Homes Photo Credit: Benjamin Benschneider
Home Tour: Modern Coastal Farmhouse
For two lawyers from the American Deep South, a contemporary farmhouse on the San Juans by Olson Kundig is just what retirement ordered.
As Margaret Greene tells it, the property in the San Juan Islands that she and her husband, Scotty, bought some 15 years ago “found them” rather than the other way around. Margaret, an attorney based in Atlanta (as is her husband), was speaking at a telecommunications conference in Seattle. The Greenes had a couple of days tacked on to the end of their trip, so they decided to spend them in the San Juans, which Scotty remembered fondly from time spent there while in the military.
“It was 90 degrees and muggy in Atlanta when we left,” recalls Margaret, “and here we were, having our coffee in fleece and wool socks, and we looked at each other and said, ‘How about moving here?’ We had been discussing where to go for part three of our lives. It had a little bit of everything we ever talked about.”
Margaret had also fallen in love with a piece of art at Friday Harbor House, where they were staying, by Cornish landscape artist Amanda Richardson. When the Greenes started looking for a place, their realtor drove them down a long driveway to a four-acre property on False Bay with the remnants of an ambitious English seaside garden. “The realtor said, ‘The woman who used to live here was a big gardener—she was English.’ And I said, ‘This is Amanda Richardson’s house!’ He looked at me and said, ‘How did you know?’”
They had been on the island for a total of 36 hours—and ended up with a second home.
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Calling in a Little Help
The Greenes, now 63, were only then starting to plan for their retirement years, but they knew what they wanted: a home where they could get away from the bustle of city life, and a place that would comfortably fit the two of them, yet allow them to entertain their two children (now in their late 20s and early 30s) and a wide variety of friends, family and business associates. They also wanted to maximize the home’s view potential without expanding its footprint.
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A few years after living in the existing house, the Greenes contacted Seattle architects Olson Kundig and began working with one of the partners, Kirsten Murray, to help them reimagine the site. (Tom Kundig, one of the owners at the firm, is one of the judges for this year’s Western Living Designers of the Year awards and had designed a 500-square-foot guest house for the Greenes, separate from the main house, in 2009.) “They had come to understand the history of the place, and the importance of agriculture to the area,” says Murray. “The idea of having the form get some inspiration from agricultural architecture came into the design process.”
The Greenes settled on a contemporary farmhouse look, with simple form and simple volume. “They really wanted the sense that either of them could be at any place in the house and talk to each other,” says Murray, who describes the two-storey open concept as “loft-like.”
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The View From Up Here
The couple also wanted to see False Bay from just about any point in the building. In the old house, says Margaret, all the water views were on the second floor, where their master bedroom and office are now. “We didn’t want to have the public areas on the second floor, so Kirsten came up with the idea to raise everything up by about half a storey—building up the foundation so that we’d have views from both levels.”
One of the most intriguing design features of the 2,800-square-foot house (completed in 2010) is the exterior spruce blinds: a 20-foot-tall system that serves both to limit sun and heat from the big western exposure and completely shutter the building (with its floor-to-ceiling aluminum-grid windows) when the Greenes aren’t home.
With an over-scale, steel-clad pivot door and a hopper window at the east-facing entrance and big sliding screens off the western deck, “natural ventilation just flushes out all the built-up heat of the day,” according to Murray.
Beyond the big, open living spaces, there are also plenty of interesting nooks for the Greenes to sneak away to, including a casual sitting room off the kitchen (where Margaret likes to take her coffee and read one of the books from their well-stocked library) and, just outside, a small patio with wicker chairs and a fireplace that serves as an outdoor eating area. And then there’s the garden—overgrown and almost lost by the time the Greenes arrived. “A lot of things were damaged or dead, but a lot of things were still there,” says Margaret, herself an avid gardener. “And they were the most unusual plants, because the woman who had laid out the garden, Amanda’s mother, was a horticulturalist in England.” Working with local landscape architect Steve Schramm, Margaret has helped return the garden to its former glory.
When I reach Margaret, it’s late spring in Atlanta and the Greenes are counting the days until their annual West Coast pilgrimage. I ask what she’s looking forward to most. “It’s probably lying on the couch in the living room and looking out the window, which is pretty much the first thing we do once we get in the door. Dump the bags and… well, we head straight to the wine cooler, actually,” she says with a laugh