Skagit Valley Homes Spark
By Stacee Sledge
Northwest Life & Times, September 2001
Enjoy flipping through
home decorating magazines? Like to daydream about making
subtle or not-so-subtle changes in your own home? Then
take advantage of this year’s Museum of Northwest Art’s
Art and Architecture Tour to get a first-hand look at
several magazine-worthy area homes. Six fabulous homes,
one breathtaking office, and a peaceful garden oasis will
all be part of the annual fundraiser for the La Conner
A breathtaking barn
“I was a good sport!” laughs Chris Elliott,
reminiscing about the first few months she and husband
Allen lived in their barn-turned-home. “When we moved
in, we had no doors. We had no kitchen, except the
barbecue. All of our furniture and appliances were in a
pile in the middle of the great room.”
Having purchased the barn
in early 1998, the Elliotts lived in “a teeny-tiny,
ancient manufactured house that was buggy and moldy,”
during the first year of renovation, which began in August
1998. Moving into the space the following July, Chris and
Allen were surrounded by continuing construction work.
Even today, while the space appears on first glance to be
perfectly designed and completed, they are still in the
midst of finishing various projects.
Allen, an architect, and
Chris, an artist, have transformed the dilapidated barn,
thick with weeds and berries, into a true work of art. The
first floor provides offices for Allen, an architect, and
art classroom/workshop space for Chris, who runs the La
Conner Art Workshops—a popular program that brings in
artists from around the country to teach a variety or art
workshops. The first floor also houses a remarkably
organized jewelry-making workshop belonging to Chris’s
father, who lives in an adjoining living space between the
main house and garage.
The stairs from the
entryway up to the second-story living space opens up into
a spacious great room with an open floor plan, housing the
kitchen, dining area, and two separate seating areas. The
ceiling soars high above this open but cozy,
departmentalized space, from what used to be the hayloft.
“We climbed up this rickety old ladder and saw this wood
up here,” Chris says. “We said, ‘We have got to do
something to keep this.’ And so we did.” The rich barn
wood, making the enormous space warm and inviting,
balances the height of the ceiling.
Enclosed bedrooms and
bathrooms are situated at the opposite end of the great
room, tucked beneath the third-floor recreational area and
painting studio that belongs to Chris. Balconies are
situated off the master bedroom and Chris’s studio
above. On clear days, magnificent views of Mount Baker
If you’re looking for a
plethora of Northwest art, you’ll hit the jackpot at the
Elliott home. Paintings by Clayton James, William Slater,
Dederick Ward, Anne Martin McCool, Joel Brock, and many
others, are perfectly placed throughout the space.
A charming farmhouse
A narrow, tree-lined country lane opens up to present
rolling farmlands and a true gem of a farmhouse at Doyle
and Brenda Schmidt’s inviting place. The two-story
structure is nestled on the banks of the Skagit River in
Dodge Valley near La Conner, wrapped around by a porch
that beckons visitors to settle into one of the several
Adirondack chairs to enjoy gorgeous views of the river.
Purchased by Doyle’s
parents in 1976, he eventually inherited the property and
began renovation in 1995. It wasn’t the first renovation
the home had undergone. Photographs from the early 1900s
show a small, square, one-story structure. Sometime in the
1940s, Doyle believes, dormers were added and the backside
of the house bumped out.
Working with La Conner
architect Guy Hupy (now located in Port Townsend), the
Schmidts did all of the renovation work themselves. The
care they took to transform the farmhouse is evident in
the warm and welcoming feeling it now radiates.
“I’m a low-budget
guy,” Doyle says, laughing. But to look at the space he’s
created, one would be hard pressed to believe it. The
kitchen is astounding, with a seamless mix of old (antique
cookie jars) and new (a gleaming commercial range).
Matching panels on the refrigerator and dishwasher help
the appliances merge into the cabinetry design flawlessly.
The mix of solid wood and glass-panel doors on the
cabinetry creates additional interest.
Detailed woodwork lines
the rooms, while white beaded-board wainscoting leads from
the entryway down the hallway leading to the kitchen. Fir
floors cover most of the house, save for tile in the
bathrooms. Two bedrooms, including the master with its
impressive antique bed, reside on the first floor. For the
master bath, Doyle converted an antique dresser into a
unique and clever vanity.
The first floor also
includes a cozy sitting room with a salvaged fireplace.
Another sitting room runs along the back of the house,
parallel with the dining room off the kitchen. The
centerpiece of this family room is its beautiful stone
fireplace, which replaced an unsightly orange brick
monstrosity. Striking antique pieces abound in every room.
The second floor houses a
bathroom with a classic pedestal sink and claw foot tub,
as well as a glass-enclosed shower. Dormer windows allow
for interesting angles throughout the upstairs spaces,
including Doyle’s office and a guest room that allows
magnificent views of both the Skagit River and the bay
beyond, at the north end of Fir Island.
