Skagit Valley Homes Spark the Imagination

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 museum.

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 appear.

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 renovation
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.

An imaginative 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 space.

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 inimitable design.

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.”

Additional locations
Several other stops on the tour give participants a chance to surround themselves with a variety of art and architectural styles.

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 for refreshments.

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 programming expenses.


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