By Vicki Wilson
Drawing rooms. Parlors. Double height foyers with garish chandeliers. Useless, excessive features like these have been thrown on the demolition pile of architectural history. As we’ve become more intentional in the way we live, a dream home is often less ostentatious and more purpose-driven.
Every room has to have a compelling reason to exist; sometimes it needs to have several. For longtime islanders Mack and Ann Pearl, a noted architect and a successful caterer, respectively, the idea of building a house where “we could live in every room of the house every day” was at the center of the home’s design.
And they don’t just live in the rooms—they work in them, too. Ann calls the home’s main kitchen the “soup and toast” kitchen because the serious culinary business happens in the catering kitchen off the garage. And it is serious business.
Ann Pearl Catering has been feeding island partygoers for 20 years. In the past, Ann had to commute to a commercial kitchen space in Poulsbo because their last home, while generous in size, was on well water and that’s a no-no for professional purposes.
Mack’s office footprint has shrunk as well. “Now that I use Revit building software, I don’t need another employee,” he explained. “I can build the house on the computer and all the architectural drawings are generated from that.”
The couple came to Bainbridge Island back in 1986, and they certainly started small then. Their house on Komedahl Road, a 1927 Sears Kit House was just 900 square feet when they moved in. “We went to Minnick Realty and bought the cheapest house on the island,” Ann said.
It wasn’t the first time they’d learned to live in close quarters or small towns. Ann grew up in a family of seven, Mack on Nantucket Island. They met in a life drawing class (drawing nudes, they admitted with a grin) at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
After they finished undergrad, Mack went on to UCLA for a graduate degree in architecture. Next, the couple moved to Malibu, home to the stars—sometimes. “We lived in the gatehouse of a big property. The homeowner was a 96-year-old man. We bought him his groceries,” Ann recalled. “We were caretakers.”
The Komedahl Road house soon proved too small as they added three children to the family. Between 1986 and 2015 they increased the size of their living space by a total of 3,000 square feet. Additions included an art studio for Ann’s ceramic work as well as an office for Mack’s business.
Plus, there were eight or nine different garden areas on the acre-and-a-half property. Like most nests, theirs eventually emptied out. The couple found themselves with a lot of rooms they never used and a lot of upkeep they didn’t want to deal with anymore. “I thought we’d buy a little house and fix it up,” Ann said.
But why buy a house and fix it up when you’re handy and capable enough to just build your own from the ground up? For Mack especially, building your own house isn’t that tall of an order. “I grew up building houses,” he said. And as an architect and a builder, he always built the house “for people, not for resale.”
His own project was held to the same standard. “We built the house that most of my clients want. It’s high quality done in a modest way,” he said. He acknowledged that for folks who may not have the ability to do a lot of the work themselves, this type of dream house, at least on Bainbridge, can still allude them because the land itself is expensive. If they can find a way forward, however, they will realize some savings because the maintenance and utility costs will be lower.
While Mack and Ann did the majority of the work, they did get by with a little help from their friends. In addition to hiring someone to pour concrete, they also subcontracted the framing and drywall. For their kitchen cabinets, they worked side by side with Gary and Winoma Jellicoe of Rockaway Beach Builders.
“They are master carpenters,” Ann said. “They built our cabinets and did the beautiful finish work. Winoma and I built the cabinets in our last house—I like cutting things!” she added. There was plenty to cut.
The island center lot itself yielded a substantial amount of usable fir, which didn’t go to waste. “Ten years ago, this lot was cleared of all but five trees by a developer who planned to put up several houses,” Mack said. “By the time we got here, two of them were dead and three had been run over by bulldozers.”
If they couldn’t provide shade, maybe they could provide shelves. “We cut down the trees, and we dried, processed and milled them ourselves, right here in this house, to use in construction,” Ann said, pointing out the fir beams, cabinetry and live-edge slab used on her kitchen island.
Repurposing trees from the lot wasn’t the only economy of scale at work. Repurposing rooms—that is to say, making rooms and spaces do double and triple duty—was a factor as well. Examples include the outdoor shower—a throwback to summers on Nantucket—that also waters the garden.
Mack wanted a workshop (and anyone who mills five fir trees’ worth of wood deserves one) but he settled for half the garage instead. Ann’s pottery studio works as a temporary landing spot for a grown child who’s back home for a bit. Her office is also the guest room. And of course, the commercial kitchen comes in handy when she’s doing holiday dinners for a crowd.
In the end, if you’re going to live and work together, you’ve got to have similar needs, wants and wishes. For the Pearls, it came down to their like-mindedness about how to get things done, whether it’s a catered meal, a piece of pottery or a custom-built home. Ann put it best.
“We like figuring out a problem and being the ones that are creating the product; it’s all about the process,” she said. And in this case, the process produced a product that’s easy to love living in.