The great outdoors
By Stacee Sledge
Whatcom Magazine, August 2007

Backyard kitchens serve up summer get-togethers

What better way to savor Whatcom County's summer splendor than dining outdoors?

Take wondrous water views, stir in mostly mild temperatures, and add perennially verdant vistas. Then see how three local families cook and entertain in open-air spaces that can often be enjoyed year-round.

Ponds and pergolas
The front of Darcy Jones’ and his mother Margery Jones’ brick Tudor home off Chuckanut Drive is a commanding sight, with its half-circle drive and meticulously landscaped front lawn. But the true stunner is found around back.

It’s there that Darcy’s late father, respected Bellingham civil engineer and community leader Harry “Pat” Jones, created a dream oasis.

When Pat passed away in early 2004, Darcy, now 47, purchased half of the home from his mother. He lives in Bellingham part time, running civil engineering companies both here and in San Diego. Margery Jones, 69, is a long-time CPA, with an office in Fairhaven.

Walking around to the backyard, past the fishing shed and Pat’s prized wooden boat (a Lapstrake Skiff made from Port Orford Cedar) guests are enveloped in a lush space that rises slowly up into the tall trees on a lot that takes up just under one acre.

The hillside is dominated by two 90-foot-wide ponds situated one behind the other like stair steps, surrounded by a variety of trees, bushes and flowers. Waterfalls cascade from above the higher pond and wend down, carrying soothing sounds with them.

“This used to be just a hillside lawn,” says Darcy, looking up at the levels of landscape and water features. “Dad designed and built everything himself.”

Two large Ducane gas grills stand sentry near the home’s first outdoor kitchen area, which stretches from part of the home’s three-car garage and opens onto a back patio. The space is stuffed with everything caterers need to supply party fare: two dishwashers, two refrigerators, commercial-grade ovens and range, plus a panoply of pans.

Farther back in the yard, at pond-level, is the home’s true outdoor-dining showpiece. Brick side walls and a covered pergola house wood cabinets, a range, a microwave, and a refrigerator on one side.

On the other side, dissected by a marble dance floor teamed with lights and sound system, is a bar area that drops down a step. A television recessed into the wall looms above the bar, where it’s often tuned to University of Washington Huskies games.

Seats curve around the outside of the bar’s counter. Even in cold, windy months the kitchen remains comfortable, with space heaters and canvas walls, which can be put in place and taken down as needed. The space is tailor-made for entertaining.

“Dad did a lot of political fundraisers here for everybody — Democrats and Republicans alike,” recalls Darcy. Pat was also involved with the Boys and Girls Clubs, often throwing outdoor fetes for the organization where disadvantaged children could gleefully fish in the ponds.

“This was my dad’s pride and joy,” says Darcy. “Some people buy yachts. This is what he wanted to do.”

'It sort of evolved'
John and Andrea Pettit enjoy an adolescent’s paradise in their back yard, appropriate for their trio of teenage sons. Just steps from their window-lined family room sit a pool and hot tub, while several wooded acres behind their Lake Whatcom-facing home have plenty of room for painfully fun paint ball wars.

Two years ago, John and Andrea, who moved from New York to Whatcom County 20 years ago, added a more grown-up space to the mix with an outdoor kitchen. They called on Moceri Construction, (the same team that built the home in 1999, to add a  family room and create a covered space outdoors for the kitchen.

“It just sort of evolved,” says Andrea. “We had an outdoor barbecue, but wanted something under cover and built-in. And we decided to add a cook top, because then I could cook stir-fry or fried foods and not mess up inside.” Another bonus: The outdoor cook top boasts BTUs far higher than the indoor kitchen’s stove.

Travertine marble floors in the family room continue through sliding doors and out to the kitchen. Black granite counters top the cooking and prep area, which includes a sink, refrigerator and built-in charcoal grill. A second, larger refrigerator is at the ready in the nearby garage.

The star of the culinary space is a Wood Stone oven, used worldwide in restaurants and, increasingly, homes, and manufactured in Whatcom County.

