By Susan Brandzel
Terry Mundord and Marina Hessel decided to move to Bainbridge Island about five years ago. They knew it was time to flee the intensity of their high-density Seattle neighborhood of Wallingford. But finding their ideal landing spot on the island was not a quick process. They wanted to make sure they found just the right place. Along with being closer to nature and having more property, Mundorf and Hessel had their hearts set on living in a small house. Having resided in a 1,100-square-foot condominium, they knew that their next home didn’t have to be much bigger.
The couple explored the market but just couldn’t find the right spot. They finally decided they would buy property and build exactly what they wanted. Eventually, they found a one-acre parcel in Eagledale, populated with the grand, iconic evergreen trees that Bainbridge is so well-known for, yet situated in such a way that the rays of the sun could still filter in warmth and light.
Mundorf and Hessel collaborated with Bainbridge architect Tom Kuniholm and builder Rob Smallwood to design and build their home. Kuniholm began the design process by asking them to make a list of things they liked and didn’t like. Then he took them to see two other houses on the island that he had designed. Since they weren’t in a hurry to build the house, they had the luxury of engaging in multiple rounds of back-and-forth reviews of Kuniholm’s draft drawings and ideas. Among other adjectives, “small” always made it to the top of the list. Mundorf knew they would have to “get ruthless about eliminating duplicate possessions,” but they also felt this simplicity would pay off.
Roles and responsibilities around building the house sorted naturally between the couple—Hessel’s innate instinct for the aesthetic nurtured the design, while Mundorf’s financial management skills kept the project in line. At one point during the early part of the design process, Kuniholm gave Mundorf and Hessel an architectural photo book describing the work of Norwegian architect Wenche Selmer, who is known for her crisp, quaint and practical Norwegian cabins. Hessel immediately gravitated to this style and Selmer’s emphasis on ensuring a building’s coherence with its existing surroundings.
Selmer’s influence led Hessel to frequently select wood as a material choice for the home’s interior. But she didn’t want the wood to be overwhelming; otherwise, Mundorf thought it would “feel like we were living in a boat.” The high, pitched ceiling, lined with finished maple plywood, makes the main living area feel spacious yet intimate. Instead of a traditional kitchen butcher block, Mundorf and Hessel engaged woodworker and owner of Coyote Woodshop David Kotz to refine a reclaimed, caramel-colored slab of maple into a kitchen island that is the room’s focal point.
Kuniholm also introduced Mundorf and Hessel to the designs of Minnesota architect David Salmela, who has a playful but practical style, again with a focus on the landscape. His influence can be found in the corridor that leads from the living room to the master bedroom, where four square windows are installed at different heights. The effect of the variation in the window placement is a sense that the light is moving or dancing. From afar, it gives a diaphanous feel to the passageway.
The house is unassuming from the outside, with landscaping that is primarily comprised of native plants, an intentional choice on Hessel’s part. The garden design, guided by local landscape architect Tim Goss, features Goss’ signature use of rock and stone. Outside two of the doors that lead to the exterior are laid irregular slabs of granite. They translate into natural and raw welcome mats, hardy landing pads that cleverly buffer comings and goings from the house. Goss also helped Mundorf and Hessel find the few large rocks that now punctuate the property.
Mundorf fondly recounted the story of the placement of one of these behemoth rocks, appropriately named “the sarcophagus” by the couple. Two small forklifts hoisted the rock in tandem and drove in precise synchrony, like a carefully choreographed ballet, so as to not drop the rock before carefully lowering it into just the right spot. That sarcophagus now commands center stage in the view from the living room. With the yard moving into maintenance mode, Hessel relies on books by the well-respected Bainbridge gardening guru Anne Lovejoy to learn how to nurture it.
Having moved from an urban setting, Mundorf and Hessel are still figuring out ways to prevent local wildlife from decimating their yard. At the Bloedel Reserve, they recently learned how to protect some small pines from being destroyed by the large male deer that roam the island and use these trees to scrape the velvet from their antlers. In addition, the couple is carefully fostering many of the trees they planted, protecting them from the voracious, nibbling mouths of the island’s wildlife population.
One of the great payoffs that Mundorf and Hessel enjoy is how the house makes them feel so close to the unspoiled outdoors. The orientation of the house, together with the large viewing windows that look straight into the woods on their property, gives the couple the feeling they are part of nature all the time. And from right outside their back door they can walk all the way to Fort Ward on trails.
“When I wake up in the morning, I can always view the outside,” Hessel told us, citing one of her favorite features of the house. Even their 3-year-old Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, Sofie Maria, thinks these windows were installed for her entertainment. She often stares intently out the window at all of the critters in the yard, pointing in classic bird-dog position, and tracks the flutter of bird wings or the twitch of a squirrel’s tail. On more than one occasion, Hessel has seen the same female coyote trotting through the property. And there is a frequently spotted bald eagle living in the trees a hundred feet above the roofline.
According to Kuniholm, the project was “budget driven with a few splurges.” At a modest 1,500 square feet in size, the house still has a very open and airy feel. Where possible, pocket doors were installed to eliminate the space normally occupied by a partially opened hinged door. A grand and unique sliding wooden door that moves on wall-mounted tracks serves as the entrance to the master bedroom. While it has the essence of a barn door, its design is in perfect harmony with the feel of the house—a pleasing combination of elegance and practicality.