“image
Permanently Incomplete ?

Permanently Incomplete ?

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

One of the things I missed in our multi-year transition to Orcas Island was having a sense of permanence. As I wrote at the time, everything felt temporary; too temporary to exert effort to establish or beautify. I couldn’t wait to finally move to Flattop and begin a life with years of permanence. 

Now that we’ve lived in the house for about a year, we’ve developed a good sense of our daily rituals and patterns. I make coffee the same way every day. The same bowls go in the same drawers. The books, blankets, and other accoutrements now have homes. In the months after we moved in, it felt new and transformational to identify these permanent homes. We could finally take advantage of the design choices we made with great deliberation.

Now, when I put a bowl in the drawer, I sometimes think, “This is it. I may use this drawer in the same way for the rest of my life. Bowls live here, perhaps forever.” We can always change the contents of shelves and drawers, but in reality, we won’t. The drawer was designed for bowls and that’s where they’ll remain. 

I’m a little torn about this new reality. On one hand, I never have to think about where to put bowls. On the other, there’s seemingly nothing left to optimize. The problem has been solved and I take comfort in that. My brain can move on. The question is: to what? There will always be things to redesign and optimize in small tinkers. The garage is one. But soon, I will have achieved what I desired for so long: a mostly permanent feeling of consistency and completeness. The platform is built and the stage is being set.

And now, a new feeling is creeping in. Completeness and consistency are both comforting and… boring. I’m starting to miss the design process and having a productive place for my mind to wander when it comes to home. The satisfaction completeness produces is fleeting and spread across a lifetime of slightly more convenience. Soon enough, it fades into the background.

We are both happier with a problem to solve or an idea to be brainstormed. While the interior of Flattop is coming together, the exterior has a long way to go and that, too, was by design. We chose not to think about landscaping so we could think about bowls. We wanted to live on the property and take our time with planting because it’s a project that is never truly complete. The design problem changes every day and persists through years of seasons and weather and pests.

A year ago, we moved into Flattop with the exterior being a blank slate. We rushed to build a few garden beds so we could participate in the growing season. We were late, but still had a productive year for vegetables. 

This year, we’ve added vegetable beds close to the warming black siding with hopes of growing tomatoes, peppers, squash, and more.

Sachi has been working on starts in our garage, which, I’m learning, becomes a greenhouse this time of year. She’s our vegetable gardener and has things mostly under control, or as much control as nature allows.

The ornamental side of the garden is a very different kind of problem and that’s my focus. We added six raised beds for beauty this year and unlike vegetables, their contents will be mostly permanent.

I want to turn the blank slate into a lush, colorful, and fragrant garden, full of hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. I want to plant things that are remarkable and uncommon. I want them to start small and grow into something amazing over many years. 

That’s the magic of permanence applied to living things. Discovering the perfect spot for a plant is the beginning and not the end. It may never move, but it will change and develop. It will require attention, care, and maintenance. It will be a part of a much bigger canvas that is also evolving. These plants offer a lifetime of projects to optimize and problems to solve.

We recently made a trip to the nearby Bullocks nursery and came home with a plant called a stag horn sumac. There is perhaps no better example of how we’re thinking about the garden. As a mature plant (below), it can get 15 feet high and wide, with big bright leaves and cone-shaped flowers.

Today, our sumac looks like someone stuck a dead branch in the ground. It may be years until we see its full glory and that’s the idea. We can wait. We want to wait. 

Designing for Dogs ?

Designing for Dogs ?

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

When building a house, it’s easy to assume that the builder and architect will account for what’s needed. You’ll surely have the desired number of bathrooms and a roof that keeps you dry. There are also things that are unique to you and your lifestyle. Daily rituals and long-standing annoyances could be improved with a bit of forethought, but only if they are communicated to the team. This is an important lesson we learned in building Flattop: Be diligent in accounting for ways the house can be designed to improve your day-to-day life. Communicate what you want and the pros will find ways to make it work.

Once the house was mostly complete, attention turned to the fencing. We shared our ideas for a small fenced area that aligned with the side of our garage. Gates flank it on the short sides of the rectangle. One gate leads to the driveway. The other leads to a larger fenced area that wraps around the house and contains our garden and back deck. 

