Pacific Northwest | December 7, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineDecember 7, 2003seattletimes.com home
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CONTENTS
COVER STORY
Out Of Asia
Rural, Refined
Chic Snug
Complexity In Simplicity
Vintage Christmas
Seeing The Light
PLANT LIFE
NOTEBOOK
NOW & THEN
PREVIOUS ISSUES OF PACIFIC NW


WRITTEN BY DEAN STAHL
PHOTOGRAPHED BY BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER
Winter Home Design 2003

Rural, Refined: On a windy meadow, 'This house embraces you'
 
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An uninsulated sunroom juts from the dining room and traps heat on those cool, windy, sunny days common to the island. In winter, storm-watching enthusiasts are treated to up-close encounters with howling winds and lashing rain.
El Baylis has designed buildings for most of his life, but when the architect began planning a retirement home on San Juan Island for himself and his wife, Carol, he challenged himself by holding to what he calls "a disciplined effort toward simplicity."

He turned away from the high windows and modern aspect typical of his designs. This time he drew a single story, with a low profile for easy maintenance and practical features that stand up to salt air, including epoxy-clad fir windows.

As a result, this fourth residence the couple has built for themselves represents a distillation of design experience as well as a practical model for others of similar mind. You might call it a return to the rural, but it is a refined rural.
 
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At the back of the house, uncomplicated lines and a neutral-colored metal roof harmonize with a five-acre meadow facing a view of Haro Strait. The sun room pops out from the dining room. The small building to the right is the pump house.
The 2,100-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath house is shaped like an "L." Wood storage, carport, workshop and office share one wing while pantry, laundry room, kitchen and the rest of the living quarters are in the longer section, as is a small room with a built-in bunk bed for their granddaughter. The wings share a roofline and common walls, but each has separate outside access rather than a linking hallway.

The Baylises moved in four years ago, but kept a Bellevue condo for extended stays until they sold it to become full-time islanders in 2002.

Baylis took a six-week leave from his firm to work with the builder, and had the satisfaction of being finish carpenter for the bunkroom and pantry. San Juan Island-based Ravenhill Construction was the general contractor. The project took 10 months to complete.
 
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Longtime architect El Baylis took a somewhat circuitous route to arrive at his San Juan Island home's design. "There are always a lot of options," he says. His end result champions simplicity and practicality, and emphasizes the importance of careful craftsmanship.
"The hard part was finding where to build on a five-acre field," Baylis says. They sited the house with most of the sloping, open meadow in front, so they would have the grasses to look at and an open view to Haro Strait out back.

Though this is an exposed location in a landscape often windy and cold, "This house embraces you. It's warm and cozy," Carol says.

Built-in fir bookcases and a rock-faced fireplace take up one wall in the living room; most of the stones used in the fireplace and chimney were unearthed from the building site. Floors are heart pine, old-timers that were salvaged from a derelict building on the East Coast.

The kitchen, with a fine salt-water view, has the look of a proscenium when viewed from the open-plan dining and living areas. Whoever is cooking works onstage, as it were, with a halogen cooktop, black soapstone countertops, Douglas-fir shelving and a fir arbor overhead to delineate the space and hold task lights.
 
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Colleagues at Baylis Architects presented Baylis with a brass weather vane that depicts a draftsman at his drawing board. He mounted it above his workshop. "That shows how I spend my life going in circles," Baylis explains, smiling.
Just off the dining room is an uninsulated sun room that is surprisingly useful. Though it's barely large enough for two chairs and a telescope, Baylis noticed during building that carpenters invariably relaxed and ate their lunch there, and that visitors now seem drawn to the space. He's also discovered it's the best place to hear rain drum against the roof.

He fit a cupola above the dining area to add a traditional touch to the exterior profile and serve as a light well inside. The extended ceiling holds large halogen spotlights and vents hot air through operable windows at the top — at least, that was the idea. They haven't been needed.

As it happens, this 21st-century farmhouse was Baylis' third design choice for the site. His first idea — a concept he still speaks of in wistful tones — involved having a house backed into the hillside to guarantee heat efficiency. Carol, a strong advocate of natural light, thought it crucial to have windows on all sides.

His second plan called for a hand-hewn, timber-frame building with a barn-like character, but that proved too expensive. So you see, Baylis says in a tone of self-deprecating humor, architects know to look for a balance between ego and compromise. He wants you to know his project was no exception.
 
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There is a 21st-century-farmhouse look to the living room, with its fieldstone fireplace surround, exposed trusses and subsequent generous ceiling height. Careful positioning and windows on both sides of the room ensure that this is a cheery space mornings or afternoons.
Perhaps a desire for balance inspired Baylis to design the floor plan so he would need to walk outside to get to his office. His may only be a 30-second commute, but he finds the psychological separation between home and desk important.

Baylis, 67, has officially retired from Baylis Architects in Bellevue, and is otherwise a semi-retired architectural consultant. He has been involved in building for 43 years, all but three of them in the Seattle area.

He earned his architecture degree at Ohio State University, and relocated to Seattle in 1962, enamored of the Northwest style. "I wanted to work for Paul Kirk," Baylis recalls. "He was kind enough to interview me when I first came out, and listened to me as if I had something to say. He was a gentleman." Baylis and Kirk eventually worked together on a lodge design at Stevens Pass.

Baylis joined a firm in Bellevue, where he became a junior partner, then left to start Baylis Architects in 1972.
 
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The kitchen is efficient yet large enough for two people to work together comfortably. In an otherwise open-room plan, an arbor defines the space, as do tall cupboards that function as bookends for the cooktop island.
For a long while, Baylis was a consultant on Gilman Village, in Issaquah, where he learned how architecture could inspire emotional responses in people. Developer Marvin Mohl called him at all hours to scout old houses for potential use in his historic-theme shopping center.

"Marvin encouraged me to think on my feet. I needed to come up with plans in minutes, with him standing over my shoulder at a kitchen table."

More recently, Baylis donated design time to the San Juan Community Home Trust, a nonprofit organization.

"We're trying to help local people afford to own something here," he explains.

On a clear day, when Baylis can see from Port Angeles to Victoria, B.C., he looks over the meadow as wind pushes grass into waves. Mount Rainier is visible, though he's even more pleased to see the local fox catch sun on a nearby rocky knob.

Thanks to the tutoring of an old Navy chum, he learned how to build the stone wall that borders his patio. Now he's discovering how to sit on it quietly, how to admire the long view.

Dean Stahl is a Seattle freelance writer and editor. His e-mail address is gelassen@ix.netcom.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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