Wednesday, March 19, 2008 • Bainbridge Review

Homeowners can build character, too

Since I moved to this island of rural farms and farmhouses in 1998, I realized that most of the commercial buildings – particularly the newer ones in the Winslow downtown core – were not showing a face that reflected this rural heritage to our citizens or visitors to the island.

These buildings seemed sometimes confused and not sure where they were supposed to be. Perhaps this is the result of island design and construction often being done through developers who aren’t residents of Bainbridge Island and who are therefore innocently unaware of the island’s special character.

The saving of the historic water tower at Madison and Wyatt was a step in the right direction, but alas, maintaining its presence on the original site proved to be impossible, or maybe just economically impractical.

So what can one do besides criticize the situation? While the character of the commercial core of the island is being addressed for better or for worse by the Winslow Tomorrow team, residential architecture on the island also has a real potential for influencing and reinforcing our rural roots.

More renovation of existing older homes on the island may be trend of the future. Rather than demolishing these homes and rebuilding large new structures from the ground up, given our bleak economic outlook we may see a growing desire to preserve what we have, an as a pleasant byproduct, to reinforce the unique characters of our neighborhoods.

Recently, three island groups got together to amp up the character of an Eagledale streetscape. Homeowner and local business owner Tom Walker of Phytec America, Nick Rohrbach, of Island Built Construction, and Hiro Konosu and Mavis Mallon of Lost Arts LLC/Office for Narrative Architecture, have formed a team to redesign and rebuild a 1902 farmhouse on Taylor Avenue and Ronald Court. An unusual aspect of the project is the addition of a three-story wood tower which was requested by Tom Walker at the rear of the newly renovated farmhouse that peaks over the high ridge of the home’s existing roof and recalls the old water towers that were once such a familiar site on the island.

The tower is clad in 800-year-old, hand split yellow cedar barn shakes, each measuring 6 inches by 30 inches long, and discovered bundled and stacked in an old barn in Northern California. The home itself is one of several similar turn of the century farmhouses in the neighborhood that may be local examples of the Sears Kit Homes prevalent in this period and into the 1920s across the U.S.

Most of us were drawn to Bainbridge Island because of its utterly unique charm that has managed to endure through the 20th Century and is probably, in part, a result of being near, yet so far away by water, from Seattle’s massive growth of the last few decades.

As ordinary citizens, even if we can’t control the visual impact of the island’s commercial growth, we can certainly do our part in our own neighborhoods to maintain and improve the local color!

As Paul Schneider, island master craftsman and lead carpenter of the project said, “This project is a good example of what exciting results are possible when all members of a team have pride in their work, a love of their local community and a common goal.”

Hiro Konos, Lost Arts
Seabold Road