Design in the Details // A Local Architect Customizes an Eagle Harbor Condo

By Vicki Wilson

When it comes to holding up your house, a post is a post. Except when it’s wrapped in textured glass, artfully lit and intersects with an extra-thick slab of twinkling, glass-flecked countertop. Then it becomes much more.

The newly renovated Eagle Harbor condo of architect Chris Eseman and wife Arlayne is full of thoughtfully solved, beautifully executed solutions like that. Almost all of the design is in the service of a single, overarching goal: remove the barriers that impede the spectacular view.

“I couldn’t see living here and not living on the water,” Chris said. And what’s the point of living on the water if you can’t enjoy looking at it? Prior to moving to the island in the summer of 2013, the couple had enjoyed the water view on the Seattle side, provided by their Belltown condo overlooking Pier 70.

But in addition to the must-have view, two conditions needed to be considered: Arlayne’s retirement meant they needed to reduce their expenditures, and while Chris is still working at Seattle’s LMN architects, the first item on the proverbial checklist had to be keeping his commute to a minimum.

“If you decide you don’t want to drive or take the bus, and you draw a 30 minute travel time circle around my office in Belltown, you don’t get out very far,” Chris said. In the end, the 35 minute ferry commute with a brief walk on either side was deemed close enough.

Even though Chris and Arlayne, who have been married nearly 40 years, have no problem seeing the potential in just about any dwelling, it was what they heard that got them to say “yes” to their Eagle Harbor condo.

“I immediately walked out to the deck and said, ‘I can hear the waves,’” Chris recalled. Arlayne turned to their agent, Windermere’s Wendy Indvik, and let her know, after several months of looking, that the search was over.

The search was over, but the work was about to begin. The couple lived in the space for a year, partly because they wanted to work specifically with general contractor Paul Groomer who wasn’t immediately available. But also, that year gave the couple plenty of time to decide exactly how to proceed.

While the Esemans had lived through renovation projects before (restoring a Craftsman home in Magnolia and redoing their Belltown condo) they had always kept their properties’ resale values in mind when making decisions. This time, they were doing it for keeps.

“We love the location. We really wanted to do this one for us, ” Chris said. “We got rid of walls, really opened it up. We removed a laundry room, and stacked the washer and dryer in a closet. We tore out a lot of built-in furniture and cabinetry that divided the space. We opened up a hole in a bearing wall to add a glass-inset barn door which created a separate master bedroom area.”

Both of the Esemans admit to being more city mice than country mice; however, with their in-town location, close to the island’s “train” station, it feels urban. “Anywhere you live you create your own neighborhood,” Arlayne said. “Even when we lived in Manhattan, we had a neighborhood of our own, with our favorite restaurants and shops nearby.”

Plus, the couple has never felt compelled to own a big swath of land. “I don’t define myself with a lawnmower,” Arlayne said. “I tend to like living small.” And even though she laments that “it’s hard to find a place to hang artwork” because of the loss of wall space that results from an open floor plan, the couple has found room to display treasured objects.

A “Kool-Aid pitcher” from Chris’ grandmother and a tea chest Arlayne’s family brought from Scotland, not to mention a groovy grouping of Chris’ guitars in the kitchen area, have all found a spot. The community living—indeed the community itself suits the couple.

Now that she’s retired, Arlayne has picked up her cello again and is playing with the Bainbridge Symphony Orchestra. She also plans to tread the boards at BPA, and would like to host a gathering to play chamber music in their home. And taking down all those walls means plenty of room for the baby grand piano that will allow her to do just that.

The Eagle Harbor community has likewise proved gratifying. While their condo’s second bedroom triples as an office, sewing room and guest room, their place can overflow when the whole family is in town. “Friends have volunteered their guest rooms to us,” Arlayne said. When they wanted to move an electrical panel in their unit, they got cooperation from the neighbors above and below.

One more critical spoke of the community wheel, the Esemans acknowledged, is their crew of contractors. The couple spoke glowingly of the work done by Groomer, who acted as general contractor and carpenter, as well as that done by Voltage Plus Electrical, Stonehenge Tile and their friends at Green Home Solutions (Chris has known the owner since he was a kid) in Seattle.

Green Home supplied many of the sustainable and eco-friendly materials the couple chose, including bamboo flooring, recycled glass countertops, textured laminate cabinetry and a recycled rubber material they used for flooring on the terrace.

Other than a few things they couldn’t do, like moving bathrooms or venting the stove hood to the outside, the home really is designed specifically, thoughtfully and with great care—by and for Chris and Arlayne. And that’s just the way they like it.