Paul Schell and his wife, Pam, downsized to Langley’s working waterfront. Sadly, though, Seattle’s former mayor died just days before he and Pam had planned to move in.

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PAM AND PAUL Schell’s new home on Langley’s working waterfront was a long time in gestation. First there were changes in shoreline regulations, negotiations with the city, and the involvement of two architectural firms. Finally, waiting for his nearby estate to sell in the then-slow market, Seattle’s former mayor kicked the project into gear. The redesigned building took shape and the old house sold. But, sadly, Paul died after heart surgery last summer, just days before he and Pam had planned to move in.

Now Pam Schell lives on the beach next to the Langley marina in the heart of the little seaside town. She and Paul had been part-time Whidbey residents for many years and also local hoteliers, owners of The Inn at Langley and the Boatyard Inn. A lower floor of the new home houses a Boatyard Inn rental suite, an addition to the original plan added by designer Eric Richmond of Flat Rock Productions.

The upstairs sitting room has a lofty fir-plank ceiling and a dark-stained wood floor salvaged from a local building. (Benjamin Benschneider / The Seattle Times)
The upstairs sitting room has a lofty fir-plank ceiling and a dark-stained wood floor salvaged from a local building. (Benjamin Benschneider / The Seattle Times)

The Miller Hull Partnership designed the first iteration of the Schells’ downsized, waterfront home. They took it through floor plans and renderings before the project stalled. In February 2012, ready to move forward, Pam and Paul brought the plans, and expired permits, to Richmond, whose Langley office is just blocks away.

“We weren’t starting over,” says Richmond, who retained or adapted many of the design’s original elements. The finished home reflects these ideas in its placement on piers, the angled metal stairway, the mix of materials that give the place the look of an old building added on to over the years.

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But many changes happened along the way. Richmond was tasked with taking all the shoreline regulations into account, which dramatically shrunk the home’s footprint to 2,069 square feet.

“I tried to keep the spirit of the original sketches,” says Richmond, who redrew rooms to fit the tall, narrow footprint. “It was a ridiculously difficult site, because of beach access and height limitation.” Also, there were budget constraints. Richmond, Paul Schell and local builder Ed Gemkow worked closely to cut costs while staying true to the design aesthetic.

“The whole process was so interactive,” says Richmond. One day, Paul stopped by Richmond’s home to find him torching the exterior of a cedar shed. Paul loved the look, and now the home’s exterior features the ancient Japanese technique of shou sugi ban, or charred cedar siding. The rest of the building is clad in metal, including painted steel and weathered Corten, with a stair tower sheathed in shiny, steel-cored zinc.

Inside, the stairwell is a soaring multilevel space for art and books.

Designed to look like an older building added onto over time, the Schell home is lifted up on piers, with charred cedar siding and a stair tower of steel-cored zinc. (Benjamin Benschneider / The Seattle Times)
Designed to look like an older building added onto over time, the Schell home is lifted up on piers, with charred cedar siding and a stair tower of steel-cored zinc. (Benjamin Benschneider / The Seattle Times)

“We wanted it to look like part of an old building that had been opened up,” Richmond says of the steel trim and fir shelving. The view greets you at the top of stairs, a big slap of wide skies and placid water. The Langley marina is right outside.

Decks reach from both floors of the home, complete with hot tub, outdoor fireplace and statuary by local artists. Large planter boxes hold Japanese maples and ornamental grasses.

Interior materials are a mix of soft and hard, wood and metal, light and dark, matte and stainless steel. “It’s a Paul thing; he always liked cream, brown and black,” says Pam. “I like the modern look and how the materials ground the spaces.”

The charred cedar also appears on the fireplace wall, a backdrop for Edward Curtis photos. The hearth is a slab of fir. The ceiling is fir planks, and underfoot is a heated floor of large, matte black tiles. The red cedar dining table was made by local craftsman Kim Hoelting.

“We loved picking out the materials and furniture,” says Pam. “This was the first house Paul and I designed for ourselves.”