This system of fences was designed with great intention and not without a bit of confusion. You could see the questions wash over the builders as they tried to understand what we wanted. “So you want a fenced area that leads to a second fenced area? With a gate in between?” Yes. Exactly. But only four feet high.

They built it exactly as we wanted and today, the system of gates and fences is emblematic of our efforts in making the house work specifically for our lifestyle. Builders and architects can work wonders, but they won’t live in the house. They won’t use it every day. They don’t have access to the daily rituals and events that fill the day. That information is the domain of the homeowner, who must explain what is needed, a few times, to make sure the house fits with these routines. 

We have dogs. We wanted Flattop to be a house that minimized the impact of PNW wet dogs and dirty feet on our nice new floors. We imagined waking up on a wet December morning and needing to let the dogs out to do their business. We could let them into the large garden area and watch them return happy and covered in mulchy mud. Or, we could leash them and walk in the rain, careful to avoid muddy areas. Or, we could design the house for this daily routine. We chose design. This meant thinking ahead about how to handle rainy days and wet dogs. 

When we were in the guesthouse, we built a small enclosure that connected to the entry. In the winter rain, the dogs could go out while we stayed dry on the porch. I used a nearby pile of wood chips to cover the surface and the system worked. The dogs still got wet, but their paws remained mostly clean. This was our inspiration. Could we do the same at Flattop? Instead of releasing them into the garden, could we create a clean place for them to use every day?

Soon, a plan came together. On the garage side of the house, a door opens to the exterior. We decided to enclose it and make it a dog run that would be our primary way to let them out. Like the guesthouse, we could stay warm and dry by the door while they take care of business. The cedar chips keep their feet clean and naturally repel pests. The gates in the dog run only swing inward so the dogs can’t push them open. As an added bonus, their waste is contained in a small area for easy pickup.

If the dogs do end up muddy from walks or garden play, we have that covered, too. We added a groomer-style dog shower to the garage that makes cleaning dirty paws a breeze. It also serves as a great washbasin for crabbing gear and garden veggies.

The system is almost perfect, but there is one minor hiccup. Maybe, our oldest dog at seven years, has developed a distaste for rain and wet ground. If she looks outside and sees rain, she’ll resist going out at all. When she does venture out, she carefully steps along the wall where the overhang keeps the ground dry. As much as I want to think of our dogs as PNW rain dogs, Maybe is still too civilized. We won’t tell the other dogs on the island.

The Westward Wind

The Westward Wind

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

Back in 2017, when we lived in the yurt-shaped house, we noticed something interesting about warm summer evenings. Just before dusk, a cool and consistent wind blew out toward the water where it created subtle waves as it landed. The wind would last into the night and be gone by morning. When we moved to the guest house during construction, it happened there too. Summer evenings ended with a cool wind whipping to the west.

The Westward Wind Hitting the Water (timelapse)

The wind didn’t seem connected to weather patterns. It was smaller than that; a phenomenon that was too localized to be in a weather report. I asked our neighbors about it and they shrugged their shoulders. It’s just something that happens and always has. The more I watched the westward wind, the more evidence I saw that it was shaping the landscape around us. The tall trees on the south side of our property were bent toward the water. 

Whatever the cause, the wind was reliable enough to influence the design of Flattop. A cool and reliable evening breeze at the end of a warm day should not be wasted, so we looked for ways to use it. The big idea was to use the wind to flush out the warm summer air out of the house and replace it with cool evening air. To make that happen, we added operable windows on the east and west sides. Today, I’m happy to report that the system is working. The westward wind is like an air conditioner that kicks on after sunset. All we have to do is open the windows. 

This is a prime example of why it helps to live in a location before building there. Wind, sun, and rain are free resources that can be put to work. Observing them for a couple of seasons before breaking ground can be helpful in making a design more efficient.

Despite all the watching and planning, we still didn’t know why the westward wind was happening. That all changed a couple of weeks ago when we hosted a small dinner party that included a retired Coast Guard officer. We talked about the wind and he said, “Oh, that’s a land breeze”. I had heard of a sea breeze before, but never a land breeze. I had to learn more.

