Creature Comforts // 2 Atara Brings a Simple Sleek Residence to Life

By Alli Schuchman

Darden of Eden 

Emily, Joel and son Calvin have carved out their own five acres of perfect on Darden Lane building a fabulous and functional home for three just west of Toe Jam Hill. Touches like gray-washed oak floors, an indoor-outdoor fireplace, open great room and south- and west-facing windows contribute to its smart, modern vibe.

Have you ever stood in a museum and studied the suspended skeleton of a giant dinosaur?

You see its spine and notice how the light passes in and out through its eye sockets. You’re aware of how its parts perfectly connect its tail to its body to its skull.

You have a sense that in seeing the physical elements, you understand the essence of the whole. That same feeling exists inside Emily and Joel Conard’s new home on the island’s south end, the recent handiwork of architect Craden Henderson, founder and principal of design-build firm, 2atara.

Henderson named his firm for a reptile that dates to prehistoric times New Zealand’s tuatara. Fascinated with the iconic reptile, Henderson (who hails from New Zealand himself) said he appreciates the animal’s capacity for adaptation and survival over many millennia.

It’s intriguing to imagine that his captivation with the tuatara was an underlying inspiration in the design of the Conards’ home. A walk through the modern creature-like residence begins on its main floor, which is home to the owner’s suite, kitchen, dining and family rooms as well as a mudroom, powder room and laundry room.

Cabinetry runs the entire northern length of the home, which Henderson explained takes advantage of the home’s dark side while creating a long, linear effect.

“In addition to storage, it creates a continuity so that you can’t really tell when you’ve left one room and gone into the next.” For the north edge’s lack of windows, the southern and westerly sides are a smart pattern of glass windows and doors that open onto a wraparound deck overlooking the forest and Fort Ward.

The home’s spine an open, mesh steel and wire sky bridge suspended above the great room connects the upper level living spaces to the glass walled crow’s nest (its skull) that houses Joel’s office.

The office is cantilevered beyond the home’s westernmost end, designed to take in the wraparound vistas. The walls of windows act as a barometer of daily and seasonal changes in light a function that perhaps not by coincidence is similar to the tuatara’s “third eye,” which is thought to be involved in setting its circadian rhythms.

Two additional giant round windows maybe the beast’s peripheral eyes—punctuate the interior walkway to a small rec room and the secondary bedrooms that sit over the garage.

Henderson used a mix of symmetry and asymmetry to get the most out of the space. He explained that he used illusion something he deferentially argued anyone could do to manipulate our perceptions of scale and movement.

For instance, he said, he simulates kinesis through spatial displacement. “I like to give visual cues that nothing is static,” he said. “All the doors slide past one another, textural elements repeat, the mesh flooring of the walkway disrupts our ability to see straight through.

”To make the home appear bigger than it actually is, Henderson described a scheme of increasing the width of the exterior’s board and batten siding as the house gets taller.

“Not only does it make it look larger, it gives the impression that the house is growing out of the ground,” an element that he pointed out is another way to create the perception of kinesis.

For all of Henderson’s ideas, the Conards were heavily involved in the design process too. “I don’t know if we were typical clients for Craden,” joked Emily. “We were super hands-on in a way that was perhaps obnoxious to him.

”Both originally engineers Emily earned her degree from the prestigious Colorado School of Mines (she currently owns the Epic Fitness personal training studio off Sportsman Road) and Joel (who works for Boeing) from UCLA. The pair also has a deep rooted building legacy.

Emily is the daughter of a carpenter/general contractor and Joel is the son of an architect. Rejecting the conventional wisdom of “knowing just enough to be dangerous, ”Henderson fondly recalled their collaboration: “They were ideal clients because they came with strong ideas but they had an open mind.

”Joel, who Emily pointed out is exceptionally handy, was instrumental in the home’s lighting scheme, designing the lighted steel beam that runs along the underbelly of the sky bridge. The couple also requested 3,000-kelvin bulbs (compared to the more commonly found 2,700 kelvin LEDs) that produce illumination more akin to sunlight.

“It was something that I probably wouldn’t have chosen,” said Henderson, “but they felt really strongly about it and it totally works. ”Both 2atara and the Conards were dedicated to the home’s energy efficiency, which began by keeping the house a moderate size.

“If I had my way, I’d want people to live in 800 square feet,” said Henderson, who holds a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accredited Professional certification.

“Of course you have to be mindful of resale values and a client’s preferences, but I like to design as small as possible while still achieving somewhere lovely to live. ”At just over 2,600 square feet, the home has Goldilocks sensibilities, not overly big or small, modest yet plentiful, and just right for the Conards and their young son, Calvin.

It’s been right on three years since the Conards moved from Ballard to the island. “It was kind of serendipitous,” said Emily. “When we first came to visit Bainbridge I said something to the effect of ‘we just belong here,’ and saying that put things in motion.

Ballard was getting busy, Calvin was getting bigger and we knew we didn’t want to raise him there. ”The Conards first rented with the hope of finding a home to buy.

The competitive housing market meant not much was for sale, however, and they lost several bids. The couple had become friends with Henderson and liked his work so they discussed their ideas and, together with the 2atara team, set off to find a piece of land for their eventual home.

After a couple of false starts, the Conards ultimately settled on a long, rectangular five acre site off Toe Jam Hill. All told, the design process took nearly a half-year and construction from start to finish took 14 months.

In addition to a challenging slope and difficult soils, 2016’s record-breaking winter rainy season prolonged the process. Like its reptilian namesake, the 2atara team was able to adapt to the inexorable hurdles that come with any building project, creating a structure that, while it might not last for millennia, the Conards will call home for many years to come. “Is it our forever home?” Emily mused. “That’s certainly the plan.