Zoom and boom
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Among unforeseen consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic – which was beginning to gain more traction just as the Methow Home 2020 magazine went to press — was a tectonic shift in the local housing market. In her article on page 27, contributor Ann McCreary explains in detail how what is being characterized as a “zoom town land rush” dramatically depleted the inventory of homes and property for sale in the valley. Instant offers were common at the height of the sales season. Bidding wars – practically unheard of in the past – drove up prices and left some home seekers disappointed. Home shopping is a whole new ball game. At the same time, local contractors, subcontractors and other businesses involved in providing home-related goods and services were often booked solid, sometimes years in advance for major projects. Homebuilders are in greater demand than ever, it seems. And, as newcomers boost the Methow’s population, those who already live here wonder how they will fit in with the valley community. We tackle all those topics and more in Methow Home 2021. You’ll find “profiles” of several Methow Valley homes that reflect the dreams of their owners,
the creativity of their architects and designers, and the craftsmanship of their builders. This year the featured homes include a extensive remodeling project and something that has become increasingly rare in the Methow market: a “spec” house. Given the shifting market forces, spec homes may become more common. You’ll also find articles about how to put Firewise principles into practice, how to be a “good neighbor” in the valley, and how to put together an efficient home office. And you’ll learn how to get an up-close experience in some of the valley’s most intriguing homes on the Confluence Gallery Home Tour. This year, we want to direct special attention to our advertisers, who have remained loyal to the magazine even in uncertain times. They include locally owned businesses that provide jobs and support the local economy, and businesses that have developed a substantial presence in the valley by providing quality products or services. Methow Home 2021 is a handy, year-round guide to the businesses that can help turn your Methow dream into reality. Don Nelson Publisher/Editor
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6 PERFECTLY SITUATED
Distinctive details, such as this light, are an important element of homes featured in this year’s magazine.
Mazama home reflects owners’ longtime love affair with the valley
12 WORTH THE WAIT
Long search for perfect home site ends in Edelweiss
16 PERFECT TIMING A ‘spec’ house quickly finds happy buyers
A publication of the Methow Valley News P.O. Box 97, 502 S. Glover St., Twisp, WA 98856 509.997.7011 • fax 509.997.3277 www.methowvalleynews.com firstname.lastname@example.org
20 OUTWARD LOOKING It’s all about the views at Mazama remodel
Don Nelson | publisher/editor
Sheila Ward | advertising associate
Tera Evans | office manager Joseph Novotny | Design
ON THE COVER
See story, page 16. PHOTO COURTESY OF ELI SMITH
27 ‘ZOOM TOWN’ BOOM COVID response sets off unprecedented land rush
32 WORK FROM AFAR
A home office is only a good idea if it’s functional
36 A GOOD NEIGHBOR WELCOME
How to make good connections with community
40 BUILD A HOME THAT FIGHTS FIRE
Firewise practices reduce your risks
44 32 YEARS OF
The Johnstons designed a lot of valley homes – including their own
Exposed steel beams supported by wooden posts are a design feature of many Patterson homes, including two in this year’s magazine.
CONTRIBUTORS Don Nelson is publisher and editor of the Methow Valley News.
is a Methow Valley News columnist.
is a Methow Valley News freelancer.
is managing editor of the Methow Valley News.
is a Methow Valley News freelancer. 5
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY LARA SWIMMER
Perfectly situated Mazama home reflects owners’ longtime love affair with the valley BY ASHLEY LODATO
azama residents Mac Dunstan and Linda Grob were lured to the Methow Valley 40 years ago, enticed by the siren song that attracted so many: a Nordic skiing presentation by local ski guru Don Portman.
Seattle residents back then, Dunstan and Grob now live in Aspen Grove, their Mazama meadows area home nestled in a shimmering aspen stand, which they moved into just before the pandemic began. Dunstan and Grob say they saw Portman’s slide show “at our little local outdoor store,” and decided to take a weekend ski trip to the valley. “We loved it at first sight,” says Dunstan. For years, the couple spent every winter weekend in the Methow, staying at Sun Mountain Lodge or The Virginian. “We’d never even seen the valley in the summer until we bought
property here,” Dunstan says. “When we left after our final trip each season, usually in March, I’d cry the whole drive back to Seattle,” says Grob. Although the couple purchased land in 1986, they never built a home on it. “We just couldn’t imagine building our own place,” Dunstan says. But after they bought a rustic old cabin on Wintergreen Road in Edelweiss in 1994, Dunstan says, “we started thinking about building something more suitable for longer stays.” “We haven’t spent a weekend in Seattle since we bought that Wintergreen cabin,” Dunstan adds. 7
Consolidating several adjoining lots into one home site, Dunstan and Grob worked with Tom Lenchek of what is now Prentiss Balance Wickline Architects (PBW) and builder Tom Bjornsen of Bjornsen Construction to design and build a 1,200-squarefoot house in 2004-2005, in which they lived happily until last year.
But looking ahead to getting older, in early 2018 the couple decided to keep an eye out for property right on the ski trails, where they might build a singlestory home one day. The first time Dunstan and Grob mentioned it to real estate agent Delene Monetta of Windermere Methow Valley, with whom they’d worked in the past, she told the couple she had just the place. It was a piece of property that the late Walt Foster was just about to list: a sunny spot in the middle of the Mazama
meadow, set back off the ski trail and flanked by the aspen grove that gave the eventual home its name. “We made an offer the next morning,” Dunstan says. “It was an impulse buy, but at my age you don’t sit on anything. We started talking about house design ideas right away.” The couple loved their “Wintergreen Cabin” in Edelweiss and used its layout as a launching point for the new house. “We still wanted two bedrooms and two baths,” says Dunstan, “but we wanted the two bed/bath units to be separated by the main living area, to give guests a sense of privacy. We wanted to retain the light and airy feeling of the Wintergreen Cabin, which was easy, because that’s a signature feature of the PBW aesthetic. We wanted it all to be on one floor, and we wanted it to be a bit bigger than the other place, so that we could host bigger dinner parties.” Dunstan and Grob’s quick
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action served them well. They closed on the property in February 2018 and, based on their previous experience working with Bjornsen Construction and PBW on their Edelweiss home, started imagining Aspen Grove with PBW architect Margo PetersonAspholm and lined up Bjornsen Construction to build it. Peterson-Aspholm had become acquainted with Dunstan and Grob through their avid support of the Methow Valley Nordic Team. “For years [Mac and Linda] hosted fundraising music dinners for the ski team in their Edelweiss home,” says Peterson-Aspholm, “so I was intimately familiar with … the things they loved about it as well as the things they wanted to improve upon. The Aspen Grove house presented a great opportunity to address these programmatic lessons in a direct way.” Familiarity with the clients and their lifestyle allowed PetersonAspholm to “hit the ground running with the design” of Aspen Grove, she says. Their passions – besides hosting dinner parties and music – are “skiing, reading, and the Methow Valley, as well as their beloved dog, Evie.”
The design collaboration was harmonious because architect and homeowner share a design aesthetic, says PetersonAspholm. “Mac and Linda and I share an affinity for Scandinavian design: its clean lines, use of wood, and engagement with the natural landscape. They wanted something very simple in form
and practical to maintain, so the interest and delight of the home come through thoughtful details and use of materials rather than an attention-getting profile.” The first step in the design process involved siting the home. “I always want to honor the site and spend a lot of time agonizing about the best way to do that – there are no do-overs with siting,” Peterson-Aspholm says. “I never think of landscape as something separate from architecture; it is a critical part of the overall design.” Peterson-Aspholm’s challenges with Aspen Grove house were to take advantage of the grove itself
as well as the expansive views down-valley of Lucky Jim Bluff, site the home within the allowed building zone, and limit the exposure to traffic on Goat Creek Road and the ski trail, both of which are fairly near the house. To do this, Peterson-Aspholm imagined creating “outdoor rooms responding to different views and creating different levels of exposure,” and used building materials to accentuate this idea. “Like a piece of fruit, I imagined the external ‘skin’ was the rusted steel siding and wherever we cut into it, the exposed ‘flesh’ is the dark-stained cedar siding, which carries through at interior
and exterior,” she says. A grade change at the road allowed the home to be built lower on the site, “thereby lessening its exposure to the road,” says Peterson-Aspholm. Other privacy measures included facing the master bedroom into the intimate area of the aspen grove and installing detailed blinds that allow light in but provide screening from passersby on the ski trail. In the home’s great room, the soaring ceiling and tall windows provide high views of Flagg Mountain in the foreground, as well as expansive views across the alfalfa field to the south, Peterson-Aspholm says, which
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“probably leave the greatest impression on a visitor to the home.” She notes, however, “I am pleased with the more intimate views that are found throughout the home, such as the perfect framing of Lucky Jim in the guest bedroom or the view into the aspen grove from the large window at Mac’s desk in his office, or the way that the high windows in the master bedroom just capture the shoulder of Sandy Butte.”