What I found is a simple idea. The westward wind is caused by a difference in the air temperature over the land and the sea. When the sun goes down in the summer, the air over the ground cools relatively quickly as heat rises upward. The air over the water cools more slowly. This difference in temperature (and pressure) is what causes the wind. Cool air flows out to the water at a low elevation as warm air rises and circulates back to the land.

What I’ve been calling the “westward wind” was not specifically westward at all. I just happen to live in a place with a large body of water to the west. Maybe it’s really the “waterward wind?” That doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it? Still, it’s probably better than “land breeze” which is rather unremarkable sounding. I’m sticking with the “westward wind” for now. 

The sea breeze, which we don’t notice as much, is the opposite. Sea breezes happen during the day and blow from the sea toward the land. This is because the air over the land warms more quickly than the air over the water when the sun is out. It’s also the name of a cranberry, grapefruit, and vodka cocktail that was popular in the 80s. It’s not surprising that there is no “land breeze” cocktail, because who would order that? Does it come with a garnish of dead leaves? 

For now, rest assured that the mystery is solved and we’ve all learned a bit more about the weather.

Flattop’s Finer Points ??

Flattop’s Finer Points ??

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

You often hear that building a house requires thousands of decisions and it’s true. Large and small, the house comes to life in the form of answers to questions. Once it’s complete, the sum of all the answers hopefully harmonize and create a whole that feels balanced and connected. 

When looking at the completed house, it’s easy to lose sight of all the decisions that achieved the look and feel of the place. Before we move on, I’d like to share some of the biggest stylistic decisions we made, along with the craft that went into making it real. 

Wood

Flattop was destined to be a house made mostly of wood, a lot of which is the same that grows on our property. The framing is Douglas fir. The ceilings and soffits are western red cedar. I can see both these trees from our deck. Our floor is white oak and our deck is ash and the siding is Japanese cypress. 

As you can imagine, this creates a melange of wood colors that have the potential to look chaotic. As the house was being built, we had to make a decision about the built-in benches, stereo cabinet, and floating shelves. My first thought was, “Oh no, more wood!” Would we throw another wood into the mix? 

I asked our foreman, Casey, for his opinion and he mentioned Baltic birch plywood and the look of Kerf Design, a cabinetry company in Seattle. From the moment we saw the look of Baltic birch plywood, we were hooked. It’s strong, affordable, and easy to work with. Rather than add another solid wood tone, we’d use plywood and the look of the plies themselves as our standard for the built-ins. The light color and simple design felt Scandinavian and I’m so excited about how they turned out.  Paul Lindersmith, who works with Drew, did an amazing job achieving the look we wanted.

Flattop Birch Bench
Flattop Birch Records
Flattop Birch Shelf

Steel

Regular readers know how much thought we put into the fireplaces. They are the beating heart of the house and offered an opportunity to create something beautiful, useful, and practically bulletproof. John Stoeck, our architect, created a design that exceeded what we thought was possible. It brought together the blackened steel, charred yakisugi, and stainless steel in a way that made it feel natural. To me, that’s the pinnacle of this kind of design. Once it’s complete, it feels like no other options could have worked. 

Fireplace wall and ceiling

It’s one thing to design steel into a fireplace and yet another to make it work. It requires an artisan blacksmith with experience to turn the designs into perfectly fitting panels and connections. We were fortunate to work with Jorgen Harle (Instagram), who lived on Orcas for 25 years before moving to California. Drew asked him to come up and help with our fireplace and we could not have had a better partner. His eye for design along with deep experience with steel and fireplaces created an indoor/outdoor unit that’s safe, functional, and beautiful.

Fireplace Doors
Steel Fireplace

Aesthetic

Consistency is one of the best ways to create a sense of harmony in a new home. For example, we picked a color of white called “Simply White” (Thanks Sarah!) and used it everywhere. Cabinets, walls, ceilings, doors, trims, etc. The same is true for the countertops. We picked a variety called Saratoga and used it in the kitchen, bathrooms, laundry, etc. The tile is the same everywhere. Then, we used black for window frames and hardware throughout the house. 

