A few weeks back, I shared a story called Lee Night that was, in part, about spending an evening watching boats go by our house. I wrote:
As boats float by the house, I can’t help but feel like I’m the creepy guy on the beach watching girls walk by. Every boat is different and interesting in myriad ways.
Now that Labor Day has passed and boating season is winding down, I’m taking an inventory of the interesting boats I’ve seen over the summer. After Lee Night, I admit I became a full-on boat creep, watching from my deck as they float by, unaware of my peering lens. I collected a tiny fraction of what passed, but still captured an interesting group of boats.
This summer saw heavy traffic from boats full of tourists, usually going to watch whales. The “whaleboats” as we call them are always noticeable because of their size and speed. Few recreational boaters choose to burn as much fuel.
One that always stands out is Blackfish (which is an old name for killer whales).
Another is the Western Explorer.
Sometimes the whales end up in the water in front of our house and the big whaleboats show up.
If you crop a photo just right, you can pretend that a friendly sailboat is the only boat watching the killer whales.
Tourists are also ferried around on other boats that are more focused on destinations. This is the Puget Sound Express.
The Salish Sea is a commercial waterway used by all kinds of boats, both local and international. In the distance, there are almost always huge ships traveling in Canadian waters to Canada.
We don’t see these behemoths in US waters our side of Orcas Island, but we see many barges and other large boats used for transporting items to the islands that don’t have ferry service.
You find the strangest things on barges. That’s a two-story house.
Lindsey Foss is a fire-fighting vessel.
A local service will tow you if your boat has a problem.
An sometimes a Canadian Warship goes by.
The vast majority of boats that pass our house are recreational or privately owned. Cabin cruisers are a dime a dozen, but sometimes more impressive boats pass by.
M/V Pelican is a 1930 78ft Classic wooden fisheries research vessel that recently started doing charters.
Our friends Mahlon and Deb live on this 65′ boat called Salish Song. Yes, that’s a lovely palm tree adorning their rear deck.
New Pacific is a 97′ expedition yacht that was recently refitted to have a 60kwh hybrid energy system that reduces the use of the boat’s generators.
This caravel style sailboat is one of the biggest we’ve seen.
Like cabin cruisers, sailboats are very common in all shapes and sizes.
And of course, small crafts like kayaks. Sea kayaking is one of the most popular activities in the San Juans. Jet Skis are prohibited, thankfully.
Not a boat. Or is it?
I’ll miss boating season and being on the lookout for interesting boats. They’ll be back before we know it.
I have come to call our house “Flattop” and there are a few things to know about this name:
Sachi is against naming any house because she doesn’t want it to sound pretentious. And I get it. Boats and houses can both have names that make unintentional impressions.
The marketer in me loves naming things. Having an informal name for a house can add a bit of personality and serve as a useful shortcut.
The roof of our house is not flat.
The name started organically in 2018 when we were living in the Yurt and using Amazon Alexa to play music. I created a playlist that was to be our up-tempo music for moving-in and celebrating. I originally called the playlist “The Yurt” and found myself saying “Alexa, play ‘The Yurt’ playlist” and then waiting for her to shrug her virtual shoulders. The words “the yurt” were not easy for her to understand. So, I decided to change it.
For inspiration, I looked out over the water, to the island that is closest to us called “Flattop”, which is a nature preserve. I said the words to myself and tried to image being a robot. Flat top. Play the Flattop playlist. Alexa got it immediately. Problem solved.
From that point on, the name stuck in my head, at least. It seemed easy and obvious. So I started using it for other things like folders on my computer and albums of photos. That’s the shortcut. It helps, too, that our property is flat and on the top of a hill. I’m not sure Sachi abides, but I think she’ll come around.
Flattop – Unadorned
There is a unique point in each house’s life when it’s naked and in its purest form. The work is done, but the people haven’t yet moved in. For us that lasted about 24 hours and I took the opportunity to take photos before it was hidden behind furniture, rugs, and all the things that bring it to life. Below, I’m sharing those photos along with sections of the creative brief from last week.