UNFORESEEN CHALLENGE But just when everything seemed to be moving according to plan, midway through the building process, in June 2019, Dunstan was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer. With characteristic humor, Dunstan says that in one of his August 2019 appointments with his oncologist, the doctor asked him, “What are your goals?” “To move into the new house by the end of the year,” Dunstan replied, to which the doctor responded, “That’s a pretty low
bar.” Dunstan and Grob weren’t going to let cancer usurp their move, so construction continued and Dunstan achieved his goal (give or take a couple of weeks). But juggling chemotherapy appointments in Seattle with getting their Edelweiss property ready to sell was taxing, with Grob doing the bulk of the packing by herself, with assistance from Monetta on staging the two dwellings. When the couple finally moved to Aspen Grove in January 2020, Dunstan “wasn’t allowed to lift anything heavier than a carton of milk.” So the teen skiers of the Methow Valley Nordic Team, who have been supported and nurtured by Dunstan and Grob for many years, pitched in to haul boxes, assemble shelving, move furniture, and split and stack firewood. Six weeks later, before Dunstan and Grob had had time to host their first big dinner party in the new, larger house, the pandemic
hit. All at once, Dunstan and Grob’s world simultaneously expanded and narrowed. The home’s location along the trails means that the couple encounters friends constantly. “We’re always looking out the window and waving to somebody,” Grob says, “or we’re out on our patio and we run into old friends. There has been little impairment to our social interactions. It wouldn’t have been that way at our Wintergreen Cabin; we would have been extremely isolated.” “This is about the most ideal situation we could possibly be in given the COVID restrictions,” Dunstan adds.
Peterson-Aspholm addresses strategies Dunstan and Grob used to mitigate their new home’s impact on their neighbors, whose home is distant by urban measurements but close according to rural standards. “They are planting aspens and
irrigating the existing aspens to create a bit more of a visual barrier between them and their closest visible neighbors to the north,” Peterson-Aspholm says. The couple was also thoughtful in lighting decisions, keeping outdoor lighting “low and minimal — ‘dark sky friendly’ — and situating the driveway so that their car lights do not shine into the same neighbors’ home when they pull in.” Aspen Grove’s outdoor social space is generous and conducive to socially distanced gatherings, and the large glass windows on three sides of the main living space “make you feel like you’re outside when you’re inside,” says Grob. Says Peterson-Aspholm, “I think the outdoor rooms to the north and south flow nicely into the interior and offer a variety of options for being outside in all kinds of conditions; the polycarbonate covered area to the north provides a sheltered outdoor space yet still allows abundant light into the interior.”
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Dunstan and Grob echoed this indoor-outdoor interface in their interior furnishings: neutral fabrics and paint, earth tones, and pops of color from local artwork, as well as pottery and sculptures they’ve collected on their travels. Upon establishing themselves in Aspen Grove, Dunstan and Grob felt immediately at home. “We love all the glass and light,” Dunstan says. “You can look right through the house.” There is “not one step” in the house, he adds – an intentional design feature to accommodate the couple as they age. Other conveniences, designed to improve on their Wintergreen Cabin, include builtins and shelving throughout the house, says Peterson-Aspholm, which “rectified a lack of adequate storage and cabinet space at their previous home.” Books, too, are an integral part of the home of these two devoted readers, accommodated by bookshelves in the living room and Dunstan’s office and dimmable reading lights at the bedside
nooks. Abundant natural light in the living area makes reading on one of the two couches or the long window seat a cozy prospect. Features of comfort and convenience include heated concrete floors, stainless steel countertops with integral drainboard and sink, and a dark band of wood that encircles the kitchen, living, and dining spaces, “which has multiple uses as a light cove, a pocket for blinds, and a picture rail,” says Peterson-Aspholm. And the backup generator ensures that power outages don’t result in interruptions to the home’s running water.
Aspen Grove reflects the narrative of Dunstan and Grob’s life together – one that is rich in friendships, travel, skiing, and an enduring love for the Methow Valley. A spacious house tastefully appointed with art that is personally meaningful, situated in an aspen grove right along
the ski trail, with dramatic views of neighboring bluffs, within walking distance to the Mazama Store: Dunstan and Grob’s new home is by all accounts the Methow dream. And yet the process of creating it was marred by what many would considering nightmares: a global pandemic, cancer. Like the “different levels of exposure” Peterson-Aspholm sought to reveal through building materials, the building period and the first year in the new home are a timeline of exposure as well – exposure to vulnerability and mortality. But the couple is philosophical about the challenges of 2019 and 2020, and they look forward to post-pandemic times when they can resume treasured activities like hosting dinner parties. The home itself will feature in these pursuits. Both aesthetically and functionally, Aspen Grove is “a backdrop for the couple’s interesting life,” says Peterson-Aspholm. “It tells their story.”
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Worth the wait Long search for perfect home site ends in Edelweiss BY DON NELSON
hether you believe in fate or mere coincidence, Jerry and Michelle Gnuschke’s Methow Valley home at the upper reaches of Edelweiss appears to have “destiny” built into its DNA. 12
The sequence of events that led to the Gnuschkes occupying the home in late 2020 – discovering the Methow, buying the view lot, contracting with Patterson Design/Build to create and construct the house, finding just the right finishes and furnishings – seemed to follow a natural order, according to Michelle. After decades of looking for the ideal vacation home site, it all happened within a span of about 2 1/2 years for the Gnuschkes. The result is single-level, 1,700-square-foot home that seems to vault off its sloping lot
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF ELI SMITH
in the general direction of Lucky Jim Bluff, canted at a slight upvalley angle to capture even more of the sweeping views. The Gnuschkes – Jerry is an intellectual property attorney, Michelle is a former elementary school teacher who is now a yoga instructor – have lived in the Woodinville area for about 20 years, where they raised two sons who are now grown. Before moving to the Seattle area after stints in Texas and Virginia, “most of my life I felt like I was in the wrong place,” Michelle said. The Gnuschkes spent many
vacations scouting potential sites for a second home, without finding the one that clicked. “That gave us a lot of time to think about what that would look like for us,” Michelle said. Their mostimportant priorities were mountains, water (rivers and lakes)
and outdoor recreation options – and “a place that was just serene,” Michelle said. About 2 1/2 years ago, Michelle visited the Methow for the first time with a friend who has a cabin in Edelweiss – near where the Gnuschkes ended up building.
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“It was breathtaking,” she said. “It ticked all our boxes.” And it didn’t require flying to another state. A few weeks later, the Gnuschkes came to the valley together. They looked at the Edelweiss lot and pretty much
decided to buy it on the spot. Michelle stood on the brow of the lot and knew exactly how she wanted the house to be, she says.
