Family-Friendly Whidbey Island Retreat
Right at Home
It's the wee hours on laid-back Whidbey Island, but things are cooking at Michael and Liz Hilton's cedar-shingle abode. "The girls have a tradition of baking cookies at 1 a.m. with their cousins," says Liz of daughters Emily, 20, and Megan, 17.
Midnight yumminess and a hopping kitchen where their kids are stirring up batter, banter, and memories with family is exactly what the Hiltons had in mind when creating this tri-part retreat with the weathered patina of an old camp—a five-bedroom main house flanked by a guesthouse and a multipurpose barn, designed by architect Stephen Hoedemaker.
The Sleeping Loft
"At first we envisioned just a small beach house," says Michael, a tech entrepreneur and cofounder of Concur, a leading platform for travel expense management. "But when we found this two-acre lot, we had an opportunity to create something much more: A place with room for everyone, for our girls and our extended family to gather for years and generations to come."
Lots of family means, of course, lots of cooking, and as the primary chef, Michael appreciates the bounty of Puget Sound, from the seafood to the local produce and cheeses at the farmers' market just minutes away.
In the kitchen, interior designer Rocky Rochon softened the impact of workhorse appliances (two Sub-Zero refrigerators and a Wolf range) with pieces seasoned with character: a custom china cabinet separating the fridges and an antique French patisserie table topped with Carrara marble and repurposed as the kitchen island.
The Kitchen Cabinets
The hardware on the built-in china cabinet is antiqued brass.
And congregate they do. Each July, 23 Hiltons (give or take a few) convene for 10 days of eating, sailing, and paddleboarding. Homemade crab cakes from the afternoon's haul and s'mores over the beachside fire pit are often accompanied by tales of Whidbey forebears— Michael's grandfather used to camp on the island, and his great-grandmother taught school here. In early August, Liz's extended family follows suit, and air mattresses line up barrack-style in the barn, designed to reflect Liz's agrarian bent. (Also, the girls are accomplished equestrians.)
The Outdoor Kitchen
"I'm a first generation Korean American, the only one of my siblings born in the States. To create a legacy home, a sense of rootedness, is important to me," says Liz, whose first stop upon arrival is always the stairwell, to honor photos of her grandparents. "It keeps me grounded to remember who we are and where we came from," she says. But then it's on to drinks on the patio, plus a fierce family game of canasta and, later, maybe chicken on the outdoor rotisserie. "We eat most meals out here," Michael adds. "The view is just so incredible."
A cedar board-and-batten barn is often used as a spillover entertaining space and a fun backdrop for outdoor movie nights.
The home faces Mutiny Bay and the Olympic Mountains on Whidbey Island, Washington. Michael and daughter Megan bring in Dungeness crabs from the bay.
Favorite gadget: An electric smoker, a gift from Liz to Mike—judging by the last batch of ribs, a huge hit
Best perch: The second-floor sleeping loft
Signature welcome drink: Vodka and soda with a whole lime squeezed in
Recent family cook-off: Paella over the fire pit vs. paella in the oven (winner: fire pit)
Current maritime project: Seeding an oyster bed