By Alli Schuchman
Perched on a north-facing hillside—across Eagle Harbor from the ferry maintenance yard—sits the stunning black home of interior designer Tracey Artiss. She describes it this way: “Somewhat a farmhouse with a rural vernacular and modern sensibility. Clean lines. A little bit industrial.” Though unquestionably bold, it nonetheless fits into her beloved Eagledale neighborhood of historic farmhouses.
Building the home was a dream for Artiss, who moved in in October 2017 with her daughter Emalani (a Hawaiian name that means Emma of the heavens) and two dogs, black-as-coal pugs Mable and Winnie. A dyed-in-the-wool minimalist, Artiss had a vision for her home’s personality and created the design with architect Devin Johnson, principal of Johnson Squared.
“I had one idea in mind, to build a home that would be a cozy environment during the months of rain and grey, and to create a space that reflected the incredible history of the neighborhood,” said Artiss.
All but one room has a view of the harbor, which is often alive with activity. “Sometimes there are a lot of ferries in,” said Artiss. “I love when the tugboats move them around. We say, ‘Hi ferry.’ It’s just a little jewel box on the water. It never gets old.”
The Pacific Northwest region had for a long time held appeal for Artiss (she has a brother in Seattle and another in Kirkland, plus family in nearby British Columbia) but its climate would take some getting used to. Though she was born in Montreal, Artiss’ family moved to sunny Honolulu when she was 7 for her father’s work. His career later took him to Japan, but her mother decided to stay in Hawaii where Artiss lived through her teen years.
After graduating high school Artiss moved to Northern California where she worked selling art, and then when she was 27, left for Colorado to attend Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. It was during that time that Artiss had Emalani before returning to California, where she and her daughter settled in Santa Barbara for the next 17 years. After Emalani left to attend Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York, it was time for Artiss to write her next chapter, which led her to explore the Seattle area.
Visiting Bainbridge reminded Artiss of New York’s Hudson River Valley, another idyllic setting she loved. “It’s exactly the right amount of rural,” she said. After deciding she indeed wanted to relocate to the island, she rented an apartment at Pleasant Beach Village and set out to find the perfect piece of land on which to build a home.
The one-acre sloped homesite she eventually chose was represented by Windermere broker Ty Evans, who, after the sale, suggested Artiss speak with Johnson to design the home. “Ty told me, ‘Great guy, no ego’ and that he was easy to work with,” said Artiss. “I came with a really defined vison of what I wanted and he didn’t mind that. It wasn’t a power struggle.” With her architect selected, Artiss then chose Jim Hobbs of Hobbs Home Building to realize her and Johnson’s vision. Hobbs and Johnson had never worked together, but Artiss said their approaches, along with hers, meshed well. In total, the design-build process took about two and a half years.
The finished home functions elastically. The 2,000-square-foot main level—where Artiss spends most of her time—com- prises the living room and kitchen, her bedroom and en suite bath, and her ceramic art studio. Upstairs is Emalani’s room, where she stays when visiting from her current home in Seattle. In the walkout lower level, what Artiss dubbed the “rumpus room,” is the media room and official guest suite.
The home’s interior is an interplay of shapes and subtle textures. “I love shapes,” said Artiss. “Patterns, repeating, or not. I love using the geometry of things as a design element.” A striking example is the intricate living room ceiling. Johnson designed a cross gabled roof that creates the effect of being inside a five-pointed star or the inner folds of an origami creation when looking up at the ceiling. Artiss said it took the drywallers several months to complete it. “It was like the Sistine Chapel in here watching them work.”
To juxtapose the highly ordered interior, ample windows allow the organic randomness of the landscape to shine in. Every shade of green—chartreuse, lime, avocado, emerald and jade—complements the minimalist de-sign. “The calm palette allows that,” said Artiss. “The garden is all about adding texture.”
Almost all the finishes and materials Artiss chose are either black or white, but it’s not single note. Some finishes are flat while others are glossy, and noteworthy shapes like the Ann Sacks bathroom tiles add interest to the familiarity of the palette. Wide-plank French oak flooring lends a warm touch of color.
“I always say that I’m my favorite client,” said Artiss with a smile. “She’s easy to work with and she likes everything I pick.”
To furnish each room, Artiss pulled from a number of design stores to create the modern, minimalist effect she envisioned. For example, the white oak cabinets in the kitchen are by McGraw Zecha, and the tractor stools are from Design Within Reach, from which she sourced many of the home’s modern elements. Adjacent to the kitchen, the dining table and chairs are from Danish design house Carl Hansen.
Although there is no shortage of natural light in the home, Artiss loves to play with the lighting, calling herself an “atmosphere techni- cian.” Most of her choices reflect a Scandinavian design sensibility. She chose Louis Poulson for the kitchen pendants, master bedroom sconces and living room floor lamps. Secto Design made the stairwell pendants. In the art studio, Caravaggio created the pendant and the sconces are by Artemide.
A departure from her home’s sharp-edged style is Artiss’ ceramic pottery, a newfound passion. When she first moved to the island, she and Emalani took pottery classes because she didn’t have a house or a garden to work on. She started out thinking they would make dishes, but instead she pivoted to creating boxes. “They are a ton of work,” said Artiss. “It’s the ultimate wabi-sabi,” she said, referring to a Japa- nese design ethos that embraces the acceptance of imperfection. She said that subscribing to the concept lets her create without the burden of being flawless.
What’s next? Ultimately, Artiss does not know how long she will live in the home. “I love the creation process, it energizes me. I may need a little bit of a nap, but I never hold onto things. Before long it will be time to reinvent, to get back into the lab.”