AH. BONJOUR, NOS AMIS. And welcome to the Puget Sound’s very own South of France, where sunshine warms textured-stucco structures surrounding a central courtyard; happy chickens peck-peck-poulet near the light-filled art studio; and a grassy bluff sweeps down to calm, colorful saltwater.
It was a bit of a journey, n’est-ce pas? First a seafaring ferry; then a sizable drive to this secluded, serene bay (if you got to Venice, you went too far!); then another good quarter-mile of anticipation down a rustic driveway to what, for all intents and purposes, sure looks and feels like a long-established French country village.
Quelle surprise, then, that you didn’t need that passport, after all.
This is Bainbridge Island (there really is a Venice here), and this is where Becky and Paul live. Their journey here also was rather extensive, and intentional and purposeful.
“I have always wanted to live on an island,” says Becky. “My grandparents bought property on this bay in 1941, and I’ve been coming here my whole life from Seattle. I came every summer.”
This special land is still in the family — divided between Becky; her siblings; and her cousins, who now own a place less than a mile away — but inspiration for this home is intensely international.
“We have friends in France; that’s what got us going,” Becky says.
Once they decided to build, Paul got going on a wishlist of architectural details, dimensions and materials, while Becky collected pictures in a notebook, says architect Marvin Anderson, who brought it all home.
“They knew exactly what they wanted: a series of buildings around a courtyard — the idea of a house in a compound that had grown all these years,” he says. “They also wanted separate buildings: a house with a small gravel courtyard, a garage with a woodworking shop for Paul, an art studio for Becky, and a large fenced vegetable and cutting garden. My job was to blend it all together and nestle it into the place.”
Anderson, who has a special passion for historic architecture, also has a way with blending. Here, a sweet smoothie of ideas and inspiration incorporates “a lot of little details that come together to create a feel,” he says. “You can’t pick them out; they blend so well together. Some of the exterior walls are thicker than normal. There’s light blue on the windows, with concrete sills. The house really opens to the courtyard. You throw open the doors, and it’s all indoor/outdoor.”
Paul’s multidecade career as a construction superintendent — he and Anderson first met on a project 25 years earlier — added to the mix in more ways than one.
“Some of the details, like the floor, come from having a relationship with the contractors,” he says. “The tile contractor had leftovers from a job — it could’ve been 10 years ago.” Even better: The handmade, slightly irregular terra-cotta tile, now the flooring on the first level, “is actually from France,” says Becky.
While subcontractors also handled the foundation and framing, Paul and Becky turned their vision into some serious elbow grease, performing a lot of work on the home, and its buildings, themselves — even before it was time to build.
When they were clearing the lot, Paul says, they had to cut down maybe 20 fir trees, which were milled on the island by David Kotz. “I stored them and air-dried them for a year,” Paul says. “All the exposed wood is all our own fir”: the beams in the living room, the ceiling of the dining area and studio, the flooring on the second level, the stairwell. (Since moving in, Becky and Paul have planted more than 40 trees, in part to replace those cut down.)
After Paul retired from his paying construction gig, Anderson says, “He began construction of the house, with Becky ‘swinging the hammer’ daily and working with craftspeople Paul had met throughout his career.” (Adds Paul: “We were the builder/general contractor and also performed some of the carpentry work during framing and finish. Building this home was pretty much working as a superintendent, laborer, pickup carpenter and project manager.”)
The result: a collaborative new compound that feels international, intentional and inspired — an oasis of summery Provence on northern Bainbridge Island.
“We get so much sun here, it does feel like we’re in Southern France,” says Becky. “We don’t have to go to France anymore (except to visit our friends, of course!).”