Whatcom Magazine

Whatcom Homes: Lake Samish remodel blends restoration with preservation

The old and drafty summer cabin on the west side of Lake Samish needed lots of work.

That posed several challenges for its new owners, Michael and Linda Sullivan, including how to upgrade the cabin without destroying its charm and without hurting the lake. Those challenges were keenly felt by Michael Sullivan, who specializes in the historic preservation of buildings.

“It’s one of the oldest buildings on that side of the lake” he says. “I’m a preservationist, so I wanted to keep the spirit and the bones of that cabin.”

Sullivan is a principal and historian at Artifacts Consulting in Tacoma. He lives there with his wife, who is a federal public defender. They previously lived in Whatcom County and might retire to their cabin on Lake Samish.

To minimize the remodel’s impact on the lake, they added a top floor rather than enlarge the cabin’s footprint, and they used exterior materials, such as cedar, without finishes that could taint the lake water.

Built in the 1930s or ’40s, the cabin had a daylight basement and a main floor with a river-rock fireplace. However, the framing wasn’t sturdy enough to support another story.

To solve that challenge, a timber framework was built in advance, moved to the site and anchored to provide what Sullivan calls an “exo-skeleton” that straddled the cabin to support pre-built walls for the new top floor. The Douglas fir timbers, cut from salvaged warehouse beams, also support the new metal roof that was put in place before the original roof was removed.

Inside, original knotty pine paneling was saved and reattached once the walls were reframed and re-insulated. The kitchen on the main floor was redone with bamboo flooring and countertops made from recycled Douglas fir.

To reduce energy use, a wood stove was added upstairs, on-demand hot water was added, and double-pane wood-frame windows were installed.

The top floor is more contemporary, with exposed beams and plenty of windows. The upstairs bathroom features a salvaged cast-iron bathtub supported by granite boulders.

The project, finished about five years ago, nearly doubled the size of the 800-square-foot cabin, and turned it into a comfy, energy-efficient, low-maintenance getaway.

“It’s the prefect place to sit and build a fire,” Sullivan says. “A great place to be in a storm. It’s absolutely rock-solid.”