A FRAMED PHOTO full of memories and meaning hangs on a wall just outside the workout room in Dave and Karen Stewart’s magnificent Fidalgo Island home — one of the few walls that doesn’t frame humongous windows looking toward Dewey Beach and Similk Bay, all the way to Deception Pass and the Olympic Mountains.
“There’s me in July of 1971 at this very beach, paddling around on a piece of washed-up Styrofoam that I found on the beach,” says Dave. “In this picture, in the background, is where this house is now.”
The photo is decades old. The magnificent home is brand-new. And the connections — between eras and aesthetics, between a family and the water that sustains its soul — are everything.
Dave worked on fishing boats in Alaska during his college years. He and Karen met on the water — the companies they worked for used the same printer, she says, and when it “put a little fishing trip together, we ended up on the same boat” (perhaps after a little “lobbying” by Dave). They moved around for years — to California, then to Nashville — and then came back to Anacortes, where Dave’s family moved when he was 12 (his family home is now less than a mile away).
“We bought this property eight years ago,” Karen says. “We wanted kind of a midcentury/Frank Lloyd Wright kind of look, and to maximize views and privacy.”
And water. Oh, the water.
“They’ve put in a pond and hot tub, and every room of the house has that water view; that’s the main purpose of the design and their biggest requirement,” says architect Mike Underwood of Underwood & Associates. (Karen says the first time they met with Underwood and his team, even with just their first, basic sketch, “The design was so clear in his mind, he said, ‘I can close my eyes and walk through your house.’ ”) From there, Underwood worked with Kreider Construction, Orca Masonry Northwest and landscape designer Marguerite Jacobs to creatively enhance an element, a sentiment and a lifestyle. (The Stewarts’ home won multiple awards, including “People’s Choice” and “Builders’ Choice,” in the Skagit/Island Counties Builders Association‘s 2019 Home Tour.)
The water theme starts flowing gently, at the entry, where a peacefully gurgling natural spring — likely older than the Stewarts’ 1971 photo — runs its way to the beach under a livable bridge that centers the home in more ways than one.
“The creek was something I wanted to highlight because it was there,” Underwood says. “It could have gone underground, but it was just a really nice inspiration to create this fern-grotto feel. What they’ve planted is going to be a very lush fern-oriented tunnel down to the water.”
Between stream and beach are a pond, which collects drainage from the roofs and the driveway, Dave says, and a 1,000-square-foot rain garden that gathers overflow and filters it.
Just inside the stately wood-and-windowed entry, a short floating staircase leads up to that bridge, which in reality is so much better than a bridge — and so much greater than a great room — with sky-high walls of windows. One wall, naturally, faces the beach — and even the view looking up feels warmly water-y.
“The curved roof over that bridge is an acknowledgment of it being close to the ocean,” says Underwood. “That wave feel ties it into the site.”
Driftwood dots the beach below — and it also lands, strategically, on the fireplace mantels on both sides of the great-room fireplace and near the outdoor fireplace.
“We used wood that was reclaimed from waves. Some were quite unique and got incorporated,” Underwood says. “We’re just tying the existing into the new building. It’s a great way to create attachments to both the new and the old.”
Even the cool gray brick — on the bar, plus in the pool-table room, the garage (again: That word comes nowhere near the awesomeness of the Stewarts’ garage) and Dave’s office (also awesome, and triangular, and attached to that beyond-awesome garage) — evokes a shade of saltwater, and midcentury design.
“I knew I wanted brick,” Karen says. “This one is gray, from the Yangtze River. It adds an element of age to a brand-new home. I didn’t want it all shiny and new.”
Also wedding something old to something new: local, live-edge, old-growth Douglas fir. The bartop of the fully stocked bar/espresso area (“Come in the morning for a latte; come in the evening for a beer,” Karen says) is from a tree that tipped in a windstorm in Deception Pass State Park; there’s another slab of fir in Dave’s office, and more in the pool-room elbow rest.
Atop the west wing, the entire third level is a commanding master suite, with a luxurious soaking tub along and across from huge windows, overlooking it all: the creek, the pond, the beach — everything.
Water — as a design concept and as an essential element — might run through (and under and around) the Stewarts’ home, but “family” keeps it all afloat. Karen and Dave have three children: twin girls who are 23 and a son who’s 21. They all share a house in Bellingham, but they all have a special place here, too:
• There’s a full-of-fun bunkroom on the lower level, with four adult-size twin beds (each with individual phone-charging cubby holes), a full media room and its own bathroom (plus, you know: a powerful water view).
• While the Stewarts’ home is primed for an elevator (their bedroom is on the third floor, after all), for now, three closet-like spaces are holding its place. One is hidden behind a bookcase. “That pulls away to a secret room,” Karen says. “My daughter is an artist. I’d tell her stories about growing up in Montana, and all these old houses had secret rooms. She always wanted one. It’s kind of her space. We have her artwork hanging in there.”
• And then: that garage. From the outside, it looks like a fine four-car parking space, but on the inside, it’s a lively, fabulously designed room: a big brick wall, the Ping-Pong Lounge (which takes up two car bays), more midcentury furniture, huge speakers, heated floors. There’s also, even from here, a water connection: An extra, special, roll-up garage door opens directly to that treasured beach.