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images of homes that approximated what the Gnuschkes were looking for – “modern, shed roof, lots of glass, steel and concrete,” Michelle said. Serendipitously, three of the homes the Gnuschkes came across happened to be projects of Patterson Design/Build, which has been building distinctive homes around the valley for years. Jeff Patterson handles the build part; his wife Molly is the creative force behind the design element. Michelle checked out the company’s website and decided “we have to call these guys.” The Gnuschkes met Jeff Patterson at the lot to consider possibilities. Patterson told the Gnuschkes that the firm – which is typically booked several years out — had just had a building project cancel and was suddenly available. “I couldn’t believe it,” Michelle said. “It seemed to me it was meant to be. I was finished looking and interviewing [for a
contractor] … I knew in my heart that Jeff and Molly were the right ones for us.” The vision that Michelle shared with Molly Patterson was for a
house that “launched” over the edge of the site, with lots of windows to take advantage of every perspective. The Gnuschkes wanted two bedrooms, two
baths, and an open space for kitchen, dining and living rooms. Plus, a big fireplace. “Molly said, ‘let me draw something up,’” Michelle said. Molly
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Patterson’s experience with anticipating client’s desires made that a quick and effective process. “We changed a few things, but not much,” Michelle said. The entrance leads to an extrawide hallway that was suggested by Molly Patterson, with doorways leading to the master suite, second bedroom and second bath and utility room. The hallway opens into a great room with two sets of steps – the first at the end of hallway drops down to the kitchen/dining area, the second descends from the kitchen/ dining area into the living room – that create a sense of separate spaces as you move farther into the home. The floor-to-ceiling, propane fireplace is a visible destination point as soon as one enters the house. “The closer you get to the fireplace, the more it [the room] opens up,” Michelle said. “It draws you down into the space.” An expansive outdoor deck extends the viewing experience. The full-size kitchen features
bamboo-covered cabinets, a central island and a propane stove. There is a separate wet bar with wine storage. The living area includes secluded storage cabinets and window seats. All the floors are radiant heat concrete. The ceilings are tongue-and-grove fir. In addition to suspended fixtures, recessed lights and lighting strips provide subtle but effective illumination. Eventually the Gnuschkes plan to add a carport, with a storage locker – and perhaps a workshop for Jerry. Other projects include more pathways and an irrigation system.
Michelle selected interior finishes and lighting, and bought a big living room couch before the house was finished. “It was exactly what I wanted in the space,” Michelle said. “I had the whole place decorated, down to the all the details, so all we had
to do was pack it up and take over … everything was intentionally chosen.” The exterior siding is a combination of steel cladding and Shou Sugi Ban fir (a Japanese woodcharring process). Molly Patterson said the sloping lot was a challenge for design, construction and details such as placing the septic system. The foundation is extra-strength to stabilize the structure. “It’s very compact on a complicated site,” she said. As in other Patterson Design/Build homes, exposed steel beams are a major load-bearing component. Patterson Design/Build does all the construction work while bringing in specialty subcontractors. Those included Methow Valley Industrial (steel); Jerry Cole Cabinetry; Tamarack Electricians; and CJ’s Plumbing. Construction took about 1 1/2 years. The Gnuschkes never considered buying an existing house. “I knew that to truly be happy, we’d
have to it from scratch,” Michelle said. “I truly think there’s something magical about this place,” Michelle said of the Methow. “It draws people in it feels like a place to breathe.” When the Gnuschkes can spend more time at the Edelweiss home, they intend to get involved in the community, she said. “We want to explore all of that happy place,” she said.
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Perfect timing A ‘spec’ house quickly finds happy buyers BY DON NELSON
uppose you’re a homebuilder in the valley – what would you consider including in a “spec” house that suits the Methow market? For Jeff and Molly Patterson of Patterson Design/Build, the spec house they started building in 2019 began with an Edelweiss lot – a narrow site with a steep drop-off, but a stunning view of Lucky Jim Bluff. Molly designed a 1,350-square-foot, single-level, two-bedroom, two-bath house with some stylish amenities. And that view. That was before COVID, and before the burst of second-home buying and semi-permanent residency that the pandemic generated. By the time the Edelweiss house went on the market in the summer of 2020, the superheated valley market pointed toward
a quick sale. Just how quick took everyone by surprise – including the buyers. Jay and Jodie (they asked that their last names not be used, for privacy purposes) are west siders who have a longtime association with the valley as outdoor recreationists. The couple, who are in their 60s and say they now spend about 80% of their time in the valley, were looking for a home that would eventually become their full-time residence. Real estate agent Ina Clark of Mountain to River Realty showed them the just-listed Patterson house. As might be expected,
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they weren’t the only ones. “There was a traffic jam of Realtors” to view the house, Molly Patterson said. Jeff Patterson just happened to be there to check on some finishing details when Jay and Jodie arrived. The couple took the opportunity to talk about the house with Jeff. A few minutes was all it took. It was as if the house had been
designed specifically for them. The couple made an offer that day. “Everything fell into place,” Jodie said. “It fit our specifications.” “The next day it was a done deal,” Jay said. “We’re super fortunate. We love their work. They [the Pattersons] did a beautiful job.”
“They [Jay and Jodie] came in that night with an offer,” Molly said. “They seemed great. Sold!” “We got many calls [about the house] the next day,” she added.
Jay has a long career as a teacher, Jodie works in finance. Both are active outdoors. The couple had been coming to the
Methow to ski for more than a dozen years and, like many people who see the valley as a Nordic destination, had spent little time here in the summer. When they decided to find a home in the valley, they didn’t consider building. “If we were 20 years younger, we might have,” Jodie said. “We want to enjoy it now.”
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The couple had looked at other valley homes, weighing pluses and minuses, before they discovered the Edelweiss house. They wanted access to ski trails, a onestory floor plan, and a low-maintenance house and lot. Check, check, check. The house includes an entryway with a couple of shallow alcoves for stowing shoes, coats, skis and other gear. Jay said there are plans for built-in closets to contain some of the clutter. A few more steps take you into a big open space that features a linear kitchen along the back wall, and a supersized center island that doubles as a casual sitting area for four. The rest of the space is dining/living area that can be defined by furnishings, and including a propane stove. The front of the house is an array of windows with that compelling view. A wide deck extends the usable space and gets you a few feet closer to Lucky Jim … and out over the ravine. The gently sloped metal roof
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shower and special feature: a sauna. Adjacent to the master suite is a small, narrow office space that’s nonetheless big enough for a desk and chair, and it shares the Lucky Jim view – a likely distraction. Across the hall from the office is a utility room for the washer and dryer. The second bedroom is adjacent to a full bath. It’s a compact and efficient floor plan. “It was evident that there was great quality and attention to detail,” Jay said. “It has a warm, comfortable feeling … in an efficient, compact, wonderful setting.” “It’s nice to have a place where you walk in, and drop your gloves and coat,” he added.
Six months into the move, furnishings are largely in place, with some more decorating to come. The first piece of artwork was a print by the late Methow Valley artist and teacher Sean McCabe. The couple plan to do some additional landscaping when the weather permits. Jodie said they also enthused about how much there is to do in the valley, and they intend to get involved in the community. Already they are on the Firewise
committee for Edelweiss. Molly Patterson said that in the past, putting a spec home on the market was “a little stressful” because of uncertainty about when it might sell. That wasn’t the case this time. The Pattersons build a spec house every few years, Molly said, as an alternate to the custom-built homes they usually take on for clients. “We can do it at our own pace,” she said. As for design: Having done so many houses, “I can do it … without even thinking,” she said. On the Edelweiss lot, she said, the key was opening up the view. The sauna was an amenity that did not add a lot of cost but is an appealing feature, Molly said. And, adding storage spaces “can make a small house seem so much bigger,” Molly said. “When we started, we didn’t know COVID was going to happen,” Molly said. “We were trying to keep it within a certain price point.” Personal chemistry also can make a difference in a spec house sale as well as with custom-designed homes. “We could tell they were nice people,” Molly said of Jay and Jodie. “It always feels good to make great connections.”
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The house’s living room after it was remodeled. PHOTO BY ED SOZINHO
The house’s living room before it was remodeled. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHNSTON ARCHITECTS 20
Outward looking It’s all about the views at Mazama remodel BY NATALIE JOHNSON
ick a window, any window, at Joan Wellman and Tom Robinson’s Mazama home, and you’ll enjoy a stunning view. That was their plan when they worked with architects Ray and Mary Johnston to remodel the mid-1990s home, focusing on letting in abundant natural light and showing off views in every direction. “We do a lot of fairly compact house design, and what we’ve learned to do and really like is to include the outside as part of the experience of the interior of the site,” Ray Johnston said. “Joan and Tom’s house when I first saw it was the total opposite of that. It was designed during an energy crisis and it really turned its back on its surroundings. Small windows. Small panes in small windows.” Johnston said his goal was to
“peel open” the living spaces of the house, bringing it and its surroundings together. “(The former owners) were art collectors, so they had wanted to maximize the wall space in the house, so they had plenty of space to hang art. … (W)hen we came to see the house, we loved the layout and we loved the site, but they hadn’t really optimized the views,” Wellman said. Now, the home is all about its 360-degree views. Despite not being on high ground, the roughly 2,500 square-foot home is anything but in shadow, with sunlight and vistas in every direction. The master bedroom opens on Lucky Jim Bluff. Wellman and Robinson worked
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with the Johnstons to reimagine the house, while keeping a very similar floor plan. They also credited contractor Rick Mills for his work on the house. “The theme was, let’s enjoy the natural beauty we have,” Wellman said.
