The client for this Whidbey Island, Wash., weekend house, Judy Geist, possesses a multitude of talents. As a Philadelphia Orchestra violist who has ties to the Pacific Northwest music community, Geist enjoys hosting chamber music concerts at home. And she also is an accomplished painter. When Brett Webber, AIA, LEED AP, signed on as her architect, she asked him to create a space that could accommodate both of her passions.

The boxy, modern house feels like a loft inside, with open spaces gathered around a central fireplace. On the north end, Webber and his team placed a double-height painting studio, basing its proportions on those of a studio he and Geist have admired at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Homasote, the fiberboard surface often used in artists’ workspaces, covers the lower half of the walls. The upper walls are dominated by a large, mostly translucent north window and an oversized interior shutter (made from a standard hollow-core door) that closes and opens over an east-facing, clear-glass window.

Webber knew early on that Geist would sometimes need separation from her studio. “Part of the artist’s dilemma is that you create chaos, and sometimes you want to leave that chaos,” he says. He and contractor Jeff Hanson jury-rigged a standard garage door inside the opening that divides the studio from the main living area, covering the side facing the living room with a wood panel. The setup takes advantage of the room’s extra height and avoids creating clutter on the floor. “For a relatively modest cost, we were able to get a dramatic element in the space,” Webber says. “It provides an element of surprise and delight.”

Drama also factors into the studio’s other purpose as a performance area for chamber music players. Its open nature accommodates an audience of about 70 to 80, and several more can watch from the mezzanine that juts into the studio’s upper level. According to Webber, the Homasote panels “soften and tune the acoustics.” And during the daytime, the room’s muted natural light and hints of views make for a pleasant concert backdrop. “The translucent window cuts out the harshness, but we wanted to have some clear glass,” Webber says. “In such a beautiful landscape, we wanted to be able to capture some of the view.”

Throughout the project, Webber, Hanson, and project architect Jonathan Walston kept the modest budget in mind. A simple footprint and straightforward materials helped limit costs, allowing them to splurge on high-impact details such as elegant metal stair railings. “The flourishes of expense are in the things that give it the character it has,” Webber explains.