These decisions on color and material created a look of contrast that we wanted: white with black accents, along with mottled grays. My cousin, Goff, who is an interior designer, once said that looking out of a window with black frames achieves a beautifying effect that’s like mascara around a person’s eye. 

window over water

Character

One of the problems I have with modern home design is that it can feel stark and lifeless. Early in the process, we decided that our home would feel warm, open, lived-in. For example, Sachi has strong feelings about doors and especially closet doors. To her, they create something to be managed and moved when no door at all would suffice. Consider our pantry, which we use multiple times a day. We decided not to have a door. Instead, the pantry is open for all to see. Along with being convenient, I think it adds character to the kitchen. We live here. The same is true for our floating shelves, record collection, bookcase, laundry room, etc. It’s all out there.

As with most building projects, Flattop was a team effort and I couldn’t imagine working with better people. Drew’s team, including Casey, has high standards and attention to detail that went beyond our expectations. When confronted with one of those thousands of decisions, Casey and Drew always had a reliable opinion and we grew to trust their instincts.

I appreciate you following along with this project for so long. It means the world to me.

Find more posts about Building Flattop.

Designing Our Blackened-Steel Fireplace ?

Designing Our Blackened-Steel Fireplace ?

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.


About a year ago, I wrote “Trees, Wood, and Fire” and mentioned how our perspective on the fireplace had changed after living on Orcas for a while:

We had a natural gas fireplace in the city which ignited with the push of a button, and planned to have a similar model in the new house. It was so clean and easy.

Having burned wood for the winter on Orcas, gas just didn’t seem right. I started to feel the new house needed a wood burning fireplace instead. Sure, it would be more maintenance and take time to manage, but that was part of the experience.

This decision turned out to be the first of a hundred decisions about the fireplace “unit” for the house. The story of getting it right provides a real-world look at home design and what it takes to create a one-of-a-kind feature.

The Big Idea

Early in the design process, we saw an opportunity to have a two-sided wall (interior and exterior) that serves as a home for cooking, heating, and entertainment. Inside, we would have a fireplace and TV. The outside would have a second fireplace and grill.

The Big Idea

Here’s how it was framed:

Below is one of my first 3d models of the unit from July of 2019.

my first 3d models

It’s a relatively simple idea that is also an important one. The fireplace unit will be a central part of the house and the heart of our activity. Getting it right was more of a challenge than I would have imagined.

At the beginning, we had to think about the big questions like how it looks, what it’s made of, and how we plan to use it.

grill and two fireplaces

Initially, we focused on the interior unit, with fireplace, TV and storage. It would be the most visible element of the house and set the tone for everything else.

I looked forward to the design process and, as usual, assumed it would go quickly and easily. What happened in reality was a long process of iteration; one design after the other. Between us and John, there was always a new idea.

The Evolution

Let’s look at a few versions of the interior and how they evolved. As you’ll see, it’s mostly a process of subtraction, which I think is a good sign.

The first concept was a unit that was placed in front of the wall, protruding into the room. It was mostly covered in steel, with a recessed section for the the TV, etc.

protruding into the room

It seemed like a good idea. The TV would be beside the fireplace and not above it. But, it was boring and we saw opportunities to to add a bit of style.

Then we had a revelation. What if the unit wasn’t a big wall of steel with recessed shelves? What if, instead, the drywall behind the unit was more visible and the elements were simply placed in front of the wall? This seemed like we were on the right track, as it made the space feel more open.

We tried a number of different configurations with shelves and cabinets. The one below was one of my worst attempts, but it got us further down the road.

shelves and cabinets

We soon realized that we needed to get specific about what components would live in the unit. This way, we could use start designing with the right dimensions. I sent this to John:

designing with the right dimensions

For the first time, we felt that we were on the right track. Instead of a big monolithic piece of steel, it was becoming a more open and purpose built unit.

This model became our more stable version and one that hasn’t changed significantly:

big monolithic piece

The same is true for the exterior. After a few tweaks, it was stable and we were feeling good.

true for the exterior

The Pressure Is On

We told Drew that the design was close to final and that we were ready to get the work started. He called a friend from out of town who planned to come do the metal work. This meant that we had to have everything buttoned-up so we didn’t waste this person’s time.

