By Vicki Wilson
“If you take care of your heart, it will take care of you.”
That quote is prominently featured on the cover of Susan Levy’s new book, The Eight Principles of a Heart Healthy Woman: Making Better Choices for Life. Spend an afternoon at home with Levy and her husband, retired custom builder Mac Kennedy, and you will soon see that philosophy reflected in the design of their serene waterfront condo.
“We fondly call it ‘the grown-up house,’” Levy said. The couple has previously lived in two other homes on the island—one a contemporary farmhouse and the other an expanded beach bungalow on Puget Sound, complete with a swim-up floating dock and a rope swing. Once the kids were grown, the empty nesters decided it was time to downsize and move downtown—downtown Winslow, that is. The couple bought the Sunday Cove waterfront condominium unit in 2003 and rented it out for six years before finally moving in.
Kennedy wasn’t sure initially if he could give up their Fletcher Bay solitude, but once his mind was made up, he brought his considerable expertise to bear on the renovation project, working in concert with plans from local designer Seri Yeckel. The 20-year-old condo was, in Levy’s words, tired. “Nothing had been redone when we moved in; there was lots of white melamine and fir trim everywhere,” Levy said. “The kitchen was in the front of the house, hogging the view, but you couldn’t easily get to the deck.”
The three-level home needed updating, to be sure, but it also needed to work for Levy and Kennedy’s lifestyle. And they wanted this to be their final move, so age-in-place modifications were non-negotiable. While they wanted to make the home their own, adding two offices and a garage workshop, their budget wasn’t limitless. As a custom homebuilder, Kennedy considered proposed changes by assessing costs against benefits. For example, pushing the kitchen deeper into the house, thereby opening up the view space to a dining area and allowing for a wall of slide-away windows out to the deck, required a plumbing consult.
One trip to the basement revealed that the plumbing changes necessary for the remodel wouldn’t be cost prohibitive. At first glance, the three-level modern Bauhaus-style home doesn’t seem ideal for aging-in-place—that’s why the couple added an elevator. “We use it all the time; it really flattens out our vertical house,” Levy said. “The grandkids love to ride in it with Grandma.” It’s even personalized with the same black metal accordion-style gate that adorned the elevator in the New York apartment Levy’s grandmother lived in. If a wheelchair or a walker ever becomes part of the program, Levy and Kennedy are set.
It’s hard to imagine that they’ll ever need that kind of assistance. Right now, the couple takes full advantage of their in-town location. “We’re down to one car. We love that you can walk right out the door and get to oyster happy hour, or go to the movies, or walk to the ferry,” Levy said. And even though they’re steps from everything, you wouldn’t blame them if they never left home. The couple’s extensive art collection helps makes the condo a feast for the eyes.
Kennedy shared a story of how local electrician Don Eklund helped them showcase it. “There were originally can lights in all the wrong places in the living room,” Kennedy said. Those fixtures were scrapped for strategically placed lighting that was then customized even further. “Once we hung the art, Don came back at night with filters for the new lights, asking us ‘this way, or this way?’ until we got it exactly right.” The flooring of the condo, originally made from an aggregate material, was also subject to Kennedy’s attention to detail, which is not compromising on practicality or good design.
n. Kennedy started by covering the floors with one-eighth inch of cement, layering in color until he was satisfied. The color was finally right, but he thought it looked kind of dull. “We put on 21 coats of wax and buffed it for hours over beers and stories of elk hunting,” Kennedy recalled. Thoughtful, tasteful choices are everywhere here, but it’s no surprise that the kitchen is the true heart of their home—healthy cooking is the cornerstone of Levy’s professional life.For 25 years her company, The Well-Fed Heart, has provided heart-healthy recipes and nutrition content for healthcare providers and their patients. Levy is the healthy food editor for Grand magazine, a digital publication for grandparents, and her recipes appear weekly in the SmartBrief for Nutritionists email newsletter.
When we visited, local photographer Nick Felkey was capturing images of fresh sauerkraut for Levy’s website, hearthealthywoman.com. “Fermentation is all the rage, but sauerkraut from the grocery store is already processed, so you’re not getting all the probiotics. We started making our own with red cabbage,” Levy explained. “We’ve moved to a flexitarian diet—mostly plant-based, with protein as the condiment,” she said, adding that the Mediterranean diet the couple adheres to is one of the easiest to maintain, because it doesn’t prohibit whole groups of foods. It wasn’t always this way.
When Levy first met Kennedy, she was a single mom, and her idea of fancy was jazzing up boxed mac and cheese with hot dogs and peas. His choices weren’t necessarily much healthier—Kennedy preferred to make his pasta au gratin with béchamel and Gruyère. Over time, they’ve come together in what Levy calls “joyful eating for lifelong health.” A big part of that is preparing food together in their gorgeous kitchen, a fabulous and functional space that’s a pleasure to work in.
So many details, from the placement of outlets to the raised dishwashers (they have two) that are easier on the back, were carefully planned and constructed to their specifications. And while Levy uses the kitchen to test recipes that eventually get approved by dieticians and posted to her website, Kennedy recently took his cooking up a notch.
“We were having dinner with another couple, and the wife said she wished her husband could cook,” Kennedy recalled. “I said I would be happy to teach him.” He ended up including a few more friends on his class roster, eventually adding a second session when word got around. “The idea was to learn to cook a dish together, eat it for lunch, and then go home and cook it for your wife for dinner.” Or as Levy called it, “Lunch for Him, Dinner for Her.” Cooking for each other, sharing food with friends, fixing family feasts when the grandkids are in town—these foodways are fundamental to Levy and Kennedy. You might say their hearts are in the right place. And isn’t that the best place to be?