After running the foodie-destination restaurant Christina's for 28 years on Orcas Island, Chris and Bruce Orchid have "retired" to their island sanctuary, Red Rabbit Farm.
“For us it is a way of life that, combined with our years at the restaurant, have given us an idea of hospitality, shared meals, convivial conversation, honest wines, in a place of beauty, without pretense or puffery, at a pace of leisure, with quiet, lazy days to relax and inspire us.”
— Red Rabbit Farm
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Christina and Bruce Orchid’s home on Orcas Island is just delicious. Little collections everywhere; green pottery over the fireplace, boxes of spoons piled on a chair, birds’ nests here and there, tiny metal buildings on a dresser, little chairs hanging from the wall, a cabinet packed with blue and white china, another jammed with seashells. Paintings stacked against the wall. Mismatched everything. Tattered. Worn. Gathered. Lived in. Loved.
“Did you have a look in the upstairs bathroom?” Christina asks, already halfway there. “Come look. These are my chicks. I have to keep them warm, so I put them in here.”
We head back to the kitchen. The kitchen. Taupe-bleached fir posts and beams over a rough stone floor. Butcherblock island. Copper pans hang overhead, a cook’s chandelier. All bathed in hot, white afternoon light. Irresistible even without a pie in the oven.
“I worked in restaurants all of my life, because, of course, I was an art major,” says the woman who ran the foodie-destination restaurant Christina’s in Eastsound for 28 years. This explains the good-taste/tastes-good thing.
“Really good light was the whole inspiration for this house. I spent a lot of time living in basements. For years it had no doors. But then we got old and started snoring.”
Not so much as a teaspoon of pretense or puffery at Red Rabbit Farm.
“I’m not much of a housekeeper,” she says, waving her way past a lace of cobwebs caught in the light.
Christina and Bruce Orchid built their 1,750-square-foot house in 1976 on 15 acres her father bought when Chris was a child. The couple saved $6,000 working the north slope of Alaska. Architect Tim Merrill designed the place to be built (by islander Dave Shore) for $5,400 with whatever they could scavenge.
“We moved in in ’78, but I always say we finished it last week,” Chris says. Her mom is 92, quit smoking at 79, lives down the road and tends a large and tidy garden there. Whatever’s in season is offered on an old wooden table by the side of the road.
“I don’t know what it is about houses. I’ve always loved houses,” Chris says as we rat-a-tat-tat our way through their place.
“We really live in our house.” Bruce hucks a ball across the room. Daisy, Boston terrier, scrambles for it, toenails first.
The place has views that work on you like a good massage. Acres of rolling meadow. Pond downslope. Forest hugging the property. Cows in the pasture. Couple of peacocks demanding to know what’s up. Westsound waters in the distance.
The main floor holds a dining room (the table taken up with their grandson’s puzzle), den and the meadow/water-view living room and kitchen. The open stairs go up twice, once for bedrooms, again for Bruce’s office, 28 feet up. The look of the place is Deco-Victorian-Indian-hippie-Left-Bank-Stickley-Asian-ocean-island-grandma’s house-garden-art studio.
Chris and Bruce have planted some 200 trees on the farm. Put up truckloads of homemade jam, vinegar, mustard, ketchup. More.
Chris leads the march across the driveway, throws open the barn door, announces, “This is my cookhouse.” Here is where she shares a lifetime of experience with all hungry comers: classes for kids, cooking boot camps, farm-to-table dinners, the newly married. Robust affairs starring local food, fresh herbs and good salt.
Shelves are packed with every kind of herb. Cases of canning jars wait for assignment. Baskets in all sizes teeter from the highest place.
Upstairs is a guest cottage. The coffee table is an old espresso machine. A little woodstove warms a space part grandma’s attic, part Sigmund Freud’s office. Aged carpets, a fainting couch, worn desks and chairs.
The Orchids are possessed of a can-do attitude that has served them well. Or as Chris says, “I’m just real lucky.”
Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific Northwest magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.