MICHELLE BURGESS believes that if you look and if you listen, a house will tell you what to do.
This is the story of what the interior designer/artist did to hers.
There are pictures of family and “things I found.” Antiques and bits from relatives. Art from those she likes and admires. Burgess is not above Ikea nor beneath fine textiles. The latest item to settle in is a love seat that belonged to a friend. “Every time I had a dinner party I borrowed it from her. Last year at Thanksgiving she brought it and said, ‘Here, this is yours.’ ”
It all comes back to family and friends at the place she calls Taylor Cottage, cheery cherry red and tucked into the woods of Bainbridge Island.
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About 15 years ago, Burgess and her husband, Henry Shepherd, were searching for a house on the island. Shepherd was raised here. (Also, “beaches are minutes away in three directions.”) Friends told them about the cottage, but it was out of their league. They bid on a house in Port Madison. But it didn’t feel right. They took the offer back. A year later the cottage was still for sale.
Burgess knew it was the one, her first and, so far, only house. The little place is both an intimate and interesting choice for a woman who is often called upon to transform and personalize far grander homes for others.
“I didn’t anticipate that we’d still be here or that the building would still be this size,” she says.
Burgess guesses her home is 1,600 square feet. She is being generous. It’s kitchen to living room, left through the pocket doors to the “master” bedroom (also Burgess’ office). Daughter Paloma sleeps in the other bedroom off the short hallway. The attic has been conscripted into a bedroom for daughter Ava and office for Shepherd (up a ship’s ladder in the kitchen). One bathroom.
Out back, what was once the garage is now the “Party Palace,” one room that holds a table for 12, a chandelier in the rafters, waiting to be called upon to cast a welcoming glow.
Burgess’ home is like her work, organic and evolutionary. Sometimes, on the job, a client might have to wait a year or more for the right dining-room fixture to appear. But it does. Burgess, a violinist by schooling and an art professional by happenstance (she worked at Linda Farris, was a partner at the Winston-Wachter gallery), calls what she does “3D composing.”
“I’ve tweaked it over the years to a lighter palette. Light, that’s always my deal. There are windows everywhere, and everywhere you look it’s green.
“It’s just a nice scale of living. I like it when things don’t get overthought.”
To fit everybody into the kitchen, Burgess created a banquette, and Shepherd, a builder (and art director), designed a table.
“I found a beautiful Schumacher fabric for the banquette that even with a discount was $175 a yard,” Burgess says. “I needed seven yards. But I just couldn’t pull the trigger on that.” And then the right thing turned up. “I found this heavy-duty fabric at Ikea, and it transformed the whole banquette; $8 a yard! I loved it so much I bought more.”
Of the entire home and her solutions for making it work she says, “It is like living in a boat, actually. You are given a set of things to work with and you have to edit, edit, edit.
“But there’s something about this place, I can’t tell you.”
Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.