A Bainbridge Island boathouse is re-imagined as the beachhead for a Chicago family's return to their native Seattle. A simple structure with a Northwest-Asian aesthetic, the boathouse offers shelter from fickle weather and a place to visit until a larger home for the whole gang is complete.

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FROM THEIR Chicago condo overlooking Lake Michigan, Seattle natives Ralph and Alicia Siegel find themselves a long way from their new, charming little Bainbridge Island boathouse.

But they’re getting closer every day.

“We have seven years left in Chicago until I retire,” Ralph says.

“We met on Bainbridge, and we’re coming back to Bainbridge,” Alicia says. “We spent the first 50 years of our lives here. That’s why we’re doing this; there is no place like here in August.”

No offense, Windy City, but the Siegels safely deposited their hearts in the Northwest when they headed east for Ralph’s job as a principal with Deloitte.

A chance encounter with a classified newspaper ad over breakfast in 2006 led them to the perfect piece of beachfront property to come home to: a third of an acre littered with PVC piping, a mobile-home parking pad, an old swing set, rusted sheds and a moldy boathouse on its last timbers.

To the Siegels it looked like paradise.

“Our real-estate agent brought us here on a horrible day. It was pouring down rain,” Ralph says.

“We went down to the boathouse, and it was just a shack. They opened the door for us . . .” Alicia says.

“And we said, ‘We’ll take it!’ ” Ralph says.

“It was the moldiest old thing, and we had water up to our boots,” Alicia says.

They dived in, interviewing architects and signing on with BC&J Architects, a firm on the island. Designs were hashed out by phone, because the couple lived in Florida at that time. The Siegels credit architect Peter Brachvogel, project manager John Geurts, and builder Dave Carley of Carley Construction for making the difficult easy, the complicated simple and the tired charmingly new again.

The Siegels are not home-design rookies. Ralph’s mother was renowned Northwest interior designer Marjorie Siegel. The couple’s lineage of addresses includes two houses on Mercer Island, two on Bainbridge and one in Kirkland. Funky, small, big, contemporary. One major remodel.

But this is their home to come home to. Out of the woods (they always seemed to find themselves on dark, forested lots) and into the water. With enough space for the whole family, which includes three adult kids and spouses.

The boathouse with a houseboat feeling is just Phase One of the Siegels’ plan. An also-new carriage house (garage) near the road has been comfortably converted to a temporary apartment. And, finally, between garage and boathouse there will be a house.

The single-gable boathouse and the carriage house share an Asian-Northwest aesthetic with exteriors of battered cedar-shingle walls, metal roofs and ipe decks.

The Siegels were held to the confines of the existing beach structure. There were also protocols and permit conditions: from the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Army Corps of Engineers, city of Bainbridge Island, the Department of Ecology and the Suquamish Tribe.

But here it is. Wide doors on both sides framing the beach — open arms for visitors. The 415-square-foot building sits in the water on galvanized-steel pilings, the contractor’s equivalent of great blue heron legs.

The Siegels love the nothingness of the structure. In it, everything is possible.

Rebecca Teagarden is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.