SO MUCH IS so idyllic here. Eagles glide overhead, completely unruffled by human admirers. Views stretch relentlessly westward, collecting mounded isles, a twinkling bay, a pair of straits. “Traffic” is whatever vehicle you took to get here: a car over a bridge, a boat over water, a bike over hilly terrain.
This is Fidalgo Island. It’s extremely scenic, more than remotely remote and so beautifully alluring, Jerry and Cheryl Waldbaum fell in love with this sweet beachfront site at first sight.
Its 1,800-square-foot cedar-shake cabin, with two little bedrooms, one loft, a lot of stone and even more history, worked as a getaway for years and years — until Mother Nature made some history of her own.
“In 2006, Super Bowl weekend, a big storm at sea coincided with king tides,” Jerry says. “We were flooded. The water came within an inch of the floor. The guest cabin was lower, and got 18 inches of water. We were concerned. We planned to move here full-time and retire.”
At the time, Jerry was still a practicing physician (Cheryl is a retired nurse), so it was years before an official geologist visited and conducted an official geological survey.
“He said, ‘The beach is very healthy. You should raise your house 4 to 5 feet,’ ” Jerry says. “I said, ‘How about another option?’ That would have been a temporary fix, a series of beams — very expensive and very bizarre.”
Then architect Brooks Middleton visited and conducted his own research. “We spent a long time sitting, walked the beach, sat on a log,” Jerry says. Middleton developed a sense of place, then a set of possibilities, then an exciting plan.
“The first question was: ‘Can we save this home or raise it? What do you want to end up with?’ ” Middleton recalls. “Number one was: ‘Stay dry.’ They decided it was time to move up — literally. So we built this house on stilts that the rising tides can flow under.”
(It was tough to lose the existing home, Cheryl says, but their son-in-law “salvaged everything that could be salvaged” for his own new home in Bellingham, and Jerry repurposed the original, carved entry door for his office.)
This is now quite the elevated living experience: a seriously shiny, brand-new modern-and-maritime home designed to endure nature’s wildest mood swings.
“The piers [33 of them] are all poured concrete,” says Middleton. “The structure of the house is probably the most complex. It has rigid insulation; the structure is steel. There’s a SIP roof system with a TPO [thermoplastic polyolefin] membrane, a common commercial roofing. With the materials, the idea is that it’s actually a pretty harsh environment here in the winter.”
Jerry and Cheryl’s home also is designed so that the couple, married 42 years, can continue to enjoy their newly elevated experience with ease, for many, many seasons to come: walk-in showers; a guest wing with a TV room, bedroom and bathroom that a future caregiver could close off with sleek pocket doors; wide doorways everywhere; a long, graceful ramp that leads to the main entry.
“We wanted it mostly accessible, with no stairs,” says Cheryl. “I always told Brooks we’re building a house to die in.”
Jerry and Cheryl have survived a 100-year flood — and one scare unrelated to nature — already. Their commitment is as solid as their new foundation.
One day, toward the end of construction, with a social invitation just hours away, Jerry says, “I did a lot of moving, dirt, gravel, paths — 80 tons of rock I washed and cleaned. I was finishing and was excited to show Cheryl something, and I had my sunglasses and cap on and walked right into the concrete and knocked myself out.”
He was OK. But, says Cheryl: “I had to go to the dinner party without him.”