Brief: Exterior Appearance
“We want this house to feel like it was built for the PNW. It should feel at home among big evergreens, madronas, ferns, and rain. We love the idea of the charred siding, known as Shou Sugi Ban or Yakisugi.”
Brief: The View
“The focus of the house will be the view and maximizing the view and feel of privacy, both inside and out. This is also true for noise, which travels easily to neighbors. The great room and office must have views of the water, others are negotiable.”
Brief: Exterior Deck
“The west facing exterior has been a big focus. We imagine a thoughtfully designed deck that faces the water. We envision a roof that overhangs the deck, blocking sun in the summer and provides shelter in the winter. We’d like to have a place to be outside on cool days with heaters in the ceiling, perhaps. We imagine a grill and a fire bowl, or fireplace. We love the idea of being able to look at the water from the great room without seeing a railing.”
“The interior should be warm and cozy, probably with wood ceilings and floors. We imagine sloped ceilings that may be higher than normal, but no vaulted ceilings. Bi-fold doors open the great room to the patio. Further, we like the idea of the house being divided into two sections that are connected with a hallway.”
Brief: Fenced Garden and Dog Run
“We will need to think about placement of a deer fence and dog run that connects to the house.”
I had anticipated this moment for over a year. For the first time, I stepped foot onto the newly laid subfloor of our house. I realize this might not sound like a revelation and in reality, I had stepped onto the subfloor in other parts of the house. But this was different. This floor was at the heart of the house, where we’ll cook, eat and entertain. With this first step, I got to experience the elevation, orientation, and view that was the reason we chose to build this house on this spot. It is the platform for so much of what we’ll do in the future, at 272 feet above sea level.
I’ve been thinking about the idea of platforms lately. We all have them. Where you live right now is a platform. It supports your daily life and provides a sense of place. It has a shape that you probably don’t think about often. The kitchen may be too small or a bedroom may be impractical, but we adjust and adapt over time. That’s the thing about platforms. We grow into them.
Part of the challenge of building a new house is trying to imagine, in terms of feet and inches, the platform you’ll need in the future. How big should a bathroom be? How will it feel to walk from the bedroom to the kitchen? These decisions are important because they are mostly permanent. Once it’s built, the platform becomes a constraint. It’s where you’ll live, like it or not. In the back of our minds, there is always a voice wondering if the platform we’re building is ready for the future.
It’s been over a year since the platform took shape on the property and it started with wooden stakes that marked the corners of the house. The survey crew came out multiple times because their work and ability to read the plans (or not) governed where the house would be built on the property and in which direction it faced. Getting the platform right was a necessary goal from the beginning.
That’s one of the reasons stepping onto the subfloor of our main room was so exciting. We were stepping onto the results of hundreds of decisions, hours of deliberation and an investment stretching over a year. With the subfloor built, we could put those events behind us and stop wondering if the wooden stakes were placed at the right corners. For the first time, we could stand in our future kitchen and notice what trees will be visible through the future windows. We could imagine walking through the front door and taking in the view from the location of the future fireplace. It was all there, for the first time, to experience with our own eyes.
Time will tell if the platform we’ve designed is ready for the future. I have a strong feeling that we’re on the right track. In the end, all the decisions and designs will fade as we grow into it and never look back.
Below is a collection of photos I recently shared on Instagram that shows about five months of building:
If you’ve been a reader since the early days, you know I spilled a lot of ink in the preparation phase. We planned and moved and assembled all the pieces before anything actually happened in the real world. To me, it was perfect because there was so much to write about. Instead of excavators, concrete, and 2x4s, I had words and visions of the future.
Those days are not over. I still have plenty of words and we’re both learning every day. But now, the house project has entered a new phase where words can’t do it justice. Ceiling trusses and framing might make for an interesting essay, but probably not as interesting as seeing them in photos and videos. They tell a story more efficiently and with more color than I can muster. And truthfully, I love making media and want Ready for Rain to be a multi-media experience.
So, this post is different. I’m letting photos do most of the talking as the house goes from a footprint to a building.
I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.