The day before the metal worker arrived, we had a call from John, who was having second thoughts about the steel. Before pulling the trigger he and I agreed to at least entertain the thought of using brick as the main surface of the unit. Initially, Sachi was happy to consider the options and I created a model as a test:

metal worker

That evening, Sachi and I had a design discussion. She was not fully invested in the brick and wanted to stick to the steel surface. I could see her point. Within a few hours, the brick discussion had ended and the arrival of the metal worker was imminent.

We told Drew that we would have final designs ready on Friday morning, less than 48 hours away. Our goal was to meet on site and work through the entire design.

John took on the challenge and, over Wednesday night, designed what became our final specification. We reviewed it, made a few tweaks on Thursday and spent Friday going over the details with the crew on-site. Things looked to be buttoned up and we left feeling good.

Of course, we were not done.  

The following Monday (yesterday) ended up being full of more questions about the unit. The vision was clear and agreed upon, but some details needed attention before work could begin.

At the last minute, we ended up adding an access door under the grill and using stainless steel on the front of the grill cabinet.

Right now, we’re feeling relieved and above all, confident that we ended up with a design that we love. Decisions on details will keep coming for a while, and that’s all part of the process of getting it right. We iterate our way to what we want.

the grill cabinet

I’m excited for the day, probably in just a few weeks, that I can show you the final product.

I Can Recommend…

Show: We’ve been binging Ratched on Netflix. It’s loosely adapted from the Nurse Ratched character in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Dark, stylish, and full of monstrous characters, it’s a recent favorite.

Movie: I first learned about the Safdie brothers from their direction of the movie Uncut Gems (which I recommend). Their specialty is gritty, pressure-cooker dramas that keep your attention. The strangely named Good Time is another Safdie Brothers film that is a wild trip, full of action.

Podcast: The Broken Record Podcast is a deep-dive into the work of musicians, in a similar vein to the awesome Song Exploder podcast. Some episodes are hosted by Rick Rubin.

I loved this episode with the Mike D and Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys along with Spike Jonze. Rick Rubin hosts and the episode and it goes much deeper than their recent stage show. I particularly love the stories from before their fame when they would visit Rick at his dorm at NYU.

Photo:We had a strange mix of fog and smoke that made for interesting scenes on the water.

mix of fog and smoke

That’s what I have for now. Cheers!

Final Covers of BIG ENOUGH

Final Covers of BIG ENOUGH

While it’s probably true that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, most people do. Covers can have a big impact on sales and getting the cover right is a big priority. Here’s the final front cover for my book Big Enough:

I had the help of Page Two Books and designer Peter Cocking. We worked together over a few weeks to give it the feel we thought was appropriate. While it’s a business book, I really see Big Enough as a book about a business. It reads more like a memoir or autobiography and we wanted the cover to feel personal and engaging. I wanted it to send the message “this is a business book that doesn’t seem like homework”.

The dog helps. It’s hard to look too serious with a cute dog on the cover. I thought the French bulldog was an iconic symbol for Big Enough: small in size, big in attitude. We call the dog “Big-E” and he has become part of the book’s marketing. Here’s a sticker I had designed for pre-orders that uses Big-E as inspiration:

dog sticker in gray

I’m so thankful to those who provided endorsements, which are quotes about the book by influential people. There is one on the front from Auston Kleon, three on the back cover, and eleven endorsements in the first few pages of the book. It meant so much to me that they would take the time to read an early version of the book and provide a quote.

The Back Cover

The back cover is meant to help people get a quick feel for the content of the book. Along with endorsements from Seth Godin, Tara Hunt, and Jason Kottke, the back has a finely-crafted description of the book. Jessica Werb was a big help in getting it right.

Here’s the full spread:

Big Enough hits the shelves on September 15th, 2020. Find purchase options.