LOVE, BUT NOT AT FIRST SIGHT
Wellman and Robinson knew what they were looking for when they started house hunting. “And this house wasn’t it,” Wellman said. “When we first looked at it, I just said ‘no.’” While their first impression of the house wasn’t great, the spacious house on 30 acres started to grow on them. “And then we came back and looked at it again and I said, ‘maybe,’ ” she said. The site, adjacent to Lucky Jim Bluff on the valley floor, and the all-day natural lighting eventually won them over, along with helpful ideas from Johnston Architects. “That started getting us more excited. And we’re really delighted with the outcome. We couldn’t be any happier,” Wellman said. The open-plan living room and kitchen was once split in two by a solid white wall, with a door to one side. Now, the kitchen/
dining/living area is open, bright and inviting, separated only by a fireplace. Once solid walls now house large windows that let in light all day long – even in the dead of winter. In the summer, electronic blinds help keep the space comfortable. “The house stays amazingly cool – we hardly used our air conditioning at all,” Wellman said. The house includes a spa-like master bath, a sauna, walk-in master closet, an office known these days as the “Zoom room,” along with two upstairs guest rooms. The house has the feel of a cabin, with natural wood finishes and some industrial metal elements, including the stair rails to upstairs rooms. Most of the materials were sourced locally, Robinson said. “It’s really locally resourced,” he said. “All the blinds are from Winthrop, appliances are from Omak or Wenatchee. We didn’t make a Seattle house. This is an eastern Washington house.”
THE TRAIL TO MAZAMA
Wellman and Robinson lived in the Seattle area before their retirements, and vacationed at a Methow cabin since 2007. Now they have a small condo in the
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PHOTO BY ED SOZINHO Seattle area but spend most of their time in the valley. “It used to be that our vacation home was here, and now it’s the opposite,” Wellman said. Robinson retired first and began a new career as a Rolfer – similar to a massage therapist. When Wellman retired in 2017, the couple started spending all of their time at their Methow cabin. “We came up here and spent all our time in our cabin, and after about a year of that we went, uh, this isn’t working … this is not enough space,” Wellman said. “We had no garage or anything,” Robinson added. They decided early to buy an existing home and remodel rather than build a new house. The timeline was considerably 22
shorter, they noted, with new construction in the Methow projected to take three years. They bought the home in December 2018 and moved in full-time in February 2020. Johnston noted remodels generally cost less than construction of a new house. “We really retained most of the rooms, we just altered their walls, so we weren’t really changing the shape of the house or moving substantial walls around,” he said. “When you start doing that, the costs start to equal.” Johnston said his business in the past has only received a request to do a remodel every few years. In the past year, they’ve had three new requests. However, that’s how their
business was sustained when it was formed 30 years ago. “In the valley, where a lot of our residential work is, there just aren’t that many remodels going on,” Johnston said. “Most of our work for the first year was remodeling little bungalows in our neighborhood. Our roots are in that kind of transformational effort that a remodel is, we don’t do as many now but we always have a few.” Thirty years after starting their business and being introduced to the Methow Valley, Ray and Mary Johnston also moved from Seattle to the Methow full-time this year. “About 30 years ago we were introduced to the Methow valley, and we loved it instantly, and
started going there then and it was the beginning of a long love affair we’ve had with the place,” Johnston said.
GROWING WITH THE LAND Aside from the house itself, Wellman and Robinson said the property has many amenities. The house is situated on 30 acres and includes farm space and a large garden. The Methow Community Trail cuts through their backyard. They came to the house with a love of outdoor activities, but spending the COVID-19 pandemic on their new property has meant taking up new hobbies and skills for Wellman and Robinson. The backyard of the house has a spacious garden,
A shot of the house’s dining room before it was remodeled, above. After remodel on facing page.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHNSTON ARCHITECTS
PHOTO BY ED SOZINHO 23
now covered with several feet of snow. “We weren’t really gardeners until COVID,” Wellman said. “I’m totally into it.” Robinson took a Washington State University farming course to learn more about how to work with the land. The property has hosted herds of lambs as well. Wellman and Robinson stressed that they didn’t move to the Methow to be isolated in their home – both are active in the community and encourage other Methow transplants to get involved as well. Wellman recently joined the boards of Family Health Centers and Jamie’s Place, and Robinson is on the TwispWorks board.
PHOTO BY ED SOZINHO
ANNUAL HOME TOUR
PHOTO COURTESY OF WILL AUSTIN
Home Tour returns with up-close look at ‘ARTful Living in Twisp’
RTful Living in Twisp” is the theme of Confluence Gallery’s 19th annual Methow Valley Home Tour, scheduled for Aug. 7. The self-guided tour will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will feature eight homes centered on the art community in Twisp and the surrounding area.
The 2021 tour reprises the theme of the planned 2020 tour, which was canceled because of COVID concerns. Nearly 100 visual artists
including painters, sculptors, potters and jewelers, make Twisp an active community for artful living, a Confluence Gallery press release noted. “Whether you are crossing town limits or entering someone’s home, the presence of art is an unrivaled method of greeting and engagement. It immediately sends the message that this place is unique, you are welcome here, and we care,” local artist Perri
Howard said in the release. “The artistry and craftmanship of local architects and builders are evident in the houses featured this year. An exquisitely designed and executed cabin overlooking Twisp River valley, a sustainably built home perched on the Methow River in Twisp, and the first group of homes developed by Methow Housing Trust are examples of the creativity that flows throughout the 25
PHOTO COURTESY OF CONFLUENCE GALLERY Methow Valley,” the release said. Included on the 2021 tour is one of the nine homes designed, built and made possible by the Methow Housing Trust. “Methow Housing Trust is honored to showcase our energy-efficient, affordable homes in this year’s Home Tour,” said Danica Ready, the trust’s executive director. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets, or at the Confluence Gallery from Aug. 4
to Aug. 7 (tour participants must pick up wristband at the gallery prior to a tour). The tour is intended for adults and children 12 and older. Cost is $30; or $25 per person for carpool of four or more; or $25 per bicycle. Face coverings and social distancing are required. Tickets and wristbands are also available on Aug. 7 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Mazama Store.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CONFLUENCE GALLERY
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R E A L E S TAT E
Methow market transformed by ‘zoom town’ boom COVID response sets off unprecedented land rush BY ANN MCCREARY
he year 2020 was a game changer for the Methow Valley, when it became a mecca for people fleeing urban areas during a pandemic. The result was a land rush that drove property prices to historic highs and left behind “a blistering trail of sales and societal change in its wake,” said Dave Thomsen, a 20-year veteran of the valley’s real estate industry. The Methow Valley joined the ranks of newly created “zoom towns” – communities where people with the ability to work remotely and the money to acquire property sought refuge in more tranquil, rural destinations. The zoom town phenomenon – when office workers became
telecommuters almost overnight – has brought significant changes to beach and mountain communities that were traditionally vacation destinations. When the pandemic shut down many of the perks of urban living, like restaurants and nightlife, and made it possible – or necessary – to work remotely, people saw an opportunity to turn their vacation getaway into their new home. For the Methow Valley, that meant an influx of people coming primarily from the Puget Sound area, many with cash in
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hand. “Desire to escape crowded west side communities during the COVID-19 pandemic … fueled an historic buying frenzy in the Methow Valley in 2020. The same trend hit desirable mountain and rural destinations across the Mountain West and the country,” said Thomsen, managing broker for Coldwell Banker Winthrop Realty. Demonstrations and protests linked to the social justice movement during the summer may have added incentive for some Dave Thomsen urban dwellers to relocate, he said. “For those wanting an exodus to paradise, the shift is a dream come true. No longer must you wait to retire, start a business in the country, or juggle numerous jobs to make a go of things in the Methow Valley. Now you can move to the Methow and keep your city job, which pays citysize wages,” Thomsen said.
