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Sunday, May 5, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Pacific Northwest Magazine / Northwest Living

Treasure on the Beach: A jewel of a boathouse gleams in marble and bronze, teak and glass

For most people, the word boathouse conjures images of corrugated metal and rickety docks.

But not for Kevin and Kristin Eagan. When they decided to replace the decrepit boathouse on their Bainbridge waterfront, they hired an architect and told him the replacement had to be two things: Pretty and still standing 200 years from now.

Pretty? The Eagans' new boathouse might as well be a beached treasure box, spilling jeweled light onto the sand from its copper roofing and art-glass accents.

And it stands as rock solid as redwood timbers, bronze columns and marble flooring can make it. Neither the builder nor the owner doubts it will weather winter gales and summer storms for at least two centuries.

Many Bainbridge waterfront homeowners used to plant boathouses on the beach to store their kayaks, small runabouts or rowing boats. But when the Eagans bought their sprawling home on the west side of the island a year ago, it was one of the few properties nearby that still had one. And theirs was a tumble-down shanty that cast an ugly shadow on their sparkling view of Port Orchard Bay.

Kevin, a general manager for Microsoft's "e-Home" division, loves computers, entertaining, that fabulous view and sleek wooden kayaks, Kristin says. So the couple decided to incorporate all that into a combination boathouse, office getaway and beach-party cabana.

Money was not an object, but the law was, says William Chester, the architect hired by the Eagans to design the new boathouse. Codes required it be built with the same footprint and the same height as the old one. That meant an 11-by-20-foot room.

"In a way, it was OK we had to use the same footprint," says Al Goethals, the construction manager for the project. "We used the same foundation. It was 10 inches thick and loaded with steel to keep it from floating away on high tides. That'll be there forever."

So should the boathouse.

"It was the ideal job for an architect, with no expense spared," says Chester.

He used every architectural trick of the trade to make the Eagans' boathouse capable of withstanding regular scouring by sand and salt spray. And he put them together in a classic Northwest Craftsman style with Japanese influences.

Redwood timbers and bronze columns provide the structural skeleton. Red teak panels the walls and ceiling. The roof is hipped and smothered in copper. The floor is a streaked yellow-green Connemara Marble — a stone also found in the Vatican, Chester says.

"It looks like petrified seaweed," he adds. "It echoes the color of the water. The quarry in Ireland was closed for 10 years because the marble is so highly fissured, but new technology has enabled them to stabilize it, so it's been opened again."

Every piece of wood was milled to fit the pieces around it and assembled on-site using invisible fasteners and tongue-and-groove construction. Every timber was hand-oiled three times before the puzzle was put together, then again afterward.

The boathouse casts a golden glow on the beach after sundown as light oozes through back-lighted fused-glass accents on columns and doors and out clerestory and mitered-glass corner windows.

"It looks like the roof floats above the floor at night," Chester says.

Over the years, the teak will silver out and the copper and bronze will patina to a rich green, only adding to the building's beauty, he says.

But this is a working boathouse, not just a pretty teak box on the beach.

So there is a bronze sink and wine cabinet. There is smart-wiring for computers. A fold-out-of-the-way shelf can be used as a work bench, serving counter or, on hot summer nights, sleeping platform.

The Eagans, who have two children — 6-year-old Lauren and 1-year-old Blake — plan to tear down and rebuild the main house in a few years. But its replacement won't be anything like the boathouse.

"We'd like to carry over the theme we've started," says Kristin, "but it really would be too costly to carry over all that teak and marble everywhere in the house."

A house couldn't be done the same way anyhow, Chester and Goethals say. Even if price were no object, building codes aren't the same for houses as boathouses.

The boathouse isn't heated, Chester says, "so we could be as creative as we wanted to. We used single-pane windows in the corners, so they could butt up against each other. You couldn't do that with double-paned windows, and that's required in houses."

And the intricate details of the boathouse couldn't be duplicated in a project as big as a house, Goethals says.

"Everything had to fit perfectly. I had to hire a shipwright to get everything to fit right. Really, it's more like a piece of furniture than a building. But isn't it beautiful?"

Sally Macdonald is a retired Seattle Times reporter.

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