Creating the BIG ENOUGH Sticker

Creating the BIG ENOUGH Sticker

As a kid, I spent time reading skateboarding magazines. At the time, ads often included a line at the bottom that said, essentially, “Send us a dollar and we’ll send you stickers.” I can clearly remember how much I anticipated those stickers in the mail. Stickers have an appeal that goes beyond graphics, paper, and glue.

Today, I’m planning to send people my own sticker and this is the story of how that sticker was designed and how I’m planning to use it.

Why a Create Sticker?

Before my book, Big Enough, hits the shelves, I will encourage people to pre-order it, which means purchasing it before it is officially released. This way, when the book finally arrives, all those sales transactions happen in the same week and the book will hopefully make a bigger splash than it would otherwise. In this scenario, it helps to offer people an incentive for pre-ordering the book. If they (you?) preorder the book and send me the purchase receipt, I will send them stickers, and maybe more, in the mail.

Designing the Sticker

I am not a graphic designer, but I love working with designers and thinking through design projects. Once the idea of designing a sticker arose, I was pumped to work on it. The French bulldog on the cover of the book was my starting point. He’s symbolic of the Big Enough attitude: small and tough. I’ve come to call him “Big-E” and loved the idea of people having a fun, illustrated version of Big-E on their laptop or water bottle.

Big Enough Book Cover

Instead of using the live-action image, I imagined a stylized cartoon version of Big-E and asked my publisher for the photo from the cover to use as a starting point. Then, I searched for dog illustrations in a style I liked. I found one that was close to what I wanted. It used flat colors and bold shapes that felt cool and modern. 

Then I went to Upwork, which is a service I’ve used for years to find freelancers for small projects. I created a new job called “Digital Illustration of a Dog Based on Photo”. I included a description of what I wanted, attached the photo of Big-E and the example photo. I also said the illustration had to include the book website: bigenough.life

Next, I reviewed 15-20 profiles and invited a handful of people from around the world to apply. I’ve had good experiences working with international talent at affordable rates. I connected with a guy named Vadym from Ukraine and hired him. He got started quickly and provided a promising start. 

But then, out of nowhere, he said something had come up and that he couldn’t complete the project. Such is life in the freelance market. Disappointed, I went back to finding designers and stumbled upon a profile of a woman named Brooke Braddy who had an affordable hourly rate and illustrations that looked promising. This image from her portfolio gave me confidence that she had worked in the style I wanted:

Brooke agreed to start the next day and estimated it would cost under $100 to complete the project. I was hopeful.

The project turned out to be incredibly satisfying. Over two weeks and about 40 messages back and forth, we tweaked the colors, fonts, padding, size, and more. Brooke was a good listener and had great skills. I enjoy working with people like Brooke who are independent and putting their skills to work from home.

Here are examples of how the sticker evolved over two weeks:


Big Big Enough Dog Illustration Dog IlustrationBig Enough Dog IllustrationBig Enough Dog Illustration Big Enough Dog IllustrationBig Enough Final Dog Illustration

What I appreciated most was the iterative process of making the sticker exactly what I wanted. Every time Brooke sent a comp, another part of the design would grab my attention and kick off more changes. She took my feedback and made it work. For me, that’s how design happens. It’s a process of always asking “what sucks the most now?” 

A couple of days ago, I deemed the sticker design complete. Brooke’s initial estimate didn’t anticipate the scale of my feedback, so I gave her a bonus for the extra hours. We were both happy.

dog sticker in black

A couple of days later, I thought back to those days of getting stickers in the mail and how I loved getting multiple stickers. Sure, I could send pre-order customers three of the same sticker, or I could create a set with different colors. Collect all three!

I went back to Brooke and she quickly whipped up a couple of color options. With just a bit of design time, I now have a set of three stickers for the kind souls who pre-order a copy of Big Enough. Here’s the set:

dog sticker in black dog sticker in orange dog sticker in gray

If you’d like to be notified about the pre-order campaign, you can sign up here.

The House Plans ? ??

The House Plans ? ??

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.


I sometimes think of house plans like a plan for a dinner party meal. In the beginning, it’s impossible to know how it will taste, or what it will cost to create. The best you can do is imagine what you want and slowly plan it out, dish by dish, ingredient by ingredient, until it starts to take shape. Only then, after the planning is mostly done, can you start to understand the likely cost, and how it all works together, or not.