The COVID land rush produced a frenzied real estate market, shattering price and sales records as stressed-out buyers fought over the valley’s scarce supply of homes and land for sale. And it raised questions about how the flood of well-financed newcomers will impact the valley’s sense of community, and whether people who already live and work here will be priced out of the market.
PULLING THE TRIGGER
Many buyers had been toying with the idea of buying property in the Methow for years, but the pandemic and the resulting increase in remote work were the motivation they needed, said Anne Eckmann, broker/owner of Blue Sky Real Estate in Winthrop. “When COVID hit and businesses were required to work offsite, the game was on as to who could make the move fast enough to buy while there were still some houses for sale,” she said. “Many buyers who had been considering buying over the past 10 years all decided to pull the trigger at
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the same time.” Sales exploded in every sector of the real estate market – residential, raw land and commercial, Thomsen said. “Never before have so many financially well-qualified buyers looked at the Methow Valley as a viable, full-time or significant-time residential option. That demand, combined with a highly reduced inventory of available properties, sent values and prices soaring.” For local real estate brokers, the market was the most competitive and stressful they’ve ever seen. Bidding wars with multiple offers on properties became common as the year went on, with many properties snatched up after only a few days on the market and selling above listing price. “There’s a fear-of-missing-out feeling in the market,” said Brian Colin, broker/owner with Mountain to River Realty in Winthrop. “We’re seeing people come in with cash, no contingencies, way over asking price. We’re seeing
GRAPHIC COURTESY OF DAVE THOMSEN, COLDWELL BANKER offer review dates, which we’ve never seen before.” Review dates mean that sellers list their property and set a date to review all offers. “It feels like working in an ER
and trying to triage,” said Bob Monetta, broker/owner of Windermere Real Estate in Twisp. The market of 2020 was different than previous years in two ways, said Eckmann, who has
worked in Methow Valley real estate for 35 years. “The first was the volume of prospective buyers was off the charts,” she said. “It practically got down to ‘take a number,’ and if you don’t have cash, your odds of winning in a multiple offer situation were slim.” “The second big difference was the increased anxiety level among some buyers and sellers,” Eckmann said “Some people were exhibiting scarcity-driven behaviors, which was occasionally more difficult than usual. Difficult with a capital D.” The intense competition was “heartbreaking” for some buyers, especially those who needed financing to buy a home, Colin said. “I’ve had buyers that have been beaten out six or seven times by people who have cash.” Brokers reported fielding inquiries from across the country. “You’re going, ‘Wait, do you know where we are?’” Colin said. “One buyer admitted that shopping for property in the Methow was
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probably more a pandemic distraction than a reality,” Eckmann said. Buyers sought property with proximity to trails and recreation, inspiring views, riverfront access, reliable internet access, and an upper valley location. But faced with the reality of the local real estate market, many settled for considerably less. “Buyers that have been searching and waiting for the ‘perfect’ property seem to be willing to make more compromises than before in their property search,” Eckmann said.
As 2020 began, the local real estate market was already hot, following record sales – especially of high-end homes – in 2019 and a tight inventory of homes and land. In the early weeks of the pandemic, when business and travel was mostly shut down, real estate activity in the Methow Valley slowed as people tried to understand how
GRAPHIC COURTESY OF DAVE THOMSEN, COLDWELL BANKER the pandemic would play out. But by late spring, things began to change. “In May and June home sales were starting to heat up and we could see that our typical influx of new home listings didn’t materialize and the demand for home
sales rose dramatically,” Eckmann said. “Post-shutdown was total madness … like a frenzy,” Colin said. And it stayed that way throughout the year. “I don’t see it slowing down,” he said in early 2021. By summer, the inventory of
homes for sale was down to about 30-35, compared to about 100 three summers ago and several hundred 15 years ago, Eckmann said. In early 2021, home inventory was down to about a dozen listings, and half of those houses were priced at over $1 million, brokers reported. Raw land inventory was also depleted, with only about a dozen listings from Mazama to Carlton. Sales of raw land increased by 64% in 2020, from 104 sales in 2019 to 171 in 2020, according to an annual report prepared by Thomsen based on Northwest Multiple Listings Service data. “Strong demand and a disappearing inventory led to escalated selling prices, especially later in the year as market competition rose,” Thomsen said. The average selling price for land was $133,535 compared to $106,823 in 2019. The number of home sales rose 25% in 2020 over the previous year, from 134 sales in 2019 to 168 sales in 2020. The average
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selling price soared as well to $460,000, a $50,000 increase over 2019 prices, according to Thomsen’s report. Particularly notable was the number of homes that sold in the higher price bracket of $500,000 to $1 million, which accounted for more than half of all homes purchased in 2020, Thomsen said. “If properties were available in the lower price ranges, those would certainly have sold. But that sector of the market diminished throughout the valley. This is a seller’s market,” Thomsen said.
Affordable housing was already a significant concern to local residents and community leaders, leading to the creation of the nonprofit Methow Housing Trust four years ago to develop homes affordable to working class families. The soaring cost of homes in the Methow Valley, like other
GRAPHICS COURTESY OF DAVE THOMSEN, COLDWELL BANKER zoom town communities, puts home ownership even further out of reach for many local residents, and may force shifts in where valley residents are able to live, local realtors said. “Our blue collar workers can’t afford anything right now. The normal family home has disappeared from our market,” Colin said. And that has repercussions for local businesses that are
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already having difficulty finding and retaining employees, he said. “With little starter houses in Twisp going for $300,000 and no rentals …we’ve priced out our local population (and) that’s going to exacerbate our lack of good quality workers.” “Before this recent boom, people working in the service industry, teachers and other local professionals struggled to find
housing,” Eckmann said. “The rush caused by the pandemic will now challenge those in the middle class trades and professions to find housing. Many locals will be forced to move further down the valley, which is the housing trend that has occurred in other mountain and resort towns.” “We could be accelerating the inevitable – the culture of moving
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the working class out of the prime real estate and down valley,” Monetta said. “The worry for all of us locals is what does it do to our buying power here?” Thomsen asked. “What does it do to our children’s buying power?”
TRANSFORMING THE COMMUNITY
The land rush created by migration of telecommuters not only presents challenges in housing for local residents, but has the potential to reshape the social fabric of the Methow Valley and other small desirable communities caught up in the zoom town phenomenon. Like the Methow Valley, many of these communities “tend to value and identify with their ‘small town-ness’ and related community character,” said an article in the August 2020 issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association. “If virtual work holds the promise of a new wave of migration the way air conditioning allowed the Sun Belt to boom, a significant constraint is going to be how much these communities are willing and able to grow,” according to Realtor magazine, published by the National Association of Realtors, in a September 2020 article. For decades the Methow Valley has been a favorite place for second-home owners from the “coast,” as many locals call it. Monetta said people seeking second homes used to make up about 65-70% of his buyers. In
2020 the ratio flipped, with 6570% looking for full-time homes, he said. And, he added, a number of people who had second homes have come to live full-time or mostly full-time, and others who had land have decided to build a house. “Can you blame the new folks for abandoning the city?” asked Monetta. “I don’t, but it would be nice if there was a YouTube instructional video on how to integrate into a small community, while leaving behind the urban anxiety.” “Most of my buyers have recreated in the valley over the years, so they typically love playing in the outdoors year-round,” Eckmann said. However, she said, “many don’t understand what it takes to deal with snow all winter, that their specialty items aren’t easily available and restaurant options are limited.” “Over the decades, those that appreciate a simpler pace and lifestyle stick around and become involved community members,” Eckmann continued. “The Methow Valley has the ability to work magic on many people, softening edges and expectations. The flip side is that if a new resident isn’t bringing their employment with them, many locals have to work multiple jobs just to stay afloat.” The trends and changes that were accelerated by the pandemic aren’t likely to fade away, but will permanently transform the Methow Valley, real estate agents predict. “The association of higher
demanded related to fear of the coronavirus might lead to an assumption that demand for Methow properties will cool when/if fear of the virus fade,” Thomsen said. That assumption may not be correct for a number of reasons, he said, “not the least of which is a landmark change in the American workplace, where many employers now require employees to work from home.” “COVID was enough to make people re-evaluate their lives and realize, ‘Carpe diem, let’s do what we really want to do,’” Colin said. “And the ability to work from home has been the driving force behind that.” “This has the potential to change the texture of our community,” Thomsen said. Because of its comparative remoteness, the Methow Valley has fostered a kind of “pioneer spirit” among residents, he said. “People become interconnected … you help your neighbor. The wonderful thing about the Methow Valley is not just the mountains and scenery. It’s the community.” “Hopefully the new valley residents come for the outdoor lifestyle and stay for the community connections, and adopt the valley ethos of volunteerism and giving back,” Eckmann said. “I’m so grateful for the generosity and goodwill of many community members, yet I’m worried that the valley will become a playground only for the wealthy. It has happened across the nation in other desirable beachfront and mountain communities.”
