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garden FALL 2013

Eclectic outdoor spaces. Page 6 Published as a supplement of the Whidbey News-Times & South Whidbey Record

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House of Straw Safe from big, bad energy bills

South Whidbey Record


other Nature can huff and puff all she wants but she’ll never blow Dennis and Kathy DePape’s new house in, even if it is made of straw and located on one of Whidbey Island’s windiest bluffs. Perched on a high-bank property in Sierra, a housing community on the island’s west side near Fort Ebey State Park, the DePape’s home has a commanding view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. And that’s no accident. “We wanted ocean views without going all the way to Ocean Shores,” Dennis laughed. The Kenmore couple were looking for the perfect place to retire and actually “drove the perimeter” of Puget Sound to find just the right combination of view and sunshine. The search ended on Whidbey Island and the only thing left to do was decide what type of house to build. That also was an easy decision.

Dennis is an architect with decades of experience and he and his wife are both strong believers in sustainability. Building a home of straw — an ancient construction method — was an easy choice. “It was natural,” Dennis said. Straw-bale built homes are not grass huts. In fact, one could drive past one and never know its insides once grew in a field. And they are built out of straw, not hay, which can spontaneously combust. Built correctly and in the right environment, they can last for many years. According to Dennis, the oldest one in the United States is located in Nebraska and is about 150 years old. According to Andy Griffin, building official for Island County, strawbale homes aren’t as uncommon as some would assume. “We actually have quite a few of them,” Griffin said. See STraw, page 4

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Nearing completion, a straw-bale home sits perched on the bluff at Sierra.





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STraw CONTINUED FROM PAGE 3 While he doesn’t have an exact number, Griffin estimates there are currently about 30 on the island. One relatively new subdivision in South Whidbey is comprised mostly of straw-bale homes. It was a “popular” building technique in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but has begun to taper off, Griffin said. Construction is rather simple. The straw bales are stacked horizontally on top of each other and serve as the backbone and insulation of the home. In the DePapes’ case, 190 bales were used to build their one bedroom, 1,230-square-foot home. The straw cost $3,500. While that sounds pretty cheap, the bales are covered in stucco and the material, application and labor can be a bit more pricey than building with more conventional materials. Griffin said one challenge of a stucco-built home is that they are more rigid and that could prove to be an issue over the long term in a seismically active area, such as Whidbey Island. Some builders also believe they are prone to greater maintenance costs. The bales can sag over time and fatigue or crack the stucco. But Dennis believes otherwise, that the value will be achieved over time

Contributed photo

Built of straw bales, the inside of Dennis and Kathy DePapes Sierra home is nearly complete with a healthy-sized kitchen area. through energy savings and with less maintenance, not more. “They (straw bales) hold heat like a battery holds juice,” Dennis said. “I won’t be painting five years from now,” he added. Stucco isn’t perfect but the DePapes will be able to avoid the cost of pe-

riodic painting or having to replace more traditional siding materials over the next 30 years. Permitting was a breeze and, perhaps, one of the most compelling reasons to build a straw-bale home is that they look nice. “They aren’t straight as a string.

They look more like water or fog around a mountain. They are more organic,” Dennis said. And with walls as thick as straw bales, there is never a shortage of perfect places to sit. “Every window is a window seat,” Dennis said.

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Whidbey offers many interpretations

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arden art is a free expression for gardeners and artists on Whidbey Island. From rusted metal planters shaped like a rooster to hundred-dollar Buddha statues to massive discs used for bird baths, what people choose to place in their garden is an extension of their style. “It’s whatever you want it to be,” says Christine Johnson, a member and former president of the South Whidbey Garden Club. Johnson and her husband recently transformed their Langley home’s backyard from a grass strip to a flowing garden. It was inspired by the form a river or stream takes, winding and curving, rarely creating hard angles or straight edges. With the grass gone, they put in raised bark, native plants like salal and vine maple trees on the sides of the walkway, which flows like a waterway across the back of their wooded home. There’s even a faux tributary with a small boulder near the fence like Mount Rainier, with small stones and pebbles leading toward the walkway as if forming a stream. Creating such a look was a conscious decision by the couple, who chose to soften the angular look of their home with soft curves in their garden. To accentuate the shape of their mounded garden plots, Christine Johnson slips frog and chicken trinkets made of ceramic and metal all around their half-acre property. “I like surprises,” she says. “You have to walk around to discover some things.” Discovery is part of what Freeland Ace Hardware’s garden department has learned its customers crave, only

