The House Project: Flattop on Orcas Island

By: Lee LeFever

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.

In the spring of 2017, Sachi and I became consumed with an idea. On a camping trip to Orcas Island, which is off the NW coast of Washington State, we started to ask serious questions about the future. While drinking wine from a box by a campfire, we first started to consider getting property and someday moving to the island. 

By June, we were back on Orcas Island looking at vacant land with a realtor and Sachi asked if we could see a house. We figured we couldn’t afford a house, but what the heck? What we saw that day was a nice piece of west facing property with a water view. On the property was an odd, fifteen-sided house that was built by a family in the 80s. It was shabby, but livable and we soon made an offer.  

This yurt-shaped house became ours in September and was the only house we toured on the entire island. It all happened so quickly. We never dreamed we’d have a house on the island in such short order. It was available, in part, because no one looking for a vacation home would choose that one. 

At first we spent weekends, then weeks on the island. Thanks to a good internet connection, work was the same as in Seattle. Before long, we found ourselves dreading the trip back to the city and decided to make the big move. In early 2019, we committed to leaving Seattle and starting over on Orcas Island. The house we’d owned since 2003 hit the market that spring.

We moved to the island as permanent residents and started planning the biggest project of our lives: designing and building a new home for us and headquarters for Common Craft. Working with an on-island contractor and architect friend, the new house started to come to life on paper and then in three dimensions. 

Soon, the yurt-shaped house was gone and we moved to a guest house over a neighbor’s garage for a planned eighteen-month stay.  

Today, we are deep into the project and it’s taking everything we have to make it happen. The structure is built and we’re in the “rough-in” phase where plumbing and electrical is installed. Soon we’ll have insulation and drywall. 

Every day is a mix of our normal work and house projects. Sometimes it’s researching lights, others it’s painting or doing odd jobs that limit costs. Along with construction, I’m learning a lot about new products and ideas that focus on efficiency and sustainability. This will be our forever house and our goal is to get it right. 

I often say that happiness lives in anticipation and that anticipation is what gets us through. This project adds significant stress to our lives and can sometimes be exhausting. But it’s also satisfying to learn about the process and see the house come to life. The day we can move in can’t come soon enough. 

Spring 2020

You can find all house-related posts in the house category.

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