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Doing your home work A home office is only a good idea if it’s functional BY SANDRA STRIEBY
hile most people have been happy to put 2020 in the rearview mirror, last year led to one development that’s gotten a high approval rating: working from home.
Gallup polling shows that about a third of workers now always work from home, and a quarter do sometimes. Two-thirds of those who have stayed at home during the pandemic want to continue working remotely. Tim Hammer, a principal with CAST Architecture, says that COVID “has changed the importance people place on having an office in the home ... people are seeing a greater opportunity to have a more fluid work situation, particularly in a secondhome scenario. The whole world has had a crash course in how to work remotely in teams and make it work.”
Whether you’re building, buying, remodeling, or simply rearranging space, thoughtful design can do a lot to make working at home workable. This article presents guidelines for developing a functional, productive and enjoyable Methow work space.
Choosing a place from which you can communicate with the outside world is crucial, especially if online meetings are part of your work day. Phone and broadband access are not givens in this valley. Kathy Goldberg, a broker with Blue Sky Real Estate, notes that while the telecom
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Come visit us up at North Valley Lumber for all your Big Green Egg needs. landscape is evolving rapidly, there are still places without DSL – notably up the Twisp River, in Pine Forest, and in parts of the upper valley. Buyers should “absolutely” be sure that they have the connectivity they will need, she said. Even where satellite service is available, terrain and vegetation may mean the signal can’t reach a particular building site or structure, or even a specific room within a house. A resident who recently built a house in the upper valley said, “We are fortunate that the signal is good most places on our building site, so technology did not impact the specific location, though we continue to work to optimize for better bandwidth.” Optimal bandwidth rose in importance when work that once required travel moved online, she said.
Both Hammer and Goldberg said that although many people need work-at-home space, not everyone requires or has room for a dedicated home office. “As with any choice for any aspect of your home, it’s important to have a really clear idea of how the space may be used,” said Hammer. If you are going to work from a room that will have other uses, he recommends thoroughly thinking through all of the scenarios to be sure uses and times of use won’t conflict. Having a separate room with a door you can close can be a key to focus and productivity, and a reminder to others in the house to respect your work boundaries. And it may be essential if you need to hear clearly during phone calls and online meetings. Hammer notes that interruptions can be particularly distracting
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during a video meeting. “Think about what people are seeing when they’re looking at your space,” he advises.
KEEPING THINGS SEPARATE
If you are self-employed and use a room or separate free-standing structure “exclusively and regularly” for your business, you may be able to deduct some costs, so having a dedicated office space can make financial sense. Check with the IRS at www.irs.gov/businesses/smallbusinesses-self-employed/home-officededuction or consult your accountant.
The office’s location within the house, and its configuration, can make a difference in your ability to be productive, as well. One self-employed valley resident said, “My husband and I share an office, but we keep our spaces separate and facing different directions for purposes of focus. Being separate from the main living area where the kids are keeps us on task as well.” Some people may prefer to use a separate structure to reinforce the distinction between work and personal life. A Twisparea resident who traded an office in town for an outbuilding a few dozen yards from the house said, “It’s the best of both worlds. The computer’s not in my home but it’s not far away, either. I still leave that physical location and
the space will work – and check placement of outlets, too. A wallmounted power strip can give you plenty of places to plug in without having to scramble under the desk. Think about whether you’ll need a shredder, and how much space to allow for a power back-up (another Methow essential) and a fire-proof storage box for critical records. Remember that you can use vertical space, too. Tall file cabinets and walls lined with bookshelves help make the most of a small space.
ABOUT ACCESS walk to a different place. It gives me that going-to-the-office feel.” If you work with any kind of confidential materials, you’ll need to be sure you can keep them under lock and key. Some employers may have specific security requirements, and it’s vital to be sure you can meet those. How much space you will need deserves some thought, too. If
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your work is more or less paperless, a nook may suffice. Do be sure you have enough space to accommodate properly ergonomic furniture, including whatever work surfaces you will need for the type of work you do. If you store files or reference materials, or have bulky equipment, make sure both the square footage and the configuration of
Physical access may be a consideration if, post-pandemic, clients will be visiting. You might want a separate entrance, a location near the front door, or a stand-alone building. And be sure to think through any needs for meeting space once faceto-face get-togethers become feasible. A remote worker who’s created an office in just under 50 square
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feet says meeting with a single client was possible, pre-COVID, “but I could not have more than one person visiting me in the office.” That office has been thoughtfully laid out to accommodate two four-drawer filing cabinets, 12 feet of counter space, a wall of shelves, a desktop computer, two printers, and a comfortable office chair. There’s even art on the walls, and windows with a view of the river. “There’s very little space for anything else in there. Sometimes I have to move my chair to stand where I want to stand,” says the owner. “But for one person who works alone, it’s enough.” Light is another important factor, especially in a space where you’ll spend time during hours of darkness – which can be considerable during a Methow winter. Be sure the room has good general lighting, then experiment with task lighting to meet your own needs and create an effective video experience.
Window placement is worth considering, as well. Views of the natural world can be soothing, inspiring, and provide a muchneeded mental break when you can’t be out there yourself. CAST Architecture’s Hammer says that “having a space … that can be connected to views and nature is a definite bonus” for people living and working in the Methow. “The opportunity to visually, even physically, connect an office to the outdoors is quite nice.” Hammer goes on to say, “In the current and, I assume, the postCOVID world, I believe home offices will see a lot more importance in terms of a dedicated office. Several firms have committed to remote work forces in perpetuity.” The world of work has probably changed forever, and with some planning, doing your work at home can be productive without interfering with all the other facets of life, or impinging on the pursuits that brought you here in the first place.
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A Good Neighbor welcome from the Methow Conservancy How to make good connections with community SUBMITTED BY METHOW CONSERVANCY
elcome to the Methow Valley! You’ve decided to make the Methow Valley a part of your life. It’s a special place: beautiful, rugged, fragile, resilient and complex. People have been caring for the Methow Valley for thousands of years. The Methow Valley is the traditional homeland of members of the Salish-speaking Methow Tribe, some of whom continue to make a home here. Today, we strive to continue the tradition of being a good neighbor to the land, wildlife and each other.
In the words of the infamously welcoming David Sabold (if you haven’t met Dave and Marilyn yet, don’t worry, you will!), there are many things to love about the Methow besides the scenery. Here, we all strive to be good neighbors and that power of community is palpable. We know how to take care of each
other and how to find things in common, despite our differences. We also know that our human neighbors are not the only ones that matter, and we all work hard to be good stewards and good neighbors to the land, waters, forests, shrub steppes and wildlife. The Methow Valley has not stayed wild and pastoral by accident. This is a community that believes it has a say in the future. Certainly, not everyone may agree on what the future should look like – and hearty conversation and respectful disagreement are welcome. But the Methow Valley is a place where people engage, learn, think deeply, collaborate, and know that loving a place means acting to care for it.
