“We wanted privacy and community at the same time,” explains architect Jim Morss.
TWO ARCHITECTS, two builders and three designs went into the creation of one harmonious half-acre cottage development on Bainbridge Island.
The idea of Wood Avenue Cottages was born in a “how to downsize without going into a condo or retirement home” conversation between three couples who knew each other from church. All six, mostly retired, wanted smaller gardens and homes in a location where they could easily walk to the town of Winslow. Jim Morss, the architect in the group, stepped up to search for property. In 2012 he found a small, old rental house with a half-acre of overgrown garden a few blocks from Winslow.
The group subdivided the property and built small ADA accessible houses that cluster like family.
“We wanted privacy and community at the same time,” explains Morss, who prepared the site plan, acted as developer and designed two of the houses; the third was designed by Bainbridge architect Peter Brachvogel of BC&J Architecture.
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Morss found that acting as your own developer allowed for more freedom, but also more risk. “But we saved the 20 percent developer’s fee,” he says. He describes the process of group planning as “lots and lots of meetings with plenty of wine.”
Each home and patio have plenty of privacy, with a rain garden behind the houses. The only shared expense is a gardener. Three single-car garages screen the shared front garden from the street. The original home once had extensive gardens. Garden designer John van den Meerendonk of Botanica Inc. saved more than 30 rhododendrons and three plum trees, replanting for height and a sense of maturity in the new garden.
Morss and his wife, Susan, left a big house in the woods in the middle of the island for more sun and less maintenance. They describe the three stages of downsizing as holding a big garage sale, putting things into storage, then giving a great many things away.
The footprints of all three houses are the same, with 1,350 square feet on the main floor, and varying sizes of second floors. The Morss house is the smallest, with a spare 300-square-foot loft that serves as office and guest room.
“It was a challenge to design the space on this scale,” says Morss. “We stuck in window seats for extra seating and storage wherever we could,” points out Susan.
The kitchen, living and dining rooms are open to each other, delineated by rugs, furniture, bookshelves and fireplace. Glass sliders open to the patio, the dining room windows are floor-to-ceiling, light pours in the clerestory windows. Fir-paneled ceilings and a rough-faced tiled fireplace wall warm the interior, while wood-trim details pay homage to Frank Lloyd Wright. The fireplace wall and loft are built as a series of stacked boxes, inspired by a favorite Mondrian painting. This is an architect’s home, after all. The soaring ceiling increases the feeling of spaciousness, while its shape echoes that of Bainbridge’s Grace Episcopal Church, designed by architect Jim Cutler and much admired by Morss.
The couple worked with interior designer Kim McCall for her sense of color and understanding of materials. They invested in high-end appliances and quartz countertops, saving money on flooring with porcelain tile. Floors in the bathrooms and beneath the dining-room table are heated, where the warmth is most appreciated.
Has the ideal of community and downsizing lived up to expectations?
“Two of us still tend P-Patches, even though we wanted less garden,” says homeowner Claudia Anderson.
Each couple thought they’d cut back to one car, but that hasn’t quite happened yet. But they’re all walking more, love their new homes, and most important, they remain good friends.