A clean-lined, window- and wood-filled home figures out all the right angles on a challenging Belfair site.

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THERE ARE TWO mariners compasses embedded in Tony and Gretchen Melchiors’ views-for-nautical-miles waterfront home. One is big and bold and plain as day: the tiled focal point on the floor of the exquisitely circular library. The other, Tony says, “Everyone misses.”

That kinda sounds like a challenge.

Pacific Northwest Living feature. Hood Canal home. Melchoirs residence. Rick Fergus Miller, architect.
Pacific Northwest Living feature. Hood Canal home. Melchoirs residence. Rick Fergus Miller, architect.

It’s not the first this place has posed.

Tony and Gretchen raised three kids in Arkansas, then lived in Federal Way while Tony worked at Weyerhaeuser. When their son married a woman from Aberdeen, Tony and Gretchen “fell in love” with the Hood Canal area, and its peacefully appealing distance from roaring Interstate 5. Then they fell for an intriguing “for sale by owner” sign outside a small 1930s-era cabin in Belfair.

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A few initial uh-ohs: The cabin’s less-than-grand master bedroom could hold only a double bed; the other two bedrooms had built-in bunks; and the lot itself was, generously, constrained: “a postage-stamp-size trapezoid” (85 feet of waterfront, 65 feet of road frontage, 75 feet in between), says architect Greg Belding of Rice Fergus Miller, who teamed with Steve Rice to erase “uh-oh” and create “ahh.”

“We knew we’d have to build a box,” Tony says. “There was not a lot of room.”

“There’s a lot of good-looking boxes,” says Belding. (This is a spectacular example.)

The uniquely angled stairway railing creates an opportunity for definition, architect Greg Belding says: “As you go upstairs, the ‘box’ starts to pull away inside. The box stays outside, and the crevasse starts to happen.” The flooring transitions, too, from tile downstairs to upstairs white oak. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
The uniquely angled stairway railing creates an opportunity for definition, architect Greg Belding says: “As you go upstairs, the ‘box’ starts to pull away inside. The box stays outside, and the crevasse starts to happen.” The flooring transitions, too, from tile downstairs to upstairs white oak. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Setbacks and variances determined the shape of the box; Tony and Gretchen envisioned its essence: not all right angles, plenty of clean lines, lots of Douglas fir and cedar, a full-time forever home that feels like vacation every day.

Belding started with the cabin itself. “We were looking for hints and clues,” he says. “There were not a lot.”

Still, they found inspiration — and a lot they could keep:

• An antique potholder resides in the stone fireplace anchoring the sheltered outdoor living area.

• The cabin’s interior pine paneling was repurposed for use in the new home, in the laundry room, and in the shop.

• Giant on-site stones (“My free rocks,” Tony says) now help shape the landscape.

(One discovery offered far more mystery than utility: As crews were removing the cabin, “They found a lady’s bathing cap, [buried] deep,” Gretchen says. “That was bizarre.”)

The first-level great room lines up along the water. The vertical stone above the mantel has what appears to be a petroglyph of a man, and fireplace stone includes pieces of petrified wood from a Puget Sound beach near Federal Way, where the Melchiorses lived previously; there’s also rock from Arkansas, where they lived even earlier.  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
The first-level great room lines up along the water. The vertical stone above the mantel has what appears to be a petroglyph of a man, and fireplace stone includes pieces of petrified wood from a Puget Sound beach near Federal Way, where the Melchiorses lived previously; there’s also rock from Arkansas, where they lived even earlier. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Inside, more history, less mystery: Petrified wood in the great-room and outdoor fireplaces followed the family from Federal Way. Stones in the hearth came even farther, from Arkansas. A crock crossed the country and several generations: It was dug up in a Pennsylvania manufacturing site owned by Gretchen’s grandfather. And the entry corner angles purposefully so that a treasured three-corner cabinet is the first thing you see when you come in, and every time you go up or down the stairs.

“We struggled with all kinds of ways to deal with eating,” architect Greg Belding says. “In the end, we kept everything simple and gave space for a table” (between the Douglas fir window seats and the trapezoid kitchen island). (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
“We struggled with all kinds of ways to deal with eating,” architect Greg Belding says. “In the end, we kept everything simple and gave space for a table” (between the Douglas fir window seats and the trapezoid kitchen island). (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

“We’re kind of sentimental,” Gretchen says. “I want stuff around me that has good memories, that means something to me.”

Like, as six examples, their grandkids, all under the age of 6. So the younger generation can create and share family memories, too, the lower shelves in the cozy library hold kids’ books and a stuffed animal near an heirloom rocking/reading chair. A ship’s ladder rises to a streetside loft, with a metal-spring bed from the old cabin, a porthole for keeping an eye on passing cars and Grandpa’s garage/shop, plus five sleeping bags tucked into a hidden storage nook.

Siting that garage/shop across the street solved one bigger-picture space challenge. Ditching a dining room completely solved another.

“We struggled with all kinds of ways to deal with eating,” Belding says. “In the end, we kept everything simple and gave space for a small table.” (A bigger table that seats 10 waits for company, on easy wheels, in a nearby closet.)

Tony and Gretchen Melchiors relax on their porch, whose outline follows the old seawall. The big rocks, dug up on-site, help “separate the lawn from the wild,” Tony says — and one even serves as a birdbath. To “create a benefit for the canal,” architect Greg Belding says, “we rid the yard of all invasive species and replanted with native rhodies, salal, kinnikinnick and sword fern.”  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Tony and Gretchen Melchiors relax on their porch, whose outline follows the old seawall. The big rocks, dug up on-site, help “separate the lawn from the wild,” Tony says — and one even serves as a birdbath. To “create a benefit for the canal,” architect Greg Belding says, “we rid the yard of all invasive species and replanted with native rhodies, salal, kinnikinnick and sword fern.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Outside, the tiny site posed even more big-picture challenges — as big and as picture-perfect as the Hood Canal — and in overcoming them, a sliver of shoreline habitat found restoration.

“In our strategy to maximize the footprint, we figured out how to create a benefit for the canal and improve the buffer without adding any impervious surface,” Belding says. The drainfield shuffled off to the other side of the road. An original boulder doubles as a birdbath. Invasive species got the heave-ho. Native rhodies, salal, kinnikinnick and sword fern filled in the first 10 feet behind the original seawall.

From the stone porch, whose outline follows that old seawall, lawn leads into “wild,” then water, water everywhere. From the water, window after window reflects the singular view, and not a single hint of challenge. Just harmony. Just home.

Resolving the only unmet test, Tony points down, toward the stone porch itself.

Aha! There’s that other compass.