design process it became clear that to create a healthful place this project needed to be not just a home but a sanctuary and retreat. It wasn’t a simple project, but there is a deceptive simplicity in the quality of its spaces and workmanship of its details. From a design point of view, it is a place that is welcoming and calming, a home that sits comfortably on the land.
Because of the clients sensitivities neither conventional building materials nor standard building practices could be used. Only acceptedly tested materials and protocols could be used to assure that there would be no contamination. For every material used in this project there were two to four others researched, tested, and rejected. The list of materials we could not use included anything synthetic or petrol-chemically-based, anything with fungicides or pesticides, most adhesives, cedar, pine, anything scented, toluene’s, solvent based materials or formaldehyde. Remarkable, this list includes most products used in standard construction.
The client is a writer and a gardener so creating a place that inspires both activities became an important part of her healing. Her husband wanted a casual rural, almost contemporary architectural style. She favored New England rural styles set in a garden landscape. The architecture and structure uses rural references and the site design ties both traditions together. South of the house is a meadow and north is a nautilus shaped garden bowl. The house and the site were designed in response to each other with the house nestled into the land. All entrances are at grade and the windows are positioned so natural light and views flow into the rooms to strengthen the relationship between interior and exterior spaces.
One of the delights of this project was designing a number of "out" buildings. This includes a potting shed, a workshop, a guest room above the garage, a forest guest cottage, and a water tower. The water tower, which houses the well pump, is also an observation room which sits at the top of the garden at the forest edge. It is an overlook to the rest of the site by day, a faintly lit beacon by night. From it the well water runs down to the house both literally in underground pipes, and symbolically in the waterway. The waterway is positioned on the centered north to south axis that runs through the site and the house design.
The main living areas are oriented to the site along this axis. The living room with its wrap around porch settles into the south meadow. It is the most dynamic room spatially with heavy timber trusses supporting a clerestory that is reminiscent of rural structures. Overlooking the living room, and the meadow beyond, is the balcony entrance to the master bedroom suite. A few steps below the living room the open kitchen and dining area lies adjacent to the garden with the pond and the waterways spillway at its center.
Universal Principles for Building Healthy Homes
There are several principles to be understood and practiced when designing and building a healthy house. These principals can be considered and applied to any project, but in working on this MCS house they were the main priority in all aspects of the work.
There are four, universally accepted, principles in building any healthy home that we employed on this project;
1.) Eliminate toxic materials as much as possible
2.) Encapsulate toxic materials that can't be eliminated by sealing them off from the living spaces
3.). Ventillate with fresh air
4.) Filter the air to remove any pollutants, particulates and gases
A key aspect of building with these principles is that extra time and attention has to be taken to ensure that the separation, encapsulation, ventilation and filtration are done correctly. To determine the exact specifications for this project, all materials and systems were researched and tested for toxicity. Extreme care was taken constantly to avoid accidental contamination and this vigillance was the foundation for the success of this project.