LEANING IN ON LEGACY
To further the design history of a site outside of Bellingham, Washington, J S D A Inc. was invited to guide the transition of a rare property of 30+ acres of mature second-growth forest interspersed with meandering foot trails. It was called the “Nautilus Tree Farm”. Most would have developed a sizeable land parcel. Working to pedigree the property’s conservation easement documentation, we teamed with the family to ensure that the home was preserved, repaired, and appropriately maintained for an enduring legacy. We were driven to ensure that the future real estate team would understand that the “land lead” and the residential structure should be considered an architecturally collectible structure for future historic registration. Nestled against the protected forest sits a custom home, intact with original millwork built-ins throughout. The home features indigenous Nooksack river stone in an interior walkway, with the timber-framed structure washed in a submarine hue. Thermal earth berms give rise to an array of sweeping glass windows that open onto an expansive pasture. The nature-inspired structure is shaped in plan like a nautilus shell. A seasonal creek springs forth each year, giving life to flora and fauna. The land has been celebrated for generations.
The history of the family property was gradually discovered and assembled. We explored original documents of the 1970s indigenous pole structure and connected with one of the original architectural team members. In the mid-century, a new architectural movement aligned with nature to fully utilize the benefits of natural design and gained momentum. Washington was the epicenter of this movement. The idea of living on the land in private recluse was at the forefront, where the land provided all the necessities for life: food and fuel, work, and play, from sunrise to sunset. These organic homes balanced the best of living independently. One such example is the Nautilus Tree Farm, close to Everson, a quiet rural enclave near Bellingham and close to the USA/Canada border. When the sons of the original land conservators set out to see that the property gracefully transitioned to the next generation of owners, they were careful to honor the special ecosystem and preserve.
“Located within a large plat of land with an open field facing south and traversed by Fourmile Creek, this project presented my parents with an unusual opportunity to enjoy ongoing conservation and enhancement of the forestland. They facilitated the land’s former glory and beyond and created a home imagined taking full advantage of open plan living,” said the estate executor, Jeff Kronenberg.
Three deep rows of towering fir, cedar, and pine trees conceal the property’s east boundary, creating absolute privacy for the residents. Still, glimpses of Mount Baker and the Twin Sisters white caps maintain a sense of connection to the surroundings, reinforced by the sound of trickling water, owls, and wind in the trees.
One discovers the residence at the end of a meandering crushed limestone drive complete with moss-covered log fencing. It is in original condition, a 2,676 square foot home with an open carport and connecting office/guest room.
The cedar-line driveway transitions slowly from the forest canopy into a light, open pastoral view. The first building on the land, a large workshop and thermal greenhouse, is nestled against the forest edge. The wood-heated structure offers spacious storage for equipment and firewood stacks and is plumbed with well water. It’s fronted with a modular glass greenhouse, mimicking the carport, which affords seedling development and year-round cultivation.
An open carport links the home and connected guest room with a modular glazed roof system. The stained exterior wood cladding withstands the wet climate; full-panel glass doors and many skylights act as filters, creating a dramatic play of light and shadow inside the voluminous space.
The master bedroom suite has a semi-private connection to the living space, with a modest low wall separation. Additional private zones are tucked away at the end of the nautilus shell, including an enclosed bedroom with an adjacent sleeping loft, a guest bathroom, and a utility room. Accessed from the carport is a multi-level office and/or third bedroom, with below grade, earth-cooled wine cellar. The enclosed rooms in the nautilus shell are adaptable for remote work or an independent studio. There are chambers for sleep, study, listening to music, and relaxation.
“The connecting pathway along which all functional parts flow is a gently curving stone and concrete river, where thresholds peer to form a modest gallery and where the occupants of this house—a husband and wife, biologist and a psychiatrist—shared their love of art collection,” says design consultant, J S D A Inc.. The curves of the living spaces are supported by a cluster of debarked natural timbers, which center the open plan. The path’s end culminates at the interior dining area with 360-degree views of the interior and exterior. Double glass doors open onto a stone patio and a panoramic view of the orchard and pasture. A redwood table on the patio awaits the family for dining al fresco.
Stevenor Dale describes the clerestory windows of the house as a muse in that they frame cinematically nature’s activities in the pasture: deer, rabbits, squirrels, and raptors. “Looking between the trees across a verdant pasture, one sees the workshop log structure with a windowed center, peering back at curious wildlife,” she says.
Embodied in the biomorphic nautilus shape, the architect (Stradling & Stewart) created an “aquatic intent” emphasized by the blue-green glaze on the timber, bright green moss on fallen trees, the sage exterior, and the refracted light through the glazing. Subtly crafted, earthy materials are celebrated—tumbled river stones embedded in concrete, native fireplace stone, stained timber, and cedar wood. Nature led us through this project to find and restore its true essence. Everything relates to one another, reflecting the symbiotic order of the systems of nature. After more than a year of work to restore the home and forest, trails, vineyards, and grounds, the property is under contract for sale, and the baton of history will pass to a new caregiver of this incredible estate.