Another unique element on
the Schmidt property is its old water tower. The
diminutive two-story structure has been fitted with
windows to let in light. Doyle plans to eventually use
this space for an office, although he has already received
an offer to let it out as a one-of-a-kind rental property.
farmland home and studio
“The more space you have, the more you fill up,” says
Lou Ann Knutzen. And yet, to wander through the airy,
art-filled home she and husband Roger built in 1992, one
wouldn’t think for a moment that the place felt
cluttered or filled to capacity. Inventive cubbyholes and
ingenious storage ideas make the most of every inch of
Roger and Lou Ann had a
hand in every design detail in this carefully planned
home. Lou Ann is an artist, and her eye for the unique is
evident throughout the space: from the wallpaper hung
creatively so that the stripes run horizontally rather
than vertically, to the beautiful glass etchings used in
the entryway and master bath. Lou Ann’s talented eye is
also evidenced in the painting technique used on one wall
in the master bedroom. Using different shades of paint,
plastic wrap, and a seagull feather, she fashioned an
With large windows
overlooking their farmland, and strategically placed
skylights and mirrors, the three-bedroom house is flooded
with light. “I like light. I am not a dark-house person,”
says Lou Ann. Recessed lighting in almost every room helps
bring attention to the interesting ceiling lines—no two
planes are the same in any of the rooms.
The woodwork throughout
the house ranges from darker in the office, dining and
living rooms, to lighter in the bedrooms, kitchen and
family room. “I wanted it to flow,” Lou Ann says. Wood
blinds adorn many of the windows and the vaulted ceiling
of the handsome family room is finished in planks of light
wood that complement the kitchen cabinetry.
And what astounding
cabinetry it is. Cupboards cover one entire wall, from
floor to rather high ceiling. Says Chris, with a laugh,
“Men would like to just close it all in and forget about
the whole thing, but I said, ‘Forget you! You build me
cupboards that go clear up.’ He said, ‘You can’t
reach ’em.’ I said, ‘That’s my problem, not yours!’”
Lou Ann’s paintings—done
in a variety of techniques from oil and watercolor to
gouache—are showcased throughout the home. “I have a
rotating display,” says Lou Ann. She hangs up a new
painting and lives with it for a while, before taking it
down and making changes. “You see a lot you could
change,” she says.
Those changes take place
in her second-story studio haven. The large studio space
is extremely organized, with computer equipment tucked
away in drawers and a huge custom-built worktable on
casters, so it can be repositioned anywhere in the space.
“This is a last resort up here; I’m working in it all
the time. I enjoy this room, because I can do what I want
up here and the grandkids come up and paint with me. If I
had a stove, I’d never have to leave.”
Several other stops on the tour give participants a chance
to surround themselves with a variety of art and
The La Conner offices of
Pransky & Associates are home to a breathtaking Dale
Chihuly skylight ceiling. Chihuly, a world-renowned glass
artist and Pacific Northwest native, created the piece
specifically for the space. Tour participants at this stop
will also take pleasure in several historical Edward
Sherrif Curtis photographs, individual Chihuly pieces, and
other artwork as they wander through the open floor plan
offices adorned with traditional leather furnishings and
hardwood floors. Through one of three French doors at the
rear of the office is a tranquil courtyard with marble
table and stools, as well as a concrete bench peeking out
from underneath a beautiful wooden trellis.
In keeping with the
carefully tended greenway of the neighboring golf course,
Dorothy Hughes’s lovely yard invites guests into
thoughtfully designed rooms that are perfect in every
detail. Her home is truly chic, with a black, white and
gold color scheme in the kitchen, living and dining rooms.
Mirrors abound throughout this elegant and sophisticated
home. Tour participants with an interest in dolls will
want to ask Dorothy about her extensive collection and
visit her workshop.
Dave and Nancy Esary’s
contemporary home takes full advantage of its site with
panoramic views of the abundant farmland below. Built in
the 1970s, a partially enclosed swimming pool is a
favorite destination—much used on those occasional
sweltering summer days.
Sharing the same
spectacular panorama as the Knutzen and Esary homes, Bill
and Susan Henry’s house has been remodeled to emphasize
their personal taste and style. Several Richard Gilkey
paintings adorn their home, making this tour stop another
true Northwest experience. As you leave the property, don’t
miss a glimpse of their charming alpacas.
In a change of pace, tour
participants can stroll through the large and peaceful
gardens at the home of Peter and Norma Shainin home and
delight in a pond, greenhouse and huge woodshop. With
westward glimpses of Padilla Bay, a quiet moment can be
found at the pond’s edge before returning to the gardens
Tour Proceeds Benefit MoNA
Art & Architecture
2001 shines the spotlight on six distinctly different
houses, ranging in architectural style from historical to
contemporary. Taking place on September 8th and 9th from
11:00am to 5:00pm, the self-guided tour allows visitors a
glimpse inside beautifully designed homes and a chance to
glean decorating ideas for their own living spaces.
Tickets are $15 per
person and can be purchased the days of the event—at the
museum or any of the tour stops. Pre-purchased tickets can
be bought by phone at 360-466-4446 or at the Museum of
Northwest Art, located at 121 South First Street in La
Conner. They can also be purchased by mail, by sending a
check for $15 to Art & Architecture 2001, MoNA, P.O.
Box 969, La Conner, WA 98257. Each ticket includes a map
of all tour stops.
Originally opened in La
Conner in 1981 and located at its current location since
1995, the museum is a non-profit organization devoted
exclusively to the preservation and exhibition of
Northwest art. All proceeds from the tour will be used for
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