On most summer afternoons in this off-grid cabin on an island near Desolation Sound, B.C., a geometrical pattern of sunlight falls across the dining room floor. The artful display is no happy accident—indeed, as wild and rugged as it is, this guest retreat was designed to give visitors a feeling of being pressed up against nature even when inside its cozy rooms. “We situated the dining deck to capture the light at the end of the day,” says architect Laura Killam. “When the sun swings around in the late afternoon, the pergola on the porch creates a deliberate pattern of sun and shadow to pull the outdoors inside.”

An isolated outpost to a long-established family home a couple of kilometres away, the entire two-building retreat is a masterful confluence of indoors and out. Built on a bluff in a meadow overlooking the Salish Sea, the living quarters and adjacent “barn house” are a collaboration between Killam and designer Sophie Burke. The rustic aesthetic was informed by the homeowners’ desire for casual, uncluttered spaces that would add square footage to their summer house. By forgoing an addition to their main island property in favour of building on this separate section of land, the couple created a walk-or-bike-in-only getaway that can serve as either a quiet sanctuary or fun-central for teens (the family has four teenaged boys) seeking a little independence from larger family gatherings.

For Killam and Burke, it’s the woodsy 10-minute walk from the main house to “the ranch” (so nicknamed for the circa 1960s cattle corral that once inhabited this part of the land) that defines its vibe. “It’s a journey to get here and that’s a big part of the experience,” says Killam. “It’s not a long walk but the landscape is different from the other part of the island—it feels like an escape that allows visitors to experience a rustic approach to living.” 

Recessed into the landscape and clad in rough-sawn cedar boards that will grow silver as they weather, the guest house—built perpendicular to the shoreline—and adjacent barn house were designed to encourage a rhythm where visitors pass seamlessly from exterior to interior. For instance, the bedrooms can only be entered from the outside; there are no interior doors. Likewise, the shower and bathtub are outside. “They were happy without a privacy screen,” says Burke. “They want guests to feel immersed in nature.”

In summers before the retreat was built, the family occasionally sojourned on this part of the land in a canvas trapper’s tent. That glamping experience gave them—as well as Killam—insight into how to make the most of the light on the property. The architect and designer were thus able to maximize scenic views and pretty sunbeams, as in the dining room, as well as mediate the summer heat using a variety of shading strategies. “We observed that it gets hotter high on the bluff, so we shifted plans from our original blueprint to create areas of respite from the sun.”

Furnishings and finishes throughout the guest house are durable and appealingly unadorned. The pewter hardware is robust, almost industrial; the flooring is a combination of weathered cedar and porcelain tile chosen to look like natural stone. Seating is a combination of vintage pieces in wood along with new outdoor fabrics in subtle earth tones.

“We wanted to evoke familiar forms found on a farmstead,” says Burke. Common spaces were designed to be warm, rugged and inviting. Instead of closets, there are a few hooks and some under-the-bed storage. “There’s a feeling of casualness, of living out of your weekend bag,” she says.

Lest you get too relaxed dreaming of a solitary afternoon spent swinging in a shady hammock chair on the veranda, imagine a rowdy ping-pong tournament in the flex-purpose barn house,  followed by a cookout hosted by those four teenaged boys. While the flexibility of the current spaces reflects the family’s dynamism and playfulness, they have hopes for yet more activity. The L-configuration of the buildings holds a space for a larger future home in the courtyard between them as their family grows.

“What the family loves is how the ranch has become such a fun gathering space,” says Killam. “They play, they nap, they use the hot tub, they eat outside—it’s like they’re still camping.” But, of course, even better.

A Soft Place
Sheepskins were purchased from Hold on Vancouver Island, sourced from Canadian sheep and tanneries. The throw blanket was made locally by Cloth Studio. Additional cushions from Libeco add soft texture and warm colours.
Camp Style
Clients used this tent to camp on the site and utilize the property prior to the home being built. The tent now provides additional sleeping accommodations that are just a short meadow walk from the ranch house itself.

Sound Machine
The banquette in the living space is made up of two twin-sized mattresses so it can turn into spillover accommodations for extra guests. The coffee table is actually the subwoofer for the sound system, made locally by Barter. A speaker hangs from the ceiling, encased in a fir surround.
Tucked In
Linen bedding from Cultiver ensures the beds look great even when rumpled. Sisal rugs in the bedrooms add a natural, rustic feel.

Views to Thrill
The homes are designed to capture evening sun but also provide plenty of airy shelter when the sun is high overhead. The roof is clad in the same cedar board as the rest of the exterior.


This home story was originally published in the March/April 2024 print issue of Western Living magazine.

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