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The Seattle Times | Pacific Northwest
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Northwest Living Valerie Easton

A Shared Sensibility

Objects found, recast and crafted create a home uniquely theirs

There's a recurring conversation on Whidbey Island about why the south end is so richly populated with artistic couples. Could it be the stirring landscape, the luminous light, the encouraging culture, the wet winters? Perhaps all these elements create an alchemy with more inexplicable influences to draw paired-up artists to live and work around Langley.

While these creative couples may share a home, rarely do they share studio space, which is the case with glass-tile artist/printmaker Meredith MacLeod and her glass-blowing husband, John de Wit. Luckily, the pair own a five-acre piece of property sufficiently roomy to accommodate De Wit's hot shop, where he often hosts apprentices and collaborators, MacLeod's studio and tile-production shop, and the home and garden they've been working on for 17 years.

"I feel grown up now that we have a real house," says MacLeod of the serial remodels of what began as her studio. Living in a trailer was getting old, so the couple started the first of three additions to the little studio. Now the expanded house is a lively mélange of pure creativity that integrates MacLeod's tile work and advanced color sensibilities with de Wit's sculptural, painted-glass pieces. Then there are the found and recycled materials the two collected over many years. The patio is laid with hundreds of bricks de Wit put aside for just such a purpose, and the home's flooring is repurposed old fir bleacher seats carefully planed, sanded and finished.

In her artist statement MacLeod writes that her "goal is to evoke an interest in something old that can recast itself as new" — a sentiment that carries over even to her stove, a 1950s model she inherited from her godparents in California and drove up to Whidbey in the back of a Nissan Stanza. It now holds pride of place in the new kitchen, backed with translucent green-glass tiles and topped with a custom-made metal stove hood.

The creative team

Architects: Latest addition by Eric Richmond and David Price of Flat Rock Productions.

Metal artist: Kitchen stove hood by Tim Leonard.

Tile artist: Patio by Randy Landon

Sculptor/craftsman: Metal bathroom vanity, with tile by Meredith MacLeod, built by Mark Fessler.

Library book cases: Built by Jay Davenny.

Kitchen island: Built by Kim Kelzer to showcase MacLeod's polka-dot tiles and collection of salt-and-pepper shakers.

To find services: Many of these artists, and others, can be found through Whidbey Island's innovative ArtParts Project, which matches artists and craftspeople with homeowners seeking their services. See www.artparts.org.

It's a wonder it didn't take longer than 17 years for these busy working artists to complete their home. Besides doing custom tile work, MacLeod designs and fires glass-tile lines that are sold through Waterworks. She also silkscreens and stamps high-wire enamels onto the surface of glass to create fine art, and layers colors and shapes from carved rubber stamps for the look of a textile or wallpaper monoprint. She sells her tiles around the country and shows her work, much of it bird-themed, at Museo Gallery in Langley.

De Wit is a well-known glass artist who recently returned from Korea, where he lectured and accepted first prize in an international contest. He built much of the new house himself, between training for swim meets and blowing one-of-a-kind pieces in his hot shop, a short walk down the hill from the house.

Just imagine the creative synthesis that occurs when two people so adept and opinionated about color and patterning collaborate on building and decorating a home. But it wasn't just the owners who got in on the act. Many of their friends contributed to the home's artistry, from bricklaying to furniture-making to painting art that hangs on the walls. Says MacLeod of the many people who lent their talents: "We call it a village."

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "A Pattern Garden." Her e-mail address is valeaston@comcast.net. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

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