The couple hired a stone mason to build a ledge stone façade that encases the 5-foot stone hearth oven. It's topped by a mantle of the same black granite used for the countertop.

Robert Fong, chef and co-owner of Bellingham’s Pacific Café, once created a memorable meal for an office party using the Pettits' outdoor kitchen and Wood Stone stove. But Andrea is the usual chef at chez Pettit.

She clearly loves her oven, the largest residential model available. She says meats are more tender and vegetables cook faster so they keep their texture but caramelize on the outside.

“It’s a very different way of thinking about cooking,” says Wood Stone’s Laura Dewell, residential chef and sales support at the Bellingham-based company. "In a Wood Stone oven, you adjust the flame and have intense heat on all four sides. It takes a long time to heat up and a long time to cool down, so you have the opportunity to do different things in it during those times.”

Wood Stone offers classes that teach prospective buyers and owners how to take advantage of all the oven offers, from making pizzas and seafood to scones and crème brulée. After taking several, Andrea has an ever-expanding gastronomic repertoire to show for it.

“We use (the stove) year-round, but much more so in the summer,” she says. “We make anything from roasts to vegetables. I’ve made soups and frittata.” It was even called into service to roast the Thanksgiving turkey. Now that’s outdoor living. 

‘The James Bond house’
“Our son calls this the James Bond house,” Lynette Kenoyer says with a laugh, describing her and husband Chet’s Lake Whatcom home. Set right on the water’s edge, the lake side of the home is fronted by a deep deck, whose lower level also doubles as a dock. The couple’s wakeboard ski boat floats mere feet from the house. That the boat can be practically driven into the house is what earned the home its spy movie moniker.

“I’m kind of a lake rat,” explains Chet, a real estate broke who grew up on Lake Whatcom. He and Lynette, a bookkeeper, have owned six different homes on the lake’s shore in the 30 years they’ve been married and raised three children.

“We just keep hopping around,” Chet, 53, continues. It’s one peril in his line of work: He sees houses he likes and sometimes can’t resist.

“What probably sold Lynette on the house is this area (in front of the outdoor fireplace),” says Chet. “When you’re sitting up here, you don’t see anybody; it’s just the fire and the sun.”

“And it’s protected from the wind,” adds Lynette, 48.

The bi-level deck easily seats more than two dozen guests. Dark-brown wrought iron furnishings are softened by light taupe cushions.

Two large dining tables line the lower, water-level deck, while small side tables snug up to a bevy of beckoning lounge chairs. Directly in front of the white flagstone fireplace, on the upper-level deck outside the home’s kitchen and dining room, a glass-topped coffee table is bookended by more comfortable seating.

The deck is essentially an extension of the indoor living areas, thanks to sliders all along the front of the house — two 16 feet wide and a third spanning 12 feet.

“We love that,” says Lynette. “You just open them all, and then open the front door and get air through here. It’s a great feel on a nice summer day.” The sliding doors were just one smart remodeling change the couple made when they bought the home five years ago.

“There’s no real difference between the deck and the dock,” says Chet. “We didn’t have the railings initially, which was really neat, but then our grandbaby turned one and started walking.” Since it’s made of glass, the added railing doesn’t block dramatic water views.

“It’s been fun with the kids growing up,” says Chet of the home. “Their friends, parties and activities have always been at our house. Now that they’re older, it’s still kind of the party house.

“They like to come back,” Lynette says with a laugh.

And why wouldn’t they? The outdoor area, complete with built-in barbecue, is ideal for family get-togethers.

“We eat outside pretty much all summer, whenever it’s nice out,” says Chet.

“And the kitchen’s so close, so to bring food out here is not a big deal,” Lynette adds.

The couple’s master bedroom includes one of the enormous sliding doors that open onto the roomy deck. “I’ve woken up in the morning and opened the door to find a bass fisherman in his boat right there, just looking at me,” Chet recalls, laughing.

Though fishermen may not be the visitors Chet has in mind when describing the couple’s favorite aspect about their home, guests do rank at the top of the list. He says, “We just like sharing it with everybody.”

Stacee Sledge is a Bellingham freelance writer.

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