Pride And Patience -- A New Orcas Island Lodge Honors The Hand- Craftsmanship Of Another Time
THE OLD LODGE on Orcas Island had started life as a barn but became the totem of a family compound in the 1930s and '40s. Strong as a fort and a good distance from the grown-ups' residence, it was the perfect playhouse for rambunctious children.
The property was sold in 1960, the lodge fell into disrepair and a 1970s-vintage, flat-roofed guest house was built in its place. In 1985, a man who had spent many happy idylls there with his young cousins during World War II learned the 12-acre waterfront property was for sale and bought it.
The new owner decided the ungraceful guest house would never measure up to his memories of the lodge.
Although he knew it would be difficult to duplicate it exactly, he wanted to re-create the building from his childhood.
First he inspected vintage photographs and family movies. There were exterior views as well as interior shots that showed useful detail, including odd horizontal peeled poles about 15 feet above the living area - possibly part of a hayloft dating to the building's days as a working barn. The poles were joined to support beams and had made an ideal climbing gym for youngsters.
Next he plumbed the collective family memory. This much was certain: There had been a rough-hewn, barnlike building with massive peeled-log timbers, a stone fireplace and scarred wooden floors. There also was a sleeping loft and a kitchen where the smell of baking bread filled the air.
In today's world, given the scarcity of certain building materials such as old-growth logs, a clever carpenter could, at best, evoke the spirit of the original. Or so thought the owner, who talked over his ideas with Seattle architect Edward Carr.
Carr, who specializes in island houses, already had designed new buildings and an addition to the main house at the Orcas compound. Looking at the scallop-edged, black-and-white snapshots of the lodge taken 50 years earlier, he was confident he could put the appropriate four walls and a roof on the distant memory.
He began by tracing a photo of the original lodge's exterior. From that he determined scale, then reduced the size of the new building 20 percent to stay within the footprint of the flat-roofed guest house, which was to be demolished except for part of a back wall.
"There were clear views of the doors," Carr explains, "and the size of the doors - a standard measure of either 6 feet, 6 inches, or 6 feet, 8 inches, for practically forever - gave me a reliable way to calculate the old lodge's dimensions."
The design was complicated yet visually spare. Carr found ways to substitute off-the-shelf wood to simulate the old-style lodge look. Having worked as a carpenter while living on Orcas years ago, he knows what to expect when hammer hits nail. Logically, his drawings called for sawn timbers and for an elegant but traditional finished-lumber staircase.
Enter island woodworker Chris Betcher, who had been stockpiling enormous chunks of curved fir logs and other found objects against the day they would be useful in a building project. This was the day.
When the sawdust settled in 1995, two years after construction had begun, the owner and his brother walked into the new building and the brother marveled: "This is the place!" Right down to the climbing poles.
The 2,000-square-foot guest house has the look and feel of the original lodge but with modern improvements, including in-floor radiant heat, energy-efficient windows and many of the bells and whistles that go with 1990s construction.
The lower floor has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, pantry and living room. Upstairs is a loft that extends over the kitchen and dining area. It has a pool table, bathroom and cozy alcoves that sleep six. The view from the 20-foot-tall front window takes in meadow, trees, dock and water.
Downstairs are several touches you might expect in a custom home, such as cut-stone floors in bathrooms and entryways, granite counters in the kitchen and special cabinets.
But what gives the lodge its unusual integrity are strong design, island can-do optimism, old-fashioned wood-butchery and time taken to do things right.
Nearly every inch of the interior is either worked with hand tools or custom-made. There are hand-made teak and split-cedar entry and bedroom doors. The stairway's naturally curved fir slabs are thick enough for Paul Bunyan. A teak pantry door slides like a barn entry, and a 20-foot-long, split-log step divides living room from dining room. Eye-catching, too, are specially made teak bedsteads, upstairs railings of alternating peeled-fir limbs and steel rods, and a stair banister made of two long and curving peeled-fir limbs.
There are just three support posts on the lower level, adding to the sense of spaciousness gained by the cedar-framed windows, specially made by Quantum Windows and Doors. Overhead supports are large logs of peeled Douglas fir, cut as salvage timber in Eastern Washington and bought from a company in Mount Vernon. The floor is stressed rustic-heart pine reclaimed from a dismantled warehouse in the South.
Sound Construction, Orcas Island, was general contractor. Steve Pearson was the main carpenter, Betcher and Joe Nichols the finish carpenters.
Log building was new to him, Betcher says, but he learned as he went along. He enjoyed the challenge of large-scale joinery, and also built the doors, staircase, beds, dining table, cabinets, bookcases and many other furnishings.
Betcher discovered some of the lodge's original fireplace blocks, long-forgotten sandstone quarried on Sucia Island, dumped for fill beside a nearby road. Carr inventoried the larger pieces and designed a fireplace nearly identical to the original.
Incorporating natural materials the old way - as well as using custom millwork to duplicate the original exterior round-plank siding - required an extra year of building time, the owner estimates, but he feels it was worth it.
"This has the aura of the original. Ed Carr is not only an exacting architect, he's a patient man," he says.
A quote from Shakespeare's "As You Like It" is painted above the fireplace mantel. It reads:
"And this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stone, and good in everything."
Inscribed above the old fireplace those long years ago, it's back where it belongs.
Dean Stahl is a Seattle writer and editor. Benjamin Benschneider is a staff photographer for Pacific Northwest magazine.
Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.