Photo by Ben Watanabe

Paul McClintock, Ace Hardware’s garden center purchaser, said this year’s best sellers were Buddha and pagoda statues. to an extent. Paul McClintock, the store’s garden center purchaser, said this year’s best sellers were Buddha and pagoda statues. When he tried to bring in some other large garden art that he described as “more English and Western,” customers spoke with their wallets and the traditional items sat in the store, unsold. “They said, ‘Where did all the Buddhas go?’” McClintock recalled. “We cannot keep the Buddhas in the house.” In the Northwest and particularly on Whidbey Island, McClintock said

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and letters. Farther north, Shock-N-Awe Metal Works Studio also deals mainly in metalwork. Artist Steve Nowicki creates salmon, vases, leafy vines, trellis and other pieces. The most important lesson for garden art is to have it reflect the owner and gardener. “I basically feel my yard is an extension of my living space and should reflect the multiple personalities of myself,” McClintock says.


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homeowners are fond of placing Zen icons in their gardens. The concept of Zen derived from Buddhism emphasizes enlightenment and direct insight, something that a little isolation in a garden of trees, flowering shrubs and rocks may be a bit easier to attain. There are a couple of prolific artists on Whidbey Island who specialize in pieces for gardens. On Central Whidbey, Johnathan and Jandellyn Ward run Winfield Designs in Greenbank. They excel in metalwork arbors, stakes, flower pot holders, flowers, glass ball stakes, herons, hose guides

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Backyard paradise

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f Jody and Sheila Lee ever decide to pack up their things and move, it’ll be a sad day for one busy, blue dragonfly. Whenever the Lees spend time in their backyard, it seems the dragonfly is always there, darting around, sometimes hovering right in their faces. Apparently, even a flying insect knows when life is good. And life is good in the Lee’s Oak Harbor backyard. For 16 years, Jody Lee has tinkered, trimmed, transferred and ultimately transformed his spacious backyard. Using spare wood and his green thumb, he’s turned the backyard of their modest rambler on Sparrow Drive into a private little paradise. Trees and shrubs planted years ago around the property’s borders have matured and now blend into wooden structures he’s built, creating a yard that is both hidden and enclosed. Always handy at building things, and fond of working with aged wood, Lee has constructed what appears to be

Photos by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Sheila and Jody Lee enjoy as much time as possible in the backyard of their Oak Harbor home. Over 16 years, Jody has created a mostly enclosed, private yard using trees, shrubs and structures. He has decorated with sheds with aged-wood facades that provides the appearance of a village.




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FALL2013 a village in his backyard with facades that decorate his sheds and cleverly hide wood piles and other things he stores. Not only visibly pleasing, most of the structures have function. Inside some of the sheds are old chairs and other pieces waiting to get fixed up and distressed for the Lees’ small business that sells vintage and repurposed “shabby chic” furniture and antiques. Jody can only smile when he looks back to how things started at the time he and his wife bought the foreclosed home. They had been living in a condominium and wanted to buy a house with a yard. “It was just a bare canvass, nothing in the yard at all,” Jody said. “I wanted a barn or old-fashioned feel to it. We have an antique store. We wanted a little antique feel to it. I started building little out-sheds.” Although the home’s interior is decorated in a similar vintage style with shabby chic items, the primary focus has been on the backyard. The yard butts up to a spacious wetland, inviting all sorts of birds, butterflies, bees, dragonflies and other critters into a yard full of tall, blooming flowers and tomato plants bearing large numbers of bulging fruit this summer. Jody created his own small, trickling water feature, using rocks he dug up in the yard, which lured some other rather vocal visitors. “We get tons and tons of frogs,” he said. “It’s hard to sleep at night.” But mostly, it’s just peace. They have a jacuzzi on the back deck and recently added an outdoor fireplace for night-time relaxation. Jody and Sheila are both creative sorts who work together on items for their antique store. The business is located inside the place he has worked for more than 20 years, Island Paint & Glass Company, on Midway Boulevard.

