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Originally published Sunday, October 11, 2009 at 12:09 AM

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A fresh, bright Whidbey Island house rises from recyclables

A Whidbey Island couple with loads of artistic talent built their fresh, bright house from recyclables cleverly re-imagined. Antique furniture, old doors and salvaged school cabinets are among the items the couple used to make this house unique. Bright spots of color and modern touches such as concrete floors and metal railings tie it all together.

PAMELA AND Frank Jacques brought their full and considerable talents to bear when constructing their colorful Whidbey Island home. Frank is an art teacher who turned the local hardware store into his library during construction. Pamela, a graphic artist, served as general contractor. "I didn't have a clue what I was doing," she says. "I flew by the seat of my pants."

How could anyone build such a cool house for not much more than $100 a square foot? The family lived in an Airstream trailer during construction, did most of the work themselves, and recycled materials in innovative ways to give the house character and patina. They haunted stores like Second Use, Earthwise and ReStore, bought bare-bulb light fixtures from Lowe's and surfed the Internet for salvage materials to repurpose. With the help of architect Peter Stoner, they limited the home's size to 1,850 meticulously planned square feet. "We made a hobby out of tracking down recyclables," says Pamela, pointing out a pair of $50 doors they found online and had shipped from Kentucky. "They came with dirt on them," she says. "We added the diamond shapes."

In 2003, the couple bought a long, narrow piece of property on South Whidbey Island, its topography obscured by overgrown blackberries. They knew that at the far end was a magnificent view of the Olympic Mountains and the waters of Saratoga Passage. After admiring a nearby Stoner-designed home, they asked the Seattle architect to draw up the plans.

Every decision included not only aesthetics but cost considerations. Beams and lighting were left exposed to save on work and materials. Upstairs floors are pine boards installed by Pamela with help from her dad. The kitchen cabinets were salvaged from Seattle's Madison Middle School; their century-old black lacquer needed to be laboriously stripped by hand to reveal the fir beneath. The worn benches at the kitchen table still have kids' initials carved in them from the Oak Harbor gym where they originated. Even the bathroom fixtures, wooden walls and metal bathtub had previous lives.

The couple delighted in fitting all the various pieces together, not unlike a big 3-D puzzle. "Making decisions and gathering stuff was fun; picking up Sheetrock wasn't so fun," says Frank, who did much of the work at night and on weekends.

"The trick to making a small house work is that it has to be open; there's no formal dining room, and one big living space," Stoner says. Despite the home's size, do-it-yourself construction and repurposed materials, there's not a whiff of parsimony in this warm, bright house. No part of it feels small, cramped or thrown together.

"We come from Colorado where it's sunny 360 days of the year, so we wanted the house to have lots of light," explains Frank of the plentiful windows and high ceilings that help the home live larger than its footprint. The bold, bright paint colors help integrate all the disparate parts into a harmonious whole.

"It's our aesthetic," concludes Frank. "Spare, pseudo-industrial and functional." Pamela adds, "I'm not sure we'd do it differently if we had all the money in the world."

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "A Pattern Garden." Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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