The Thomas Wolfe novel You Can’t Go Home Again was published in 1940, and since then the title has become a widely accepted adage postulating that it’s impossible to return to a place from your past, as it will have been altered by time and memory. Try telling that to Josiah Johnson and his wife, Chase O’Connor. The couple recently built a residence in the Fauntleroy, Washington, neighborhood on the same block where Josiah’s grandparents constructed a home in 1954, where his mother grew up, and where he recalls happy childhood memories running along the beach by the ferry terminal and trolling for creatures in tide pools. “I wanted my children to have this place and the beach in their lives,” he says.
Although the couple was inspired by Josiah’s grandparents’ midcentury home, they desired a bespoke creation. “We hoped for something unique and specific to us and our property,” says Josiah, who kick-started the process by hiring general contractors Scott Edwards and Ashley Sullivan. “We understood the importance of having the right builder, and they recommended Heliotrope,” he adds.
Upon assessing the site with architects Joe Herrin and Chris Wong, the pros and cons of the waterfront locale came into focus. West-facing views to Puget Sound, the Kitsap Peninsula and beyond to the Olympic Mountains landed on the plus side, while street noise on the east and privacy issues with neighboring houses on both sides topped the con list. “The owners were very interested in a warm, minimalist design solution and were drawn to the notion of a jewel box perched over the site,” notes Herrin, who addressed those privacy concerns by placing solid forms on the neighbor-facing edges of the property. “The resulting home is essentially a box sitting on top of two ground-level boxes. The space between the latter is a glass-enclosed living-dining area.”
With the needs of an active, growing family at the forefront, interior spaces designed for both living and playing emerged. “The lower level flows out to a yard with a fire pit and spa on the west side of the house, while the main floor opens out to a terrace garden on one side and a deck on the other,” explains Herrin.
Meanwhile, all involved went to great lengths to preserve an elegant Chinese photinia tree at the front of the residence that helps divide the courtyard space from the entry walkway. “There’s a long architectural concrete wall that runs under the tree canopy into the house, and we employed an arduous, multistep process to build it while protecting the tree roots and also making things look seamless and effortless,” says Sullivan. Using the same tree as a centerpiece, landscape designer David Ohashi further developed the courtyard by using green layers to enhance the water feature, concrete wall and a fence designed by the architects. “Framing the outdoor space created a sense of enclosure and strengthened the indoor- outdoor relationship,” Ohashi explains. “Together with the plantings these elements create a visual barrier and tranquil audio separation from the surrounding activity while enhancing the utility and aesthetic of the garden room.”
Just beyond the tree, the front door opens to reveal a staircase with open treads that allow for glimpses of Puget Sound. Sightings of the Fauntleroy ferry arriving are visible elsewhere as well through sliding glass doors on the main level and picture windows in the upper bedrooms. With the help of Terri Lyn Sloan, a residential design consultant at Inform Interiors, the owners selected furnishings with a contemporary European bent. “The Italian Flexform sofa and bed, and Maruni dining room chairs were a perfect fit for the architecture,” says Sloan. “We stayed in a palette of warm neutrals, and even used some soft pink in the cotton linen upholstery.”
Central to everything is the water. The lower level, which includes paddleboard storage, opens directly to the beach—the very one where Josiah made childhood memories and where his daughters have begun to do the same. For him, the possibility of going home again was never in question. “Maybe it’s nostalgia but I don’t mind the sound of revving motorcycles at 5 a.m. as they prepare to leave the ferry,” says Josiah. “And I still love the movement of the boat and the sound of engine.”