A REAL PLACE
Caring for this place also means caring for the people who live here. The Methow Valley is not a fairy tale. There is real
economic struggle for many families here. As this valley grows, it will be up to all of us to work together to care for the land and to also ensure a bright future for all of its residents. We know that navigating new relationships to people and place can be a bit daunting. So we’ve created a guide. Actually, it’s an update to a classic. Whether you are a newcomer yourself, or a kind soul wanting to show a new neighbor the ropes, we think you will appreciate the Methow Conservancy’s third edition of the Good Neighbor Handbook. The Good Neighbor Handbook, which will hit the presses in early spring, offers useful tips to valley newcomers who want to learn about, explore, and help cherish the Methow Valley. With input from local naturalists, builders and community leaders, the guide offers a brief introduction to a wide variety of
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topics that we hope will interest newcomers and old-timers alike. In addition to a succinct printed handbook, we are also creating an extended, online resource guide – where folks can dig deeper on a topic, or where the community can contribute dynamic, current information. The guide covers a wide range of topics: sharing your land with wildlife, caring for forested properties or shrub steppe, living by water, recreating responsibly, building thoughtfully and protecting your home from wildfire, adapting to climate change,
honoring the valley’s history, supporting local farms, enjoying the night sky, and caring for your human neighbors. We believe that all who come to know the Methow Valley intimately develop a deep love for the land and for this community. We hope that this guide will inspire our newest neighbors to learn, engage, love, and protect the things we all cherish most about this valley. If you would like to reserve a copy of the third edition of the Good Neighbor Handbook, email email@example.com.
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From the Good Neighbor Handbook Like your furry, feathered, or scaled neighbors, you may find that your human neighbors in the Methow Valley are quite diverse, and often rather unique. Some will shower you with kindness, others will perplex you, and some will drive you a little bit crazy. But sooner or later – when you get stuck in your first snowbank, experience your first wildfire, or endure a days-long power outage – you will come to lean on all of them. One of the best features of the Methow Valley is a community simply not big enough for echo-chambers or silos. You’ll find that your neighbors have wide-ranging backgrounds, personalities, and political beliefs. Perhaps by choice, or out of necessity, you will come to appreciate them for their best qualities and for what you can find in common.
valley’s nonprofits keep our community together, and they rely on people who love this place to volunteer and support them. The Volunteer Methow website (www.volunteermethow.org) is a great place to learn about these organizations and get involved. • Buy local. We love our local businesses, and we want our friends and neighbors to stay in business. You can find just about everything you need in the Methow Valley – and in PHOTO COURTESY METHOW CONSERVANCY the process, you help the local Being a good neighbor in the that serve the community. economy and get to know a loMethow Valley means holdHere are a few more tips on cal business owner. ing an open mind and opening being a good neighbor: • Reduce, reuse, recycle. In adyour heart to those around you. • Volunteer. There are more dition to being our local recyThere are many ways you can than 40 nonprofit organizations cling center in Twisp, Methow get to know your neighbors, inin the Methow Valley doing Recycles sponsors innovative cluding shopping at local busiimportant work. You’ll find that programs like “Take it Or Leave nesses, attending educational many of them offer services It” or “Repair Cafe,” which help seminars or workshops, or volthat in other places might be community members find, unteering with organizations provided by governments. The fix or share items like tools,
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PHOTO COURTESY METHOW CONSERVANCY appliances and building materials. The Senior Center in Twisp is also great for sharing or finding gently used goods. • Be a good land steward. Whether you rent or own land, you can care for the land around your home. Pull invasive weeds, plant pollinators and drought-tolerant native plants, use water efficiently, and remember that you share your land with wildlife. • Ask first. No one expects you to arrive in the Methow and know everything you’ll need to thrive! People here are happy to share their experience and knowledge with you. Simply reach out and ask – someone will help you learn more! • Be curious. Attend a presentation at the Methow Valley
Interpretive Center and learn about the original Methow people; spend an afternoon at the historical Shafer Museum; join a native plants hike with the Methow Conservancy; or keep up with local news and read the weekly Methow Valley newspaper. • Be patient. Chances are, things will be different here than wherever you came from. Resist the temptation to make this valley bend to your expectations. Methow time might be a bit slower than what you are used to, but that can be a good thing! • Choose to be friendly. The Methow Valley isn’t perfect by any means, but it is generally friendly. When in doubt, choose to be kind and assume good intentions!
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Reducing the risk from wildfire Firewise practices will protect your home and property BY KIRSTEN COOK
Welcome to Fire Country! Your new neighbors have some practical advice to help you prepare for fire season. Although your wildfire risk can’t be eliminated completely, there are many actions that you can take to reduce the risk to your life and property. Talking to your neighbors is a great way to get started. If you moved into one of the nine recognized Firewise USA communities in the Methow, congratulations. Your neighbors are committed to wildfire preparedness, and will be excited to have your help. Each of these neighborhoods has a Firewise committee that you can contact for suggestions. Several have websites with lots of great resources for you to check out. If you are outside of one of these neighborhoods, you and your neighbors can reach out to organizations like the Okanogan Conservation District, Fire Adapted Methow Valley and Methow Ready. The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Okanogan County Emergency Management and Okanogan County Fire District 6 are also here to help you be prepared (see sidebar). The most important thing your neighbors want you to know is that your new home has 45 local firefighters, mostly volunteers, 40
stretched across an area twice the size of Seattle. With that amount of ground to cover, the best way we can help them is by preparing our properties, having an evacuation plan, and obeying burn bans.
PREPARING YOUR PROPERTY
• Harden your home against embers by closing off vents and other openings with metal 1/8inch metal mesh, and replacing vegetation within 5 feet of the foundation with gravel or rock. Create defensible space (or as firefighters call it, “survivable space”) around your home by reducing the amount of vegetation within 30 feet of your structures. If you are house hunting, look for homes with metal roofs and nonflammable siding like stucco or fiber cement. You can get customized recommendations with a free wildfire risk assessment from the Okanogan Conservation District, including pre-construction assessments to help you plan a wildfire-ready home and surroundings. • Recognize that a healthy forest in the Methow means fewer trees than you may be used to. A dense forest with many small-diameter trees means your fire risk is higher and your forest is sicker. Thinning trees and reducing
Defend your home with a fire break free of all plants. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE OKANOGAN COUNTY CONSERVATION DISTRICT lower-level shrubs that can carry fire into the treetops (“ladder fuels”) helps decrease the intensity of wildfires and increases resiliency from disease and pests. Be aware that there is a right time to cut down ponderosa pine: do it at the wrong time of year and you are inviting a beetle outbreak. DNR offers free forest
health consultations to walk you through your options, and they often have funding to help with the cost of thinning. • If you are in the lower elevations of the valley, you are in the shrub-steppe ecosystem. The shrub steppe includes highly flammable plants like bitterbrush (also known as greasewood for
the way it burns hot like a grease fire) and sagebrush. You’ll want to remove or reduce these plants near the home, but do proceed with caution: it is a fragile ecosystem and very susceptible to invasion by exotic plants like cheatgrass (which also increases fire risk). The Methow Conservancy has two excellent resources, the “Shrub-Steppe Restoration Guide” and “Good Neighbor Handbook” available on its website at www.methowconservancy.org/discover.
Where they’re Firewise Recognized Firewise USA communities in the Methow: • Buttermilk (Twisp) • Chechaquo Ranch (Mazama) • Edelweiss (Mazama) • Foster Guest Ranch PD (Mazama) • Liberty Woodlands Homeowners Association (Mazama) • Pine Forest Home Owners Association (Winthrop) • Sun Mountain Ranch Club (Winthrop) • Wilson Ranch Association (Mazama) • Wolf Ridge HOA (Winthrop)
PLANNING FOR EVACUATION
• Make sure your home has a reflective address sign so that emergency responders can find you even when its dark or smoky. If you have a long driveway, you’ll need one at the junction of your driveway and the main road and one on the home itself. Always use your official e-911 address, not a lot number. You can order signs from the Winthrop Firefighters Association.
The author’s evacuation checklist, kept with her keys next to the front door. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE OKANOGAN COUNTY CONSERVATION DISTRICT • Sign up for emergency alerts, including evacuation notices, from Okanogan County Department of Emergency Management.
You can be notified by phone, text, email or all three. Be sure to update your contact info if anything changes. Be aware that a fast-moving fire could mean you only get one warning, or none at all. Don’t wait for an alert; if you feel unsafe, evacuate. • Make a plan and practice it. When an evacuation happens, your stress level will be very high and you can make it easier by being prepared. Have a “gobag” and a list of things to gather close at hand. Get to know your neighbors and let them know
when you’re here, especially if you are a part-time resident. Familiarize yourself with multiple ways out of your new neighborhood, since the main entrance could be blocked and you may have to evacuate when it’s dark or really smoky. Check to see if your neighborhood has a phone or text tree system set up for emergencies.
