Jennifer Carlson's urban farm has much to teach visitors on this year's Magnolia Holiday Tour of Homes.

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IF YOU GO on this year’s Magnolia Holiday Tour of Homes, when you get to Jennifer and Elroy Carlson’s house, you’re going to do more than traipse through a charming little house with the perfect urban garden out back. Ring-necked doves cooing in their aviary, puffy Buff Orpingtons scratching at the earth inside the chicken coop.

You’re going to learn a thing or two.

“Aviaries need to be horizontal,” Jennifer instructs. “Birds do not fly vertically. They fly horizontally.” Like that.

There certainly is no moss growing under Jennifer Carlson. Oh, sure, it’s out there between the permeable pavers, but it wouldn’t have a shot beneath Carlson. She designs landscapes; tends bees; teaches garden-to-table cooking classes; illustrates; quilts; makes her own holiday ornaments and teaches others to do the same; sells eggs, lavender products and cut flowers; leads garden tours; spins her Angora rabbit’s fur into fiber; and, in her spare time, is writing a book about sustainable-and-modest living.

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I’m sure there’s more, but this will do for our purposes.

“I’ve been thinking,” Carlson says from the dining table of her urban farmstead, surrounded by walls a golden glow. She chuckles. “Whenever I say this my husband knows he just has to sit and listen.”

The Carlsons have lived in their newly remade 1,860-square-foot “contemporary cottage” for a year now. Jennifer, bursting with curiosity and energy no canned drink can provide, spent the nine months of their remodel working on the details with contractor Bob Cole of Bob Cole Construction.

“I grew up with Dutch doors, so we have them everywhere,” she says.

Towel racks are downed Magnolia Boulevard madrona branches. She designed the flower brackets for the stair railings, crafted by Iron Design Center.

In the master bedroom (the headboard is the old fireplace mantel), a white panel is affixed to the ceiling. Carlson hits the thermostat. Heat descends “and it feels like the sun hitting your head and shoulders. Each room has its own thermostat. It was developed by the founder of Skagit Gardens for even greenhouse heat.”

What the Carlsons liked about this house was not the house at all. It was the lot, an actual stone’s throw from town. “I grew up not far from here in Magnolia. And we have always lived near shops and schools and libraries,” says Carlson, a veteran of two previous remodels, mother of two kids, grown.

“The house was very sad. A lot of people had lived here for a very short time, until they could buy their view property. It wasn’t a home. It was a holding center.”

The interior spaces were re-imagined by interior designer Paula Devon Raso. Carlson credits her with the open horseshoe staircase, the fun-to-be-in kitchen and opportunities for light everywhere.

By the way, Jennifer and Elroy met over housework years ago. As neighbors in Ballard. He was fixing the place next door. “I thought, ‘Hey, a cute Swede!’ I gave him some beets. He asked me if I’d like to have some borscht. I said, ‘Sure.’ I didn’t even know what borscht was.

“Our goal here is to say that it’s not the size, it’s the detail,” Carlson says. “We want to be true to ourselves.”

Rebecca Teagarden writes about design and architecture for Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.

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