With an ocean at your door...
By Stacee Sledge
Whatcom Magazine, August 2007

...the sky's the limit on magical water-front moments

For about a thousand lucky Whatcom County residents, home is right at Puget Sound’s edge, bringing lapping waves, stunning sunsets and bountiful beach-combing within a stone’s throw of their doors.

They enjoy daily waterfront wonders that inland homeowners can only visit: waking to a haze that gives way to sunshine spotlighting faraway mountain ranges, brine-tinged air teasing sun-warmed shoulders, the late-night crackle of a dwindling beach fire on still- damp shell-studded sand.

Learn what life at land’s end is like, starting at a spectacular yet casual beach house on Lummi Island, moving on to a gated neighborhood near Semiahmoo, and finishing at an Edgemoor home with an enviable eagle’s view.

High-tide haven
David and Sharon Loeppky live a double life. Through the week they work and raise their family in Bellingham, but when the weekend hits, they make a break for Lummi Island.

“Sharon and I started coming over to Lummi Island in the mid-90s, to keep our eye out for something to buy,” says David, 50. “We felt lucky to be in the right place at the right time when we saw this house come on the market in the spring of 2000.”

David, employed by Premier School Agendas and Premier Graphics, and Sharon, a stay-at-home mom to sons Mitchell and George (oldest son Steven is married), were born and raised in Canada. After living in various cities across the United States starting in 1984, they settled in Bellingham in 1992. Both became American citizens last year.

Sharon, 46, grew up in Newfoundland, and can’t imagine living in a town without water.

“Sharon’s got a DNA requirement to be close to the water,” says David with a smile.

The home — originally two cabins built in the ‘70s which were remodeled extensively in the ‘90s — gives the remarkably real feel of being aboard a boat. At high tide, the views from inside widen to horizon-to-horizon vistas of water.

The main house is open and comfortable, incorporating ship-like railings that echo the exterior decking. The guest house is actually two separate suites stacked atop one another for equally wow-worthy water views. Casual white on white dominates the color scheme throughout both structures, with soothing blue and taupe accents. Comfort and relaxation rule in this beach abode.

“We try to keep everything really simple with décor. This is the scenery,” Sharon says, nodding her head out the window overlooking endless water below. “The house is gravy.”

The west-facing view is ever-changing, from weather patterns to passing ships. An enormous nearby rock, covered in summertime with sunning seals, is called “sushi rock,” since it draws the attention of hungry orca whales. A sea otter family nests up on the cliff, letting the family watch them scamper in and out of the water. Bald eagles and blue heron also abound.

Though it’s a second residence that the family enjoys year-round, the couple plan to move there full time once their youngest graduates high school. They tasted full-time island life last year, staying on Lummi Island while their inland home underwent a remodel.

David didn’t mind the commute. “If there isn’t a lineup (at the ferry), I can leave here at 10 to 8 and be at my desk in Bellingham by 8:30.”

“And you’re looking at Mount Baker most of your way to work,” adds Sharon.

“Part of the magic of this place — of the whole island — is that ferry,” says David. “When you leave the peninsula, your worries get left behind and the pace of life just slows down.”

Creating memories is what the beachfront getaway is all about for this close-knit family. A favorite tradition is celebrating Thanksgiving with David’s sisters and extended family, a fun-filled weekend of watching and playing football, eating enormous amounts of food, and building a beach fire at night.

The Loeppkys happily host guests year-round and have even begun renting the home as a summer vacation escape.

“When we have family and friends here, we don’t even make a big plan,” says Sharon. “We usually catch crab, people cook and help, and then do their own thing. One person may be asleep in the hammock, someone else is reading a book, and Dave has the kids out in the boat for tubing. It’s just memories being made.”

‘That house on the water’
Leaving Hollywood Hills home overlooking San Fernando Valley for a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Prairie Style place perched above Semiahmoo Bay, John and Barbara Sturdivant landed a spectacular water view.

“We had friends who moved up here from California, and had visited the area with them,” he continues. “We were going to sell our big place in California and downsize.”

But the couple saw the Semiahmoo spec home when construction was nearly complete, and fell in love. Instead of downsizing, they upsized.

The couple, who mark their fifth wedding anniversary in November, had been hit with health challenges early in their marriage. In April 2003, Barbara, 57, was diagnosed with stage four non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “Right off the bat, we go through chemotherapy with me for eight months,” she says. “I get well and within a year John goes into total liver failure with an undiagnosed, hereditary hemochromatosis.”

“I said, ‘If I live through this, we’re going to Semiahmoo and we’re going now; we’re not waiting until we’re 65,’” says John, 54, who underwent a successful liver transplant in December 2005. “‘If we’ve got to travel a little (for work), so be it. We’re going to buy that house on the water.’”

They put a deposit down three months after John’s surgery and moved in with their much-loved dogs Maxx and Willie over the Fourth of July weekend.

The couple’s travel-heavy lifestyle — flying off for work as well as visiting their six children and five grandchildren scattered across the country — means they appreciate downtime in their comfortable abode. They love to cook for friends and John often plays music with and for their guests.

