A family happily slips back and forth from a home filled with beloved Victorian clutter to a spare modern getaway place on the Olympic Peninsula designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.
RUBY-RED poppies wave enthusiastically; along the driveway, from the meadow, outside the door. Maybe it’s just the wind. But it feels more like the spirit of the place that sits on a bluff over the water at the end of a winding, dirt road in Port Townsend.
“It’s an entertaining house,” says Barbara, which is to say this cabin in contemporary dress holds a crowd and sleeps 10.
“Don’t you hate it when you’re cooking and people pants you?” This comes from the kitchen and, yes, I do. That would be the family: sisters cutting herbs, tearing flowers for supper. A deer takes an evening meal just outside the long kitchen window.
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“The first thing you said is, ‘We want you to build a kitchen and a house around it,’ ” says daughter Rebecca, a recent Culinary Institute of America graduate among this family of foodies. She is remembering, with her father, Steve, how it all started. How this Philadelphia family, which lives in a historically significant Queen Anne Victorian, came to build, clear across the country, a cool contemporary of high design and simple pleasures by Peter Bohlin of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.
Briefly it goes like this: They came to visit family in Port Townsend. Hooked.
But that was back in the land-rush days of 2005. Steve bought the land unseen and in a bidoff: “The Realtor called and said, ‘This is it. It’s the best lot I’ve seen on the Olympic Peninsula in two years.”
Suddenly he needed an architect. Bohlin Cywinski Jackson appealed because the firm has offices in both Seattle and Philadelphia.
“I had no idea who he was,” Steve says of Peter, the Bohlin in BCJ, which was chosen as the national AIA’s firm of the year in 1994. “I called the office and the guy said, ‘Mr. Bohlin will call you back.’ I said, ‘Oh no, no. I don’t need the top guy. This is just a house. And he said to me, ‘Mr. Bohlin. Returns all calls. About homes.’ “
Homes are very intriguing to Peter Bohlin. And this one won a 2010 national AIA Housing Award, “created to recognize the best in housing design and promote the importance of good housing as a necessity of life, a sanctuary for the human spirit and a valuable national resource.” It also recently received one of four merit awards at AIA Seattle’s 2010 Honor Awards.
“I told him, ‘Peter, you don’t have to worry about me as a client, because I’m a lawyer. I bill by the hour.’ And he said to me, ‘Steve Jobs can be difficult. Bill Gates can be difficult. You I’m not worried about.’ “
“Then I knew it was going to be OK,” Steve says, laughing.
It sure is.
The 2,800-square-foot house, sustainable where possible, was designed to honor views grand (water, mountains) and intimate (meadow, forest). The breezeway is a dramatic frame for the water beyond, and also a stage for Bohlin-designed discoveries to come.
Exposed steel structure and wood columns extend the length of the slender building. Primary spaces turn to views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Angled bedroom window bays turn to the Olympic Mountains. The lower volume is clad in reclaimed barn wood, openings there framing forest and meadow. Barn wood breaks in, meeting up with interior cherry — rustic meets refined. A silver water-harvesting cistern sits out for all to see. Nods to farmsteads past in a building Bohlin sees as agrarian.
“People who knew us knew we had this huge Victorian house filled with Victorian furniture,” Steve says. “They didn’t get this. But we said, ‘You don’t understand, both houses are architecturally significant.’ “
Rebecca Teagarden is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.