Into the Woods // How the Cohen Family Followed the Signs to Find Their Home

By Vicki Wilson

It all started with a notebook. A Pendleton notebook, in fact, covered in red plaid flannel. When it comes to the story of what brought the Cohen family—parents Brian and Liza, and their daughter Jessica (22) and son Steven (20)—to their woodsy retreat on the north end of Bainbridge two years ago, small details like this one matter.

For Brian and Liza, the Northwest was calling them home. Brian had a direct connection to the area from when he’d lived in Woodinville back in the early 90s. For Liza, it was more ethereal. “I brought my daughter to Washington to look at colleges in 2009; from the moment I stepped off the ferry, I knew I wanted to come here. I told Brian, ‘I’m going to live out my days on Bainbridge.’” Brian added, simply, “She was home.”

Of course, life’s administrative details can get in the way of destiny. The Cohens were living in La Jolla, California, at the time, and while they knew Bainbridge was “the” place, they figured they would have to wait for their son to finish his last year of high school. They figured wrong. Steven said he would welcome a change.

The Cohens were no strangers to house hunting. They’d lived in seven houses over the course of their marriage they’d lived on golf courses, in the mountains, at the beach. That Pendleton notebook contained a detailed list of all they wanted in a home everything from favorite features of past homes to things they’d only dreamed about.

Their search initially led them to a home near the Grand Forest—a nice home, but more of a placeholder just to get them to Bainbridge. In the end, that deal fell apart at the last moment. They had to scramble for a rental and restart the search.

Sometimes when the door to one house closes, another one—the right one—opens. “I looked at houses constantly,” Liza said. Their wish list included: 2,500 square feet, four bedrooms, multiple fireplaces, loads of windows, a cozy kitchen, slate floors, wooden beams, and a separate office or guest house. And they wanted at least an acre, with ample gardens full of fruit trees. “We were looking for some combination of our mountain house and our beach house,” Brian said.

Liza zeroed in on the home pictured here. She was convinced as soon as she drove up; so much so she called her real estate agent immediately. Initially, the agent told her the house was too much work. But Liza persevered and convinced the agent to get a showing and meet her and Brian right away.

What they didn’t know was that the current homeowner was struggling. He was living there alone after his marriage had ended and though he knew he needed to sell, it was emotionally difficult. When the Cohens approached the house, he emerged from the guesthouse.

He was wearing, oddly enough, a red plaid Pendleton shirt. For Liza, that wasn’t just a coincidence—it was a sign. By the time she stepped into the foyer, that sign solidified into certainty. “From the moment I walked in, I knew this was it,” she said. There was no question that this was the house for them—as they walked through, they were mentally checking every box on their wish list.

Right then and there, they approached the man in the Pendleton shirt. “We sat down, and over the next three hours, we hammered out the deal,” Brian said. At the time, the owner was having an estate sale in the guest house, trying to sell off the inventory from his import-export business. “We bought several things from him,” Liza said.

That first meeting was more than the gateway to a real estate deal; it was the beginning of a meaningful friendship. Over the escrow period, the couple found themselves growing closer to the current owner. “We knew he was in a lot of pain. We were trying to be sensitive. He didn’t want to let go; this was his home. But he had no choice,” Brian said.

“We connected with him on such a profound level,” Liza said. Brian, who had gone through some financial difficulties in his own life, tried to encourage him and let him know that things can turn around. But a lasting friendship was not to be. Just before the closing, the former owner passed away.

Considering how invested the Cohens are in signs and signals, it would be easy to understand if they had chosen to walk away—to see his passing as an indication that this home was just not where they were meant to land. “We talked to our kids, and also decided to go to the house and see if we felt any dark energy,” Liza said. Ultimately, they decided to press on; they still felt deeply connected to the place and its destiny for them.

At that point, they had to let the former owner’s surviving family know they were still interested. When they finally met with his ex-wife, more signs emerged, telling them they were on the right path. “She and I arrived drinking mugs of the exact same exotic herbal tea, and she told me I was wearing ‘her’ scarf,” Liza recalled.

For no particular reason, Liza had bundled herself in a cozy wrap that morning, one she usually used as a chair throw. When the former owner’s ex-wife said it was “hers,” she showed Liza the label. The scarf had been designed and manufactured by the former owner’s company.

Finally, the transaction closed. Once the Cohens had the keys, the real work began. “We kept the main core of the house; we just completed the renovation that had already been started,” Brian said. This included the installation of heated natural slate floors and new wood framed windows, as well as renovations of the bathrooms and extensive new landscaping.

“We replaced every door hinge, light switch plate and cabinet knob,” he said. They also gave the interior rooms a fresh coat of paint, sticking with a palate of Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired colors. The result is something they call “rustic contemporary” a home that is at once modern and classic, soaring and at the same time rooted in the piney landscape.

Once the renovation was complete, the Cohens held a rededication ceremony to mark the occasion. The former owner’s family and friends were all on the guest list. “We wanted to have a celebration of love and light, and let the family know this was still ‘their’ home and that it was just our ‘turn’ to live here,” Brian said.

“We showed them that we had brought love back into the home, and it was where it needed to be. For us, this will be our forever home.” Liza echoed his sentiments. “I felt that we manifested this, not just the physical house, but all the connections we’ve made through finding it. I think this house was our destiny for many years. We just had to read the signs.”