The exodus has begun. Every summer weekend, thousands of Washingtonians rush home from work, spend a few frantic hours packing and head for the Eastern shore, the Shenandoah Valley, West Virginia and Pennsylvania to relax and get away from the capital's city's heat and humidity, not to mention its work pressures. Some even scurry to National Airport for commuter hops to more exotic retreats at Martha's Vineyard, the Hamptons or Cape Cod.

For these escape artists, not all of whom are in the money, the biggest priority seems to be the creation of a low-maintenance environment. No one wants to spend a summer weekend cleaning and cooking, so many summer retreats are designed with tiled floors, wood-paneled walls and spacious kitchens instead of formal dining areas.

Second on the priority lists is a feeling that a summer house should shelter one from the elements without shutting them out. Big porches, glass windows and doors that open wide let the outdoors in.

Finally, one can't forget that a summer house attracts visitors like flies to lemonade, making space to entertain friends and quarters for overnight guests essential.

Most people can't affort to build a dream retreat. But for apartment dweller David Adamusko, a little imagination and a lot of hard work gave the Fairfax County high school teacher his own rustic summer home for less than $3,000.

Three years ago Adamusko spent the summer on his 12-acre hideaway near Paw Paw, W.Va., fashioning a contemporary version of the classic American bungalow. Using green lumber from a nearby mill, Adamusko built a 608-squre-foot paradise.

"I figure the only difference between this place and heaven is that in heaven there aren't any bugs," says the industrial arts teacher, who began to build the house "for my own sanity" as a retreat for the entire summer. Now that he has grown accustomed to his "heaven," he has built a barn for his furniture restoration business and for guests.

The house measures 24' by 16' (plus decks and porches) and includes two rooms -- a large living area complete with electric and wood stoves, a sink and a refrigerator and an upstairs (16' by 16') bedroom. The house has almost all the creature comforts except one heavy expense -- plumbing. Adamusko roughs it with an outdoor shower and an old-fashioned outhouse.

By using green wood, Adamusko figures he saved a great deal of money (he estimates it would cost more than $8,000 to build the cottage today, even with green wood), but he had to be careful to nail the boards in place before they started to curl and warp: "Once it's nailed in place, it'll stay that way forever."

About the same time Adamusko was building his getaway, PBS television producer Jo Franklin was working with architect Richard Ridley on a design for a retreat overlooking the water at St. Michaels, Md., on the Miles River. Then single, Franklin lived in an Adams-Morgan apartment.

The concept of a house on stilts evolved because Franklin wanted the feeling of a glass tree house, "I wanted a place that would be relaxed, open and flowing, yet still provide interesting vistas, nooks and crannies filled with surprises."

Architect Ridley, a master at pulling useable spaces out of the air, developed a plan for a three-part house that would offer both privacy and entertainment space. Two separate bedroom wings flank a two-story main core with a living room, an eating area and a bath off a second-story loft.

Each bedroom has its own sitting area and a loft sleeping space, and the master bedroom, connected to the main house by a screened breezeway, has its own bath. Squirreled into the main bathroom is one of those surprises so important to the owner -- a small loft that offers a place to sunbathe in the winter under a large skylight. The 1,600-square-foot house cost about $53,000 to build, exclusive of land. Since building the house, Franklin has married Hugh Trout, a vascular surgeon. The two lead what she calls "pressure-cooker lives," and "two days away from it all at the house is like a week away anywhere else -- it helps us put things back together."

Architects Sam Dunn and Bruce Preston of Dunn & Preston designed a very different three-part house for a Washington attorney and his potter wife in Truro, Mass. The cedar-sided summer house has a separate wing for the couples' four children, a central two-story space with a living room, dining area and kitchen, and a wing for the master bedroom and guest quarters. The house itself is 2,230 square feet with an additional 1,500 square feet of redwood decking overlooking the ocean. The bedroom wings each have small, square lofts, reached by ladders, that allow one to gaze out at the ocean, catch the breezes and get away from activity in a house designed to get a way from it all.

The three-part form of the house evolved not only because of the couple's desire to separate parents and children from the main living area, but because of a peculiar covenant conveyed with the deed to the land, forcing the owners to build the house without obstructing the view of their neighbor several hundred yards behind their property.

Designed for minimal maintenance, interior and exterior walls are of wood with a natural finish, a design that, while contemporary in feeling, speaks to the New England tradition of weathered wood siding. The house cost about $80,000 to build (exclusive of land) four years ago. CAPTION: Picture 1, The spiral staircase in the two-story living area of Jo Franklin-Trout's St. Michaels, Md., retreat.; Picture 2, This three-part house at Truro, Mass., was designed for a Washington couple and their four children. The cedar-sided, 2,230-square-foot house has a central two-story living area, a master bedroom and guest wing and a separate children's wing. Like the beach house described above, the Franklin-Trout house is divided into three wings, a design that offers both privacy and space for entertainment.; Picture 3, Two separate bedroom wings flank a two-story main living area.; Picture 4, The house was built on stilts because Franklin-Trout wanted the feeling of a glass tree house, "open, yet filled with surprises." By Bill Snead & Sam Dunn; Picture 5, David Adamusko built this $3,000 West Virginia hideaway himself, using green wood -- pine siding, oak decking -- and roofing paper rather than standard shingles. By David Adamusko