La Conner, Washington
$220–$250 per night; boutique-homes.com/vacation-rentals

Glass Cabin
Josh Brevoort and Lisa Chun, the husband-and-wife architects of Seattle firm Zeroplus, built Poppy, Artusi, Spinasse—some of Capitol Hill’s most striking restaurants. The glass and steel construction they imagined for a remote half acre was for a client just as significant: Mom. 

Peggy Brevoort purchased a waterfront lot near La Conner and loved that it hadn’t been logged in more than four decades, so her son and daughter-in-law designed a cabin that had oodles of visual access to the surrounding trees. The pair devised an interlocking series of steel beams that come together like Tinker Toys to support the clear walls. “It only works when it’s completely assembled, like puzzle pieces; it’s tricky that way,” says Josh. On the day the contractors erected the metal web, the few neighbors on the small road came over to rubberneck (and, says Peggy, to make bets on whether it would work). The result is a stunning glass pavilion, and even the shower has a nature view.

The two bedrooms and loft are in a central cocoon, while the living room and kitchen are open to the elements. Outside, a spindly staircase leads down to the waters of Skagit Bay, not far from Deception Pass. Vacation renters, when they’re not enjoying the indoor wood stove and outdoor view, head to historical La Conner, Anacortes, and Whidbey Island.

As Mom puts it, “We really gave our kids total creative freedom to try out their ideas.” Josh, who credits the contractor for pulling off the project, has no complaints about having her as a client. His tack: “Just listen to Mother,” he says.

 

Hood River, Oregon
$195 per night; vrbo.com/132726

Neal Creek Retreat
Architect Paul McKean doesn’t have a business card; he has a sustainably built cabin in Hood River. Okay, sure, he has business cards, too, but the house he built in 2006 is a much better ad for his work. He and his wife designed the boxy abode to be simple and modern. “People have called it Scandinavian, I’m not quite sure why,” he says.

At only 930 square feet, the home manages to sleep six people in two bedrooms. The raised rectangle is plated in western red cedar siding, sitting atop a concrete block that keeps the living quarters a full nine feet in the air. The idea is that the house is impervious to brush fires and flooding, and so only storage and mechanical systems are kept inside the flood-ready concrete.

The nearby Columbia Gorge offers a full recreational spread—windsurfing, hiking, bird-watching—but McKean’s rental overlooks what he calls “a very close, intimate kind of landscape.” The house faces a creek and a steep hillside the architect considers “unbuildable”; the view should be as sustainable as the materials he used for construction.

Like other unique projects that go up in rural areas, McKean’s creation saw crowds gather during construction. Since there was no front door until the project was completed, gawkers wandered the site almost every day. Theirs wasn’t the only attention: The cabin received the Built Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects in 2007.

 

Qualicum Bay, British Columbia
$135–$225 per night; freespiritspheres.com

Free Spirit Spheres 
Tom Chudleigh isn’t an architect. He’s a biologist by training, was a power engineer in his day job, and used to be a boatbuilding hobbyist. It took every bit of his expertise—not to mention his father’s teachings in millwrighting and machinery—to birth the Free Spirit Spheres, handcrafted globes that hang from the trees in Vancouver Island.

“They’re more like pieces of art,” says Chudleigh. “They’re these little baubles that just hang out in the trees, and they’re really popular with renters.” The spherical tree houses take as much investment as an artistic masterpiece—in 20 years, Chudleigh has built only six. He calls their nutlike shape “biomimicry,” and each hangs 10 to 15 feet in the air, linked to three separate trees so as to be gentle to the arboreal supports (and minimize swaying).

One rental sphere is made of yellow cedar, one of Sitka spruce, and one of fiberglass, but all were crafted like boats: Each tree house is formed by a single curved wall making up the exterior and features yacht jointing inside. The smallest has a single narrow bed, but the largest sleeps three and has a small refrigerator and kitchen counter. The private retreat has picnic areas and a sauna, and the quaint town of Qualicum Bay isn’t far.

When Chudleigh first saw how popular his rentals were with visiting architects, he feared one would steal his idea. Now, though, he doesn’t worry: “Most people don’t have the wherewithal to build these; you can’t go out and buy any part off the shelf,” he says. “There’s no shortcuts.”

 

Boise, Idaho
$59 per night; airbnb.com/rooms/181489

The Shed
Idaho’s capital city is one friendly town: Rent this backyard studio from day trader James Stead and you could end up invited to his weekly potluck dinner or borrowing wheels from his “tremendous collection of bikes.” It’s not usually what visitors expect of Boise, says Stead. “People are surprised by the friendliness of the community,” he says. “And the road trippers that come through seem to expect Iowa rather than Idaho—surprised there are any hills, let alone mountains right outside of town.”

The small shed is in the historic East End neighborhood, only a short walk to the town’s shops and restaurants. The butterfly roof is a signature of local architect Derek Hurd, who took Stead’s simple sketch and turned it into a loft-style getaway. In only 300 square feet, it contains a small but functional kitchen, an airy wood loft, and a walk-in shower with a window. Outside, the tiered lawn holds a fire pit set in native basalt stone and a native plant garden with plum and honey locust trees. 

Boise’s burgeoning art scene is a huge draw for tourists, but Stead also sees business travelers in search of a unique workspace, some of whom stay weeks or even a month—though they may just be folks who really dig potlucks.

 

Published: January 2013