The new home hunkers down among the madrona, positioned behind an expansive basalt rock outcropping.
“THIS IS WHY we bought the place,” says Jim Jonassen, taking a drink of coffee but keeping his eyes on the moss-carpeted basalt outcropping that is their front yard.
If deer aren’t nibbling their way across it, then eagles are bathing in the pond out back, drying their wings on the rocks out front before heading up to nests atop Douglas firs. Beyond are islands. Their emerald edges softened by a misty morning; San Juan, Anderson, Spieden, Vancouver.
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“We’ve always had a place in our hearts for the San Juans,” says Jim, still trying to convert feelings to words. The family formerly had a place on Lopez. “We looked in the desert, but we didn’t find anything we loved there.”
On Orcas they did; 30 remote acres with world-class views on an island that also offers culture, festivals and the camaraderie of distant-but-like-minded neighbors. And in this spot was the perfect perch for a home for the next chapter of their lives: A place where the forest gives way to a large, rocky clearing and views to the sea.
“All the city stuff stays in the city,” says Jim’s wife, Marilyn, of their attempt to retire to island life. He is a retired managing partner at architect firm NBBJ, she an artist.
“I try not to bring anything; computers, problems, cellphones, all that email.”
Who would want to?
Their new home, designed by Joe Herrin of Heliotrope Architects, hunkers down among the madrona. An arborist tends to their care. The home, completed in 2009, intrudes as little as possible. A living roof, called the garden rooftop, has been placed over the media room sited a floor down into the earth. The line between built and unbuilt is blurred. “We really wanted the whole house to feel like it was on the rock,” says Herrin.
The home’s long, narrow footprint curves to give every room a clear view, yet unique perspective, of sea and rock. Precise edges of contemporary design and rock-solid concrete and steel surfaces are softened by the sensuous curve.
But the home is also fully connected to the forest; clerestory windows cast the eye to nearby treetops. Only one tree was removed during construction. And the home steps around one mighty madrona that separates the guest wing from the main living quarters. It also provides a leafy canopy for the outdoor kitchen and fireplace.
Colors and textures inside were chosen to meld with those outside. Wood (fir, cedar and madrona), concrete, zinc, steel and glass. The earthen palette also bears a strong connection to Marilyn’s encaustic pieces found throughout the home. An architect friend called the entire place “a serious piece of art” in itself.
“We do have a little bit of a slower lifestyle up here,” says Jim, casting his gaze out the glass walls of the master bedroom. At night, no electric lights of civilization are visible. This day, though, drippy and gray, is gauzed in fog. The mossy rocks practically glow now. “We do get lattes and crawl back in bed to watch the morning news.”
“Forever,” says Marilyn.
Rebecca Teagarden is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.