By Sara daSilva
A vaulting framework of royal blue I-beams nests within the glass and steel exterior of this 360 Modern featured property on Bainbridge Island, turning notions of traditional island architecture inside out.
When architect Le Corbusier famously called a house, “a machine for living,” he captured the zeitgeist of a movement that celebrates the structural. From the simple honesty of builder Joseph Eichler’s post-and-beam tract homes, to the arty exhibitionism of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris—where air ducts, heating shafts and stairwells painted in primary colors snake around the museum’s outer walls—Modernists have always honored the beauty of a building’s essential core.
On Bainbridge Island, the spirit of the machine aesthetic is alive and well in the heart of a secluded wood. Through a private gate, at the end of a ribbon of road slicing through hundred-year-old fir trees, a wall of glass neatly sectioned by silver mullions reveals an interior network of exposed steel I-beams painted a brilliant blue. The boldly colored steel girders serve a dual purpose. From an engineering standpoint, they support an 18-foot curtain of glass that opens the house to the forest outside; on the design side, they create a series of graceful interlocking rectangles with the geometric interest of a Mondrian painting.
To find such an emphatically modern house on Bainbridge Island—a romantic parcel of prime real estate peppered with Cape Cods, Saltboxes and other examples of traditional seaside architecture—comes as a surprise. But builder Steve Kaster says that when he started the project, he was “sick and tired” of Craftsman Bungalows. Kaster first saw the 5-acre site on a Saturday. Although crossed by an ancient logging road, the sound of a ringing ax hadn’t echoed through the thick stands of holly, cedar and alder for over a century. Struck by the majesty of the pristine surroundings and the sense of absolute privacy, Kaster made an offer the following Tuesday.
Despite the speed with which he acquired the property, Kaster didn’t start work on the main house for a long time. Instead, he built the mother of all shops, an 1800 square-foot structure with a 60 foot-long workbench (wired for tools), a half-bathroom, radiant in-floor heat and an attached 780 square-foot office. Then he settled back to wait—and learn. He watched the sun trace its path through the trees. He discovered a small creek that flows West to Southeast across the property during the wet months. He learned to identify the sounds of the blue-jays, woodpeckers and bullfrogs that have always called these forest wetlands home.
After two-and-a-half years of planning, Kaster finally started construction, with able assistance from son-in-law Mark O’Leary, and following plans drawn up in collaboration with lifetime friend Fred Poisson, an architect from the Midwest. In an example of resource management both efficient and meaningful, the collection of clear fir, cedar and a few cherry trees cleared to make room for the house never left the property. After being milled on site and dried in the shop, most of the timber was used for framing, while particularly straight, fine-grained pieces of fir were polished and clear-coated before claiming pride of place as the home’s satin-smooth handrails.
The finished design benefits richly from Kaster’s patience and careful observations. The main windows face the Southwest and capture the warm afternoon sun, while rows of recessed can-lights brighten interiors during gloomy winter mornings. A daylight basement, with a doorway sized to admit a Honda four-wheeler, provides ample storage and a protected utility room. The extra height also boosts the main living area toward the treetops—a move that leaves most bugs on the forest floor and away from barbeques staged on the cedar-plank back deck.
A combination of forced air and hot water baseboard heating keeps the 3,860 square-foot home dry and cozy during the rainy months and the occasional island storm. A third heat source, a massive cultured-stone fireplace flanked by a simple steel firewood rack climbs halfway to the soaring 20-foot ceilings in the open living area. The fireplace itself is an environmentally sensitive Rumford Fireplace design with pollution control for guilt-free fireside snuggling.
If the exposed steel scaffolding and grand scale of the great room lends it an air of industrial chic, the kitchen is the picture of Modern refinement. Custom cherry cabinetry pairs with Carrera marble countertops capped with gleaming stainless steel. A pot-filler whose provenance is part Chicago Faucets, part biology lab equipment, adds sculptural presence to the Fisher Paykel gas stove. The thick sheet of tempered glass that tops the kitchen island is another unique touch, and classic deco hardware from Amerock graces drawers with full-extension ball-bearing glides. Adjacent to the open kitchen, an enclosed butler’s pantry completes a package ideal for entertaining.
With its open, inviting layout and carefully designed guest quarters, the main floor is tailored for lively dinner parties and weekend visitors. Upstairs, however, a luxurious master suite feels like a world unto itself. Cantilevered above the kitchen, a rectangular peninsula creates a dramatic private balcony overlooking the great room. The master bedroom and master bath both access a 480 square-foot cedar deck supported by blue steel pilings and equipped with a hot tub so generously scaled that its installation involved a boom truck. Whether resting in bed, soaking in the jetted master bathtub, brushing your teeth at the sleek Kohler Wading Pool sink, or relaxing in the spa, you share a squirrel’s eye view of pristine Pacific Northwest wetlands.
Most afternoons this summer, a doe trailed by twin fawns has walked quietly by the main house, headed for a nap in the tall cool grass behind the shop. Although the shop can’t be seen from the house, the two structures are connected by a pathway springy with pine needles and edged with skunk cabbage and luxuriant ferns. With its spacious interior and double garage doors, the structure would make an excellent carriage house for a collection of classic cars, while the light-filled office evokes an ideal artist’s studio. While there is no end of enticing options for this space, its private location and independent utility system make subdivision an attractive alternative as well.
Steve Kaster is already sketching floor plans for his next project, a sleek, compact Modern house, but he admits he’ll miss the pageant of evening colors he witnessed so many times during the building process. The sky flushes scarlet, painting a fiery backdrop behind the trees. As dusk falls, the can-lights drop shimmering pools across the canopy of exposed steel. And if you pause to look over your shoulder on the way to your pickup truck on a summer evening, you’ll see a house blazing with light, the blue steel I-beams just visible through the illuminated glass—a “machine for living,” pulsing with life.
For more info view the home on 360 Modern.