OBEY BURN BANS
• Recognize that the most common way humans start wildfires is with campfires and burn
Efforts are underway to improve forest health and reduce catastrophic wildfire risk by thinning overgrown forests like this one on U.S. Forest Service property adjacent to Methow communities. Photo COURTESY OF THE OKANOGAN COUNTY CONSERVATION DISTRICT
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• Okanogan Conservation District: www.okanogancd.org/wildfire • DNR Landowner Assistance Forester: jake. firstname.lastname@example.org • Fire Adapted Methow Valley: email@example.com • Methow Ready: www. methowready.org • Okanogan County Emergency Management: www. okanogandem.org • Okanogan County Fire District 6: http://okanogancountyfd6.com • Winthrop Firefighters Association: www.fireadaptedwashington.org • Washington Fire Adapted Communities: www.fireadaptedwashington.org
from DNR and burn barrels are not legal in Washington. You must have a line scraped down to bare dirt all the way around the pile, along with water and a shovel close at hand. Mornings that start out calm often become windy in the afternoon, increasing the chance that a burn pile can escape. Never leave a burn pile unattended. Finally, outdoor burning is a significant source of air pollution in our neighborhoods. Consider chipping, composting, or taking green waste to the Twisp transfer station instead. Many thanks to local fire preparedness leaders for their contributions to this list, including those from the Pine Forest, Liberty Woodlands, Edelweiss and Buttermilk Firewise USA communities, and Fire Adapted Methow Valley.
Resources for wildfire preparedness
piles. A “little campfire just this once” in the middle of the summer is absolutely not worth the risk. The 2017 Diamond Creek fire started with an abandoned campfire and burned over 128,000 acres just 11 miles from Mazama. • Know how to find burn ban information. Burn bans can be established by different entities, including the county, DNR, and the U.S. Forest Service, so it can be a bit confusing. Visit the Okanogan County website for links to each agency, and check with your municipality if you are within town limits. Typically, outdoor burning is banned from June to October, but this varies based on conditions. Burn bans in the winter are due to air quality problems and are administered by the Department of Ecology. • Even if there isn’t a burn ban, pay close attention to conditions and follow best practices if you decide to burn outdoors. Any pile larger than 4 feet wide requires a permit
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Allowing flammable vegetation this close to a home puts it at risk from even lowintensity fires. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE OKANOGAN COUNTY CONSERVATION DISTRICT
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A Methow memoir: 32 years of retrospection The Johnstons designed a lot of valley homes – including their own BY RAY JOHNSTON
hirty-two years ago, a friend brought us to the Methow Valley. John grew up in Peshastin and fished and hunted the Methow since childhood, like his father before him. He had purchased a piece of land on the north side of Mill Hill just north of Twisp. I was a west side kid with roots in the mists of Grays Harbor and my wife, Mary, was from California. Our young daughter was with us and Mary was pregnant with our son. John brought his wife (from Brooklyn) and John Jr., and their son David. We stayed at the Virginian Inn. It was a long drive, with lunch in the Skagit Valley and dinner at the inn. It was hot and we all spent the early evening in the pool. John, a banker, sported an office worker’s tan around the pool, but later, with his Wranglers on and a pair of old cowboy boots, he looked at home. We went the next morning to visit this amazing meadow flanked by a pocket of forest, upvalley of the peak of Mill Hill. The Cascade Sawtooths and the Pasayten Cathedrals graced the horizon. Mary and I and our daughter Mona thought we had found a new heaven. 44
That night we went out on the town. John and I went to Antlers Saloon and Cafe, while Mary and Bonnie went to the more genteel place, the Twisp River Pub. The old pub has since burned down, and the “new “ pub succumbed to fire also. Antlers is hopefully working towards a new incarnation at the up-valley end of Glover Street. We went on to design and build a cabin on the property for John. The instructions were that it should seem like it had always been there. And, we could only use two sizes of windows. Those who visited wondered how old it was – we had fulfilled our brief.
LOVING THE LAND
Over time, John shifted his attention to a place outside of Wisdom, Montana, and asked us to make use of the “3 bar C” house so it didn’t go to waste or become a habitat for mice. We did
Ray Johnston at home in the Methow Valley.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHNSTON ARCHITECTS.
so, and quickly fell in love with the Methow. We filled the tiny gaps that the mice entered by, fought off the bees, nailed tin can lids over the flicker holes, pulled weeds and sat on the very rustic veranda watching the sun set over Gardner Mountain. Looking up valley we could see a few lights. Now and then a
plane landed or a hot air balloon graced the distant skyline. For John, the Methow was a piece of his childhood – one with fond memories. It was also a good investment. Purchased at the height of the “Ski Wars,” John thought it would combine his love of the land with a good financial strategy. Even though
the ski resort never happened, John’s wishes were fulfilled. I will always remember John’s advice to only purchase land you love in a place that you love. That he did. We got to know the valley. Learned that Hank’s Harvest Foods was a great market, winters were quiet thanks to no downhill ski resort, and that rattlesnake season could last from late April to late October. We were lucky enough to find a project or two to help with and expanded our range in the Methow. We designed houses from Mazama to French Creek and soon realized that we needed to be here and to have our own place. We knew the Methow from a perch not far from Balky Hill, and paid little heed to the activities of Mazama or the distant Columbia River. We came to stay and to spend time on the land and under the stars. We finally found a site that matched our experience. It was a fraction of the size of John’s big spread, but fit our budget. Like the acreage
on Mill Hill, it had some pines, a meadow, a couple of aspens and a big view.
IMMERSED IN THE VALLEY We slowly made it our home. Twenty years after buying the place and 32 years after our first visit, we were able to move fulltime to the Methow. Over those years we became immersed in this place and its culture. Our clients took us up the Chewuch to the ninth hairpin on Uphill Road, to Finley Canyon, Lost River, the reaches of the Twisp River, Studhorse Mountain, the hills of Davis Lake and the Chechaquo Ranch, not to mention the private pieces of land accessed through the Thurlow Ranch. We built our modest box of a cabin, grew gardens, planted fruit trees and raised our children with the Methow as a part of our family home. Our first dog is buried here and our second roams the hills flushing grouse and rousing deer – even at the ripe old age of 16.
We worked with and became friends with the craftsmen and women of the valley. In 2014 we watched our hillside burn from the valley floor and also watched as the DC10s dropped retardant a quarter-mile from our place, saving our house and possessions. We continue to celebrate our luck through volunteer work at TwispWorks and the Methow Conservancy.
The lights in the valley have multiplied since those first days so long ago, but the place remains uniquely itself. The forces that sought a ski resort subsided and many who came with that goal were seduced by the place and went on to contribute to its sustaining character. The Methow is a place where generations of land owners work hand-in-hand with more recent transplants to preserve farm land, to maintain the quality of the river, the lakes, the valley and its amazing environment
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and to transform its communities to survive in a changing world. There is a lot of conflict and disunity in our culture these days, but most of the time in the Methow, neighbors are more important than politics, and the community bands together when faced with wildfire, floods or a pandemic. Today, COVID-19 refugees have increased the valley population in a noticeable way. The Mazama Country Store reports that summer mid-week now feels like summer weekends, and summer weekends now feel like holidays. Some who fled the city will become permanent residents, and as a few seasons pass, what now seems novel, or surprising, or annoying, will become commonplace as we adjust and settle into yet another iteration of the valley. But whatever happens, I am proud to call Twisp and the Methow my home! Ray and Mary Johnston are principals in Seattle-based Johnston Architects.
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Cascade Concrete . . . . . . . . . 35 Confluence Gallery . . . . . . . . 26 B & B Excavating . . . . . . . . . .37 J.A. Wright Construction . . . 11, 37 J. Haase Excavating . . . . . . . . 10 McHugh’s Excavating . . . . . . .39 Palm Construction . . . . . . . . .32 J. Bart Bradshaw, CPA . . . . . . . 14
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Fogle Pump . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29 MVM Quality Drilling . . . . . . . 3
WINDOWS & DOORS
Methow Valley Lumber . . . . . .45 North Cascades Builders Supply . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28
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