Project Overview

Coastal Living: “A Gathering Place”


Written by: Stephanie Hunt

It’s the wee hours here on laid-back Whidbey Island, but things are cooking at Michael and Liz Hilton’s cedar-shingled abode. “The girls have a tradition of baking cookies at 1 a.m. with their cousins,” says Liz, speaking 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 four-bedroom main house flanked by a guesthouse and multipurpose barn, an easy hour and a half from their Seattle home. For Michael, a computer engineer and avid home chef, designing the home’s professional-grade kitchens, indoors and out, was a highlight. “I’m more functional in terms of design, while Liz is aesthetically-oriented and creative. In Seattle, our kitchen reflects more of her touch, but here, though it’s a blend, I like to think I won out.”

Initially Michael and Liz, who met when both worked in Silicon Valley 25 years ago, envisioned building a modest beach getaway. “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,” says Michael, who recently stepped down from Concur, the travel/expense management software company he co-founded.

Hosting lots of family and friends means, of course, lots of cooking, and shopping. Fortunately there’s plenty of seafood, good local cheeses, and a Farmers’ Market ten minutes away. “There’s even a cattle farmer on Whidbey,” says Michael. “And I love having herbs from our garden.” The girls pick plums, berries and apples for their own gastronomic experiments (beware Emily’s “amazing” fruit scones). Comfortable, well-planned cooking spaces means dad and the girls can whip up meals for their foursome or large crowds with equal finesse. “The bigger the group, the happier I am,” Michael says. Designer Rocky Rochon softened the impact of workhorse appliances (two Sub-Zero refrigerators and dual-fuel Wolf range) with pieces spiced with character: a custom china cabinet separating the fridges and an antique French patisserie table topped with honed Carrera marble and repurposed as the kitchen island. “That’s where everyone congregates,” Michael says.

And congregate they do. Over July 4th, 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 firepit might be 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 once again line up barrack-style in the barn, which architect Stephen Hoedemaker designed to reflect Liz’s agrarian bent (her grandfather was a farmer; the girls are accomplished equestrians).

“I’m a first generation Korean American, the only one of my three 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.” But then it’s quickly on to drinks on the patio, plus a fierce game of Canasta, then later, maybe chicken on the outdoor rotisserie. “We eat most meals out here—breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Michael adds. “The view is just so incredible.”