“We do fly almost every week,” says John, who owns a beverage brokerage company in California. “Barbara is in the bio-tech world and her sales territory is San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver (B.C.), so she was up here all the time anyway.”

Designed and built by Brad and Diane O’Neill of the O’Neill Group, The home is 3,085 square feet of carefully thought-out living spaces. It spans from the atrium roof of the marble-lined master bath shower to the curved, granite-topped kitchen island placed at a lower height for more comfortable cooking.

Warm mahogany floors and mahogany-stained cabinetry and beams contrast with narrow ledge stone artfully dry-stacked in massive columns throughout the home. It’s a striking play of materials and textures.

The Puget Sound view takes center stage as you enter the home and walk through a soaring entry and around the home’s central kitchen.

A virtual wall of glass overlooks Semiahmoo Bay, affording jaw-dropping water views sprinkled with constant glimpses of wildlife. “We see seals out here pretty regularly and bald eagles all the time,” says John. “I even saw an orca once, way out there.”

To optimize natural light in the home, the entire kitchen — centrally located, between the foyer and great room — is topped with a commercial pyramid skylight 23 feet above the cooking space. Light pours down even on the grayest Pacific Northwest day.

“This doesn’t exist in California,” says John. “And if it did, I couldn’t afford it in 10 lifetimes.”

Aside from the financial positives, the quality of life drew the Sturdivants. “It’s very much a slower pace of life,” says Barbara, who says her blood pressure has returned to normal since making the move. “You just come in and you breathe out.”

“And the quality time is unreal,” agrees John. 

In love with light
Don and Annetta Van Andel raised three children in their land-locked Lynden home. They adored their neighborhood and community, but the couple always dreamed of a waterfront home.

Don, 61, grew up in Lynden where he owned and operated Van’s Plumbing and Electrical for 31 years. Annetta, 58 and also born in Lynden, was an RN who stayed home to raise the couple’s children. She returned to school in 1994 to complete her master’s degree in adult education and has since finished her Ph.D.

When Annetta’s parents emigrated from Holland, her father worked as a landscaper. This meant few summer escapes. “The one summer vacation we did get was renting a beach house for a couple months on the Tulalip Indian reservation in Marysville,” says Annetta. “That’s where my love for the water came from. My dream was always to live on the water.”

The couple felt drawn to the Edgemoor area overlooking Bellingham Bay in south Bellingham. “We kept driving around this neighborhood,” says Annetta. “We finally bit the bullet and said, ‘We’re going to do this.’”

Seven years ago the land became theirs. “We came down quite often,” says Don, fondly remembering visits to the empty site. “We’d just sit and watch the sun set.” In 2005, construction commenced.

The Van Andels sold their Lynden home and camped out in a two-bedroom condominium above Boulevard Park during the building phase, where they captured a taste of the long-longed-for waterfront life. But nothing could compare to the spacious, airy home they moved into this past June.

The plan is based on a Long Island, Naussau County style, providing a distinct New England feel to the five-bedrooom home. White trim throughout pops against soft, nature-inspired wall hues reminiscent of sun-bleached seashells and sand dollars.

Charlotte Kienast, interior designer and owner of CDK Interior Design, pulled together the overall décor. “Don and Annetta came to me with an incredible site and a stack of “Coastal Living” magazines,” she says, laughing. The colors are taken from the water and surrounding nature.

The view encompasses the Lummi peninsula and smaller San Juan Islands, like Cypress, Eliza and Guemes. On clear days, Don and Annetta spy ships anchored at Anacortes.

“We love to get up early,” says Don. “I was up at 4 o’clock this morning and watched the sun come up over the water. It’s so peaceful.”

“And I love the light,” says Annetta. “Well, I like cloudy days, too — any excuse to have a cup of coffee and read a book. But I do love light. You’ll come in here and every curtain or shade will be wide open.”

Transom windows above all the interior doors mimic the exterior window design and help flood the home with light. “It’s an older style, just beautiful,” says Kienast, “and is one of the first things people notice.”

“I spend a lot of time looking at the water and all the activity,” says Don. “You can sit here for half an hour and see an eagle go by, sometimes two or three at once.” Kayakers, ships and other birds complete the visual collage.

Trains regularly run right below their home on the Burlington Northern track that follows Fairhaven’s shores, but haven’t been a distraction. “We hear the rumble now, but you get used to it,” Annetta says, “I don’t even hear it.”

Don and Annetta are still settling into their Sound-side location, but some things never change: Every Sunday night for 35 years the couple has savored a glass of wine over a game of Scrabble. Now they enjoy it from the nook between their magnificent kitchen and great room, overlooking Bellingham Bay.

“The sunset is different every night,” says Annetta. “We never tire of the sky and the changing clouds.”

Stacee Sledge is a Bellingham freelance writer who has covered food and homes for The Bellingham Herald and Whatcom Magazine for six years.

Phil Schofield's photography has appeared in LIFE, TIME, Newsweek, Fortune, and other national magazines for 20 years.


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