Houses, while much more complex, aren’t that different. Before any ingredients or even dishes are considered, there has to be a realistic vision of what’s possible. Are we serving tacos or filet mignon? We asked ourselves: in what sort of house could we imagine spending the rest of our lives

The first question was: could it be the Yurt? There was nothing to stop us from living in the Yurt for many years. It kept us relatively warm and dry, but it also had issues. Even if we invested in updating it, we’d still be left with a small, inefficient and impractical home. It’s not the kind of place that can be renovated into something significantly better. The ingredients just weren’t there and the idea of living the rest of our lives inside of a circle did not seem all that attractive. 

So we tried to imagine a completely new house sitting in the same location as the Yurt. A few things stood out. First, anything we built had to take advantage of the view. We imagined a house with glass doors facing west and a deck for entertaining.

Second, we saw room to spread out. The property is about 190 feet across and that meant we could consider single-story construction. We figured that, as we age, a single-story might come in handy.

Third, we didn’t need a large home. We imagined having three bedrooms and space that could feed and entertain six people comfortably. Most of the entertaining would happen in a “great room” that has a kitchen, living room, and dining room in a single space.

Below is an early draft of the floor plan with the green circle indicating the Yurt’s footprint.

draft of the floor plan

I liked the idea of a house that looked nestled into the side of the hill and blended into the natural setting with a dark exterior. We imagined the roof hanging over the deck to keep out the rain and provide shade in the summer. In the pacific northwest, anything you can do to extend the summer is a good investment.

Once we had a vision in place, we sat down with John Stoeck, the architect, and started sketching and brainstorming. In working with him on the Hunter House and now this project, we’ve become even more trusting in his judgment.

The earliest versions of the plan were messy sketches that fleshed out possible shapes and orientations.

messy sketches

Over time, sketches became drawings and quickly, house plans. John began to arrive at our house with huge rolls of paper tucked under his arm. We would sit at our bar and walk through the latest versions and talk about anything that stood out, from window placement, to bathroom layout, to where the grill will be. I looked forward to every meeting.

drawings and quickly

Usually, we’d find things we wanted to change or improve and John would leave with notes. The next meeting, he would arrive with thoughtful solutions to those problems and we’d move to the next room or problem to solve.

For example, we spent time on the glass doors facing the view. Originally, we wanted the doors to slide left-to-right, across the entire great room and disappear into a pocket on the north side. It would have been so cool. But it would require custom doors and many extra man hours. It was expensive, and also started to seem impractical.

We had to consider the reality of living where we do and understand that the doors would be closed for most of the year. I began saying “We don’t live in Malibu.” as a way to remember that the house needs to be practical in a cooler, wetter climate. So instead, we planned on four glass panels with the two middle ones opening to the north and south in sliding glass door style.

This was just one ingredient of many and it was possible to understand the price in isolation. We could get a quote for the glass doors. But the doors were part of a structure supported by wood, steel and concrete. They’re part of a room with a floor and ceiling, a kitchen and fireplace, all with their own lists of ingredients.

With such volume, it felt impossible to understand the cost of the dish we were designing, much less the meal. The best we could do was try to be smart and efficient while hoping it would all come together with a price tag we could afford.

By the time most of the project had been designed, it became clear that making it a reality would require selling the Hunter House and moving out of Seattle. And it wasn’t a decision we took lightly. In fact, we both agreed that the project had become a life goal, something that set the stage for everything going forward. We were prepared to put everything into making it happen.

moving out of Seattle

The first real milestone was to get a building permit. Within about six weeks, the permit was granted and we were ready for Drew to take the plans and work with his subcontractors to come up with price tags. He needed a few weeks to get the estimates together and we set a date for the big reveal. The Number was coming. 

In those weeks, we debated every day what it might take to build this house. In the best case scenario, the cost would be less than we budgeted and we’d have money for furnishings or landscaping. In the worst case, the entire project could come to a screeching halt. That’s the nature of this kind of project. You never really know the cost of what you’re designing until most of the design work is done. Our fingers were firmly crossed.