"Because there was an agricultural building on the site, we thought maybe the house could be like a barn: one-roof pitch, the open interior, the loft, the height," says principal architect Kirsten Murray.
MARGARET DOESN’T need me to tell her tale. People who are crazy for houses always know their own stories. And Margaret does a right fine job of it herself.
Upon seeing her future husband’s college apartment for the first time: “Wow, this is the first man’s apartment I’ve been in that didn’t make me want to throw up.”
Upon their decision many years later to move across the country to San Juan Isand: “There are people who pick this island, and they come and leave. Then there are people who the island picks, and they come and stay.”
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San Juan Island picked Margaret and her husband on a visit to Friday Harbor.
“We were looking for the third chapter of our life. We were sitting out back of Friday Harbor House and my husband said, ‘Why don’t we come here? It’s got everything we want.’ Word for word, it was what I was thinking. When we bought this house we’d been on the island a total of 36 hours.”
Sometimes you know what you know.
But Margaret doesn’t mean this house, the contemporary we see here perched up tall to see what it can see across the muddy, rich-with-sealife preserve of False Bay. Although, God knows, they did try.
“For five years we worked to use the existing house. I’m not for tearing down and building a McMansion. But it wouldn’t work.”
It was time, 2004 to 2010, well spent with the architects from Olson Kundig, Kirsten Murray principal architect on the project.
“The open bridge, that the house is slightly elevated, the metal work, that all came out of that creative process. We wanted a house — we’ve got a lot of art — where anybody who came here — from artists to CEOs — would be comfortable but challenged.”
Tall order, tall house.
On the spot of the old foundation, the 2,500-square-foot home has glass walls, open to two floors, to maximize views of Haro Strait. Massive exterior wood shutters, 20 feet tall, temper light and solar heat across the west facade. Deep overhangs provide shade and storm protection.
At the top of the stairs is a cantilevered steel overlook for over-the-top views inside and out. Three Rumford fireplaces do their part for comfort. Interior design by Sara Steinfeld, who melded the new with “nonnegotiable” pieces from her design-minded client. All of this secure behind a 15-foot-tall, steel-clad front door.
The architecturally adventurous Margaret is well pleased with her contemporary San Juan Island home built by Dan Lowe of Lowe Construction in Friday Harbor, gardens by Steve Schramm of Island Gardens.
“We love the community, but we absolutely love the house. We’re constantly saying, ‘Whoa! How does that work? How’d they do that?’
“In 29 years of marriage we’ve lived in 12 houses. We redid another house and this one at the same time, and for those two it was the first time we worked with an architect and a designer. And the thing about working with an architect and a designer is that you learn so much.”
The couple is now retired to island life. These, however, are not retiring people.
“We’re basically urban people, and there’s a lot going on out here,” Margaret says. “This is a major shipping channel. We see the lights of Victoria. The cruise ships that go by are like a lighted city block.”
Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific NW. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.