Retreat |


The drama of this Ketchikan, Alaska retreat is its proximity to the ocean. But the structure’s shape and materials fit naturally into the wooded, boulder-filled site. The combination of sturdy architecture and the ocean backdrop are impressive and create excitement and anticipation for all who approach.
Submitted by Erin Miller |

Editors Note: This is part one of a two part series.

A few years ago, I was asked to design an Alaskan retreat situated on a perfect fishing cove along the coast in Ketchikan, Alaska. (The clients are local and this is the second home I have designed for them).

Initially, I sensed they wanted a small fishing cabin, nothing too large or extravagant. However, the gorgeous and secluded oceanfront property, and the charms of small-town Ketchikan, soon enticed the owners so much that they knew they would spend many months each year in this home. So, the modest home we started designing was adjusted and customized to be a luxurious retreat with many purposes.

In addition to being a comfortable home for extended stays, the owners wanted to use it to entertain friends and family, important clients, and sometimes it would need to function for large groups, including as a venue for business retreats for their company.

Having lived near Grass Valley and Auburn for many years, the owners love elements of the foothill architectural style that is common here, including cedar siding, exposed timber trusses, and lots of stone. They wanted to blend this mountain aesthetic with clean and fresh ocean references. They also wanted it to be a “WOW” as you approached from the driveway, and when seen from the water.

When it was completed in 2012, they were ecstatic with the results. Cindy wrote to me saying that “the house you designed is the talk of the town!” They got the function and the “wow” they desired. And, they have been happily ensconced in Ketchikan, entertaining large and small groups for many months during each of the past two years.

Such success does not come easily. And these fantastic results can be attributed to great teamwork.

First, the owners themselves invested greatly in the project including many trips and interviews to assemble the right team of professionals.

Their first team member was local general contractor Bob Pitzer, from Auburn. While he would not build the house, he has built other homes for them and is their most trusted local contractor. By overseeing the planning phases, helping interview builders in Ketchikan, and being available to help resolve challenges that inevitably arise in custom home construction, Bob provided stability and a level of confidence that this far-away project would meet their requirements.

Next, they hired me to design and draw plans which would fulfill their functional needs, but would also be a statement home that fit well on the gorgeous but narrow, sloped site.

In Ketchikan, they received guidance and many referrals from a local fishing tour operator they have known for years. Jim Moody of First City Charters in Ketchikan, helped the owners find a great general contractor and a site preparation / excavation expert. Jeff Wedekind of Ketchikan, is in my opinion, a master at appropriate and beautiful site preparation and stone work. He terraced the property with walls of giant boulders from this site and other nearby properties. And as much as I love the house, I have to admit that Jeff’s stone walls are the key that makes this home a “WOW.”

General contractor Jim Byron in Ketchikan was hired to construct the home. And he did a fantastic job with what I feel are challenging conditions. Everything in Ketchikan is more difficult than our local construction projects.

For example, the home had to be designed and engineered for year-round damp conditions which include about 150 inches of rain per year, extraordinary wind gusts, and possible seismic activity. Everything about this structure is hefty.

Also, access to the site was challenging. In fact, the roof trusses were not able to be driven to the home. Instead, they were placed by a helicopter. A first for me to see! The final complication to building on such a gorgeous site is wildlife. Jim Byron told me several times in phone conversations that other natural phenomena were getting in the way of construction. Like whales bubble feeding right in front of the house — distracting workers!

The purpose of this place is retreat. For the owners, the family, and fortunate friends and business associates, it is an amazing luxury respite surrounded by nature.

Its success is due to the owners and their investment of time and resources which afforded them a great team.

When my husband and I were recently visiting for several days, we probably surprised the owners because we hardly left the house. But that is because it is so … perfect.

We have done plenty of touring and excursions before, and we have stayed in amazing places around the world. But this house, in this setting is among the best — anywhere!

It is the perfect combination of pampering and nature. And we couldn’t really figure out why we should leave the house to tour someplace less wonderful. (Maybe that is one thing the owners will regret.)

Next time, I’ll share more details of this retreat.

Erin Miller is the owner of Erin Miller Designs in Grass Valley. They offer complete design and plan drafting services, and interior design and décor for remodels, additions, kitchens, baths and custom homes. Erin can be reached at 530-477-1401, or at

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