Hit the Heights
By Stacee Sledge
Whatcom Magazine, Spring 2005

Hometown talent rises to the top in Edgemoor home

Marda Kaiser hoped she wouldn’t need to search Seattle for a big-name architect to build a cutting-edge house in Bellingham. Her hunch proved right. By looking to local talent, she and her husband, Greg, created a stunning yet intimate home that showcases spectacular views and regional art.

When the Kaisers, who both work in the industrial food ingredient business, purchased their Edgemoor lot in 1996, it included finished house plans. But the site, hovering high atop a rock-covered hill, proved too much for the somewhat staid blueprints, which were meant for flat land.

So the couple hired Bellingham’s Zervas Group Architects to design a home to spotlight their collection of Northwest paintings.

“When I first started, I asked them for three bedrooms, two baths and a place to hang the bit of art that I’ve collected,” recalls Marda Kaiser. What evolved was a striking contemporary Northwest home mixing glass, steel, concrete, wood and natural stone. “I ended up with so many walls, I had to get more art,” she says with a laugh.

The foyer of the house functions as an art gallery, two open stories traversed by a walkway bridge. Paintings by John Cole, Leo Adams, Susan Bennerstrom, Barbara Sternberger and Tim Schumm line the interior walls, mirrored in an exterior wall of glass supported by five massive cedar logs that climb the full height of the space.

Light streams down from large skylights and bounces off the catwalk’s bamboo floor and the travertine marble of the gallery below. Radiant heating keeps both warm.

“I think it’s the flagship house on Edgemoor,” says John Westgate, finish carpenter for Moceri Construction, a Bellingham custom-home builder who was the contractor on the project. “The landscaping, the siting, the on-the-edge architecture, the angles. It’s a very dramatic house.”

And one that faced many obstacles during planning and construction.

“One of the most specific challenges was the site itself,” says architect Sharon Robinson of Zervas Group Architects, a four-partner firm founded in 1961. “The house is really perched on a rock. We had to make it look like it fit there — not like it just flew in from outer space.”

“Also, it’s basically a 270-degree water view, looking down into Chuckanut Bay or out toward the islands or up into Bellingham Bay,” continues fellow architect Terry Brown. “When you’ve got so many view opportunities, it’s important to determine which interior spaces get which views.”

The public spaces — the living, dining and kitchen areas — aim toward wide-open vistas of the San Juan Islands, while the guest bedrooms and bathroom overlook the smaller-scale curves of Chuckanut Bay. “The private spaces have the more cozy view and the public spaces have a more expansive one,” says Robinson.

Another challenge facing the team was the high winds that swirl around the house.

This meant some intense weather conditions for the construction crew. “When it was in the framing stages, without a roof on, I did a lot of the log work in the front entry,” says Westgate. “It was a very demanding site to build on and we had to do it in very inclement weather: 33 degrees and 40-mile-an-hour winds, with rain and sleet just battering us.”

An additional conundrum in the home’s design involved how to include a towering wall of windows along the gallery side but keep the home structurally sound. The answer? Several concrete walls. 

“The walls go from the foundation all the way up through the house, serving as lateral support and structural earthquake resistance,” says architect Brown.

“Instead of hiding the concrete, we chose to expose and stain it, which Marda was a little bit nervous about. Because when you tell someone, ‘We’re going to expose concrete,’ they think it’s going to look like a parking garage.”

Interior designer Tirzah Woods, of Woods Design Studio, helped the Kaisers envision what the concrete could become. She found the right craftsperson — concrete artist Paul West of Seattle — who took inspiration from stones on the site and wood tones used throughout the home. Five different paint colors, applied in three layers, completed a soft, finished look.

“When the walls were just gray, they scared the heck out of me,” says Marda Kaiser. “But it has become my favorite feature of the house. Everyone who comes in seems to like the concrete walls the best.”

Woods and Marda Kaiser teamed up for most of the interior design decisions.

“She wanted things to be relatively simple, an Asian influence with clean lines,” says Woods. “We worked together really well and talked pretty much everyday. Marda would call me with something she’d seen and ask, ‘What do you think of this?’ and I’d do the same.”

One find was a stainless steel Asian soaking tub, installed in the master bath. “I would have bought it even if it didn’t work,” the homeowner laughs. “It’s such a beautiful shape.”

At 4,200 square feet, including the entry gallery area, the house has a living area of roughly 3,200 square feet. “There are a lot of big open spaces, but it’s a cozy house because of the little living areas,” says Marda Kaiser.

Adding to the comfort quotient are custom-made shoji screens, which slide closed like pocket doors to shut off areas of the house for privacy during parties. When left open, the spaces flow together seamlessly.

“This house was a great vision by the architects,” says Paul Moceri, president of Moceri Construction since its 1974 start. “Marda could see that vision and gave them and us the freedom to mold it more or less in process. It was almost like a music piece that you put together.”

Kaiser understood how important trust in the team was.

“My personal philosophy is, if you’re going to hire a professional, then let them do what you hired them for,” she says. “Don’t second-guess them; trust them to do the best job.”

That approach reflects the results, a comfortable home that capitalizes on the site’s beauty. “The feeling was one of such camaraderie,” says Marda Kaiser. “It was a great group of people. And I’m so pleased with what everyone has done here.”

Stacee Sledge is a Bellingham freelance writer.

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