From Charlie Brown and Harold and Maude to Edward Scissorhands, popular culture is full of oddballs and eccentrics. And so is architecture. Case in point: A Whidbey Island house that shares the off-kilter spirit of these motley characters.
It’s exactly what ultimately attracted the family who bought it as an escape from their Capitol Hill home. “One of its advantages,” the wife says, “is that, architecturally, it doesn’t fit into one style. It’s quirky, and we wanted to elevate that and be intentional about it.” Admittedly, the design team they assembled to make it functional as the family’s second home found its idiosyncrasies something of a conundrum. “The angles were a little weird and the roofline was kind of crazy,” recalls designer Brian Paquette. “There’s nothing soft or curvy about the architecture, so I had to play to that.”
And while architect Martin Henry Kaplan could appreciate that the 1970s construction was “strong on engineering,” he admits it was also “a little bit lighter on design.” “It was planned to be symmetrical based on a square,” Kaplan says, “but when we got into the house, we found it was 18 inches off square.” Aside from the wacky angles, both floors were chopped up, restricting both the views and the interior flow. “With that beautiful view of the water, I wanted to get rid of any interference with it,” the architect says. A key “solve” was to open the space, so the team removed several walls.
That, of course, required some engineering, recalls the project’s superintendent John Rogers. “Now we have two steel beams through the central part of the house,” he explains. “Wood posts are on each side of the stair system to support the two new steel beams.” A wood post at the kitchen island supports another new beam. The old oak stair itself was replaced with a Kaplan-designed steel-cable version featuring floating wood treads, a nod to the industrial steel plates and caps that hold the barn-like post-and-beam construction together. New engineered- wood oors throughout ramped up the rustic vibe. And removing the river rock-faced replace in the living area not only imparted a more contemporary appearance, but gave the room a few more inches of depth.
All this was done in service of the owners’ desire for a modern farmhouse aesthetic. The design team delivered on that vision with white walls, black-trimmed windows and exposed structural details. Nothing reads fussy or precious. “We wanted a house to live in not look at,” notes the husband. Once these elements were in place, Paquette addressed the furnishings, playing up the graphic black-and-white contrasts with rugs in the first-floor media room and the upstairs playroom and with a wallcovering in the powder room.
Unlike many a beach cottage, Paquette says, the owners “didn’t want the palette to be washed out. It had to be colorful and fun for the kids.” But which colors? Blue, of course, is a natural for seaside locales, but the inspiration for the particular blue found throughout the home came via the kitchen. “If you’d done an all-white kitchen with all the color they wanted, it would look off,” Paquette says. While reviewing powder-coat options for the range they were buying, the clients fell in love with a deep cerulean the designer continued onto under-counter cabinetry and the living room’s ottoman-style coffee table. He mixed this vibrant hue with paler blues and green-gold tones. All the shades are also grounded in nature, even in the children’s playroom. “I like to add earth to colors,” Paquette says. “I don’t want some manufactured green; I want real-grass green.” He also threaded the same palette throughout the house, varying the dominance or restraint of particular shades to create variety that nevertheless telegraphs consistency.
Paquette’s blend of color and earth tones provided the perfect foil for the rugged beauty outside the windows, which landscape architects Randy Allworth and Brian Gregory helped transition with seamless ease by pulling out diseased pines and restoring the sand banks. “There was a dune that was migrating because the grass that held it in place had either been pulled out or died,” Gregory says. So, they added plantings of evergreens, beach strawberry and dune grass to keep the sand in place. They also connected entrances and exits with a series of paths, and installed an outdoor shower and a chess court with oversize playing pieces.
Despite an unusual out-of-the-box framework, the dwelling turned into exactly what the family was looking for. “We wanted a place where our kids could be in touch with nature like we were back in the day,” the wife says.
—Jorge S. Arango