By Alli Schuchman
Not long ago on Rockaway Beach two unlikely paths crossed. On one path, a man who over four decades has grown a benchmark business in the Northwest. On the other, a couple most recently from Texas, he a colorful retired shipping businessman, she a former bunker boat executive.
At the intersection of these paths are a love of community and the value of relationships—fundamentals shared by Fairbank Construction Company (FCC) owner Tad Fairbank and homeowners Wayne and Kat Sundberg. The Sundbergs’ Rockaway home—a stately seaside estate with impressive heft—is just a year old, but it is an apt culmination of Fairbank’s career.
Before Fairbank began building, he taught at a bible college in the early 1970s. And though he loved the experience, he aspired to be more creative and physical. He found a construction contractor in Everett who “took me under his wing and gave me a job,” said Fairbank.
After two years learning the trade, prospects began to emerge for Fairbank. A friend’s parents hired him for $12 per hour to work on a new home on Camano Island—for six months, six days per week, he would work his day job with the contractor then drive to his side assignment to work at night by the beams of his truck’s headlights. The effort earned him several more referrals but he knew he couldn’t continue at the backbreaking pace.
Finally, with enough work to start his own business, Fairbank took the leap in 1978 and started his own firm. Within three years the nascent FCC was building eight to nine homes at a time in the Everett area. But the city began to feel crowded to Fairbank. One Sunday morning after church, he, his wife and three sons jumped on the ferry to Kingston and drove to Bainbridge, his first time ever to the rock. The pair was intrigued. They returned the following Sunday driving from one open house to another.
The couple decided put down island roots and Fairbank began constructing the family’s personal home on Hidden Cove. Not long after, the home’s architect took notice of its quality and suggested FCC start building on Bainbridge. Although he had no intention of moving the business to the island, Fairbank bid on two jobs—one for an airline pilot, the other for an attorney—and won both. Word spread, more jobs rolled in and within two years Fairbank realized he could make Bainbridge his primary focus while keeping a presence in Seattle.
In addition to the residential business, its commercial side took off too—many times financed by investors for whom FCC built homes—adding a robust list of projects to its portfolio. Noteworthy developments include Harbourside condos by the Pub, Madrone Village, Wyatt Corner, the West Sound Wildlife Shelter, a building at Bloedel, Pleasant Beach Village and the island’s first affordable housing project—sprung up in step with the original business. Today, Fairbank’s commercial practice accounts for nearly half its work.
Through the years, FCC’s quality and Fairbank’s quiet integrity didn’t just generate more business; it too attracted a growing team of choice employees and subcontractors—many of whom Fairbank counts as lifelong friends. On staff today are three 30-year employees and several who have been with FCC for 25 years. Many have been with the company for more than 15.
At Fairbank’s right hand is Sharen Borgias, who joined FCC 15 years ago. She became president this time last year. Borgias oversees day-to-day operations and a staff of between 60 to 70 people, including a dozen or so in the Seattle office.
It was Borgias who first worked with homeowner Wayne to secure the Rockaway land—205 feet of no-bank waterfront with a view of the city and a panorama from Baker to Rainier. Wayne only revealed the purchase to Kat during a later visit to “show” her the property. The Sundbergs made the move to Bainbridge from San Antonio in 2014 and began construction with FCC on the Roger Katz-designed home.
“We like our builder even more than when we started,” said Wayne, who struck the deal with Borgias and Fairbank on a hand-shake. “I knew who they were and that their reputation was that solid. You can’t do that with everyone, but I could do it with them.”
Borgias fondly recalled the lively construction meetings the FCC team had with Kat, Wayne and architect Katz each Tuesday at 1 p.m. at FCC’s Madison office. At the first Tuesday meeting of each month, the Sundbergs brought a different cake from Blackbird Bakery. “We’d go to visit the guys at the office or at the property,” said Wayne. “We always brought doughnuts, pizza, candy bars. We kept their bellies full.”
The home, just like its owners, has a big personality and an unmistakable point of view. Built around meaty architectural features like massive mortise and tenon trusses (a 5,000-year-old building technique), the home has towering ceilings and wide hallways. The theme is cemented in the finishes. Thick granite kitchen islands, a colossal stone fireplace complete with a bison head, masculine woodwork and paneling, and rich tile work all work in unison with the art and furnishings to create the undeniably elegant, warm and generous home. Borgias credits both Sundbergs with its distinctive style.
Something another level altogether is Wayne’s “office.” Apropos of the man, the room is larger than life. Part bar, part media room, part game room and part museum, the space is gilded with floor-to-ceiling shiny black paneling and sports two big-screen TVs, a tricked-out Seahawks commemorative motorcycle, collectible guitars and memorabilia. There’s not, nor will there ever be, another room like it. “We brought a part of Texas,” said Kat.
Though the couple moved to the island from Texas, Wayne (a Michigan native) had a special place in his heart for Bainbridge. In the 1970s he had come to Seattle on a NOAA ship from Hawaii. The parents of a girl he dated at the time lived on the island and his memories of its natural beauty never faded. Though business and life took the Sundbergs (who married in 1994) far and wide, Wayne knew someday he wanted to “come home.”
“Three days a week if not every day I remind myself how grateful I am to live where I live,” said Wayne. “I could live anywhere I want in the world and I found the best spot,” he said. “We threw out all the moving boxes.