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Originally published May 12, 2012 at 7:02 PM | Page modified May 15, 2012 at 10:23 AM

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Gary Gladwish designs a glass house on Orcas for a lifetime

The home was one of five projects honored last fall with a 2011 AIA Seattle Merit Award.

THE VIEW right out of the car is straight through the house, past the intersection of a 100-year-old barn and Corten steel. Vacation-of-a-lifetime vistas. Views more soothing than a week at a spa; encompassing the islands of two nations, serious deep-blue waters, trees old, old, old hosting eagles, owls and other bits of nature.

To properly describe the ridge's-edge home of Marie Gladwish, remote on the eastern lobe of Orcas Island, is to say there is practically no house there at all.

"I told Gary, 'Just make me a shelter, like a pavilion, but with just a roof. I get claustrophobic," says Marie of her instructions to her architect — her son, Gary Gladwish.

Apparently Gary got it. He really got it. And this, the first house he has designed from the ground up, was one of five projects honored last fall with a 2011 AIA Seattle Merit Award.

The Seattle architect designed for his mother an island home of glass walls that recalls Philip Johnson's Glass House in New Canaan, Conn. Unlike Johnson's showpiece of minimalism, this house is truly livable. That is thanks to what lies beyond a door hidden in the kitchen cabinetry; 800 square feet of storage (half of which Marie uses as an art studio).

"I've always been a woodsy, ferny, mossy person," says Marie, a retired graphic designer, now artist, birder, environmentalist, traveler. "Most people get excited about the beach, but . . ." She trails off so we can hear the silence. Marie first visited Orcas Island 54 years ago. Right then she decided that one day she would live here. That day has come; on land filled with madrone trees, firs, beech, thistle, moss and rocks. "When we get off the ferry I see a physical change in her," Gary says of the client he has known all his life.

Gary's got degrees in fine art and architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design, and experience in construction, real-estate development and architecture. It all comes together here.

While utterly contemporary, this is also a low-maintenance, budget-minded home that allows aging in place. There is an open kitchen-dining-living area, study and master suite fronting the art studio/storage area. The building materials utilize Marie's favorites: old barn wood, rusty steel, moss and rocks. Window walls slide away, and the house is open to the world beyond, a living room in the woods. (It's not all a slice of heaven. Open walls invite mice.) The entry garden bisects the house into two zones. The storage space has been left raw and could become bedrooms or an apartment for a caregiver.

Cabinetry is Ikea. "I wanted to spend the money on the things that were structural," Gary says. "A big part of it was glass."

The home was built by Schuchart Dow, after Gary ran into Jim Dow on a dog walk in the park near his home. "I met a guy with a Schuchart Dow jacket on named Jim and I said, 'How'd you like to build my house?' "

They liked it just fine and worked to keep costs down. Schuchart Dow put its efforts constructing the precision envelope. Gary finished the project himself.

There's ingenuity in the details. Not so you'd notice, what with the view demanding all the attention, but the sliding door to the master bedroom glides on inline-skate wheels. The bathroom counter is repurposed bulletproof bank glass.

"There's always another way," Marie says.

"That's how we grew up," Gary says. "Dad was always tearing up the house and rebuilding it."

He gets it honest. And he has built an honest house.

Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific Northwest magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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