Well-known as an innovative chef who specializes in the local, seasonal bounty of Whidbey Island, Matt Costello goes home to a compact modern cottage he shares with his wife, Jodi Starcevich, their dog and two cats. Costello's home kitchen features a long copper bar where family and guests can chat and watch the proceedings.

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photographed by Benjamin Benschneider

MATT COSTELLO and Jodi Starcevich, both creative forces in the island town of Langley, live in a forward-thinking little cluster of homes. Costello is the chef at Whidbey Island’s award-winning Inn at Langley, where people arrive by helicopter, private boat and ferry to eat at his tables. Starcevich is a tattoo artist turned gardener who cares for the inn’s gardens as well as an edible landscape at a nearby coffee shop.

Along with two cats and a 150-pound doodle named Salinger, the couple live in a 1,065-square-foot cottage within easy walking distance of their jobs.

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Their cottage is one of four built on the edge of a greenbelt by Gemkow Construction. Flat Rock Productions designed the houses to be cottage-sized but without the cottage nostalgia; these compact dwellings are distinctly contemporary.

Several things were done to give the four cottages their own individual character, says designer David Price. Each is oriented differently and colors vary, as do the rooflines on the porches. Although the cottages are clustered, thoughtful window placement and a grove of birches in the center lend privacy. Aluminum windows, brighter colors, corrugated-metal siding and simple detailing, all within a more traditional, steep-roofed building form, are what make these cottages more modern than most.

Indoors, the floors are bamboo, the countertops concrete and the windows large, with 9-foot ceilings in the entry, dining and living areas. The stairway is open, light and spacious, with niches for art. Two full bathrooms, a guest room and master bedroom complete the floor plan.

So how does the couple squeeze themselves, their menagerie and the occasional visits from grown children into slightly more than a thousand square feet?

“It’s amazing it all works, but it does,” says Starcevich. She and Costello both moved to Whidbey from big, old foursquare homes in Tacoma, but Starcevich found their Langley cottage more daunting for its newness than for its small scale. “It took us awhile to break it in, to make it our own,” she says. The space is now thoroughly personalized, from a slim gas stove sandwiched neatly into the corner of the living room to the white porcelain chandelier scored on eBay.

Starcevich describes the couple’s decorating style as “eclectic and vintage, kind of piecemeal.” They collect tin art from Mexico, and the curtains are fluttery white paper cutouts. Niches in the stairway wall hold drawings from Starcevich’s previous life as a tattoo artist. But it’s not just the inside of the house that the couple loves. Deer pass by the windows, a creek burbles nearby, and it’s so quiet they can hear the owls at night.

The open floor plan lends itself to entertaining, which centers on the kitchen’s copper bar. Everything is close enough so the cook can chat easily with guests sitting on the couch or at the dining-room table. The pantry tucked beneath the stairs makes the lack of upper cabinetry feasible in a working kitchen.

And this is a working kitchen. “We upgraded some elements,” says Costello, who appreciates faucets sufficiently tall to slide a big pot underneath, and stove tops that are easy to clean. “I like utilitarian, simple things that work properly and are durable.”

After a long day cooking at the inn, does Costello look forward to coming home and preparing a meal?

Not really. “Jodi jokes that I make Progresso soup at home . . . Really, their lentil soup is delicious,” says the chef famous for his innovative way with fresh, local food.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “The New Low-Maintenance Garden.” Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest staff photographer.

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