Jody and Sheila Lee’s backyard is full of vintage-style features that blend in with the natural landscape. The couple collects items to place in their yard or sell in their antique store. A water feature attracts lots of frogs from a neighboring wetland. The business is called “Shabby Stuff.” “That’s kind of our passion,” Jody said. “We take a little furniture, paint in, distress it and give it a new life.” Sheila, who works in food service for the Oak Harbor School District, said her husband can build just about anything. She remembers coming home from a weekend trip to find a newly constructed shed. See backyard, PAGE 10

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Buyer beware: Historic homes are a labor of love By MEGAN HANSEN Whidbey Examiner

There’s a lot to take into consideration when buying a home. There’s even more to think about when looking at buying a historic home. And with Whidbey Island’s lush history, there’s quite a bit of opportunity to actually live in a home that’s more than 100 years old. But is it for everyone? What should historic home buyers be aware of when looking at that charming home? For Coupeville real estate agent Janet Burchfield, it’s the basic systems in the house — plumbing, electrical, foundation. Historic homes are just that — historic. Systems break down over the years and with homes that are 100-plus years old, buyers may not know the circumstances of installations and repairs over the years. Burchfield said buyers should under-

stand they’re going to have to deal with retrofitting and replacing old systems. Old houses have old foundation. Some have field stones and beams that will need replacing. “You’re going to rip out a wall and not know what’s there,” she said. “For a buyer it’s really a trade off on location and history and charm.” “It has to be a love for them and maintaining has to be a passion.” The key to any home sale is having an inspection, but with historic homes an inspection may not reveal all issues. For new historic homeowner Stacy Larsen, everything that could go wrong seemingly did. Larsen fell in love with her 1894 historic home located on Madrona Way in Coupeville more than three years ago. “It had so much character,” she said. “It’s my dream home.” In August 2012 her dream became a reality and her and her husband,

Megan Hansen/The Whidbey Examiner

Above: Stacy Larsen purchased this historic home in August 2012. It was built in 1894. Left: Stacy Larsen shows some of the work done in her new owned historic home. Opposite page: Some older wiring still remains in the home, but most had to be redone. Bill, finalized the purchase. The loan process wasn’t easy, taking roughly six months, to secure the VA loan. Through the sellers and the VA loan

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It also noted some painting and roofing repairs were needed. The first week in the home, Larsen said she was eager to start making the home hers. They started to paint and stripped old floors. That first week they brought in an electrician. The domino effect started from there. He started finding more and more electrical issues, Larsen said. Years of self wiring had created a mess of an electrical system. Most of the electrical system had to be replaced that first week. Part of the VA loan required a moisture barrier be installed in the foundation. As workers moved through the tiny crawl space, bumping into the old, galvanized plumbing caused it to burst. Roots from trees grew into the sewer lines. Within the first week, the Larsens spent $11,000 in plumbing and electrical repairs. Week two — the kitchen stove goes out. Week three — one of two propane stoves used to heat the house goes out. The broken stove wasn’t up to code. In order to install the new one, they had to demolish an existing internal chimney inside the walls of the house. Within the first 20 days inside the home, the family had depleted resources. “We had all these design ideas,”

Larsen said. “But we ran out of money. “A year in the house and we still haven’t painted and done what we want.” And she said she knows there’s still more work to be done. The other stove has about another two years of life and the roof on the barn will need to be replaced. “Internal systems in a house are crucial,” Larsen said. “We knew they needed work, but they all went out in the first month.” “I think ours was a worst-case scenario. It truly was like the movie ‘The Money Pit.’” Even though Larsen’s dream home became a nightmare for a while, she said she doesn’t regret the purchase. “It is absolutely still my dream home,” she said. “You can feel it had a good history here.”

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She’ll help with the artsy stuff around the yard, but takes control when it comes to the vintage interior design of the home. “The crazy thing is his mind works 24-7,” Sheila said. “It’s nonstop, his wheels are spinning, and pretty soon I come home and he’s built something. “He’s out there rain or shine.” “If I don’t have a project, I’m not happy,” he said. Jody believes he got that busy-bee, crafty gene from his dad and his environment growing up.

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“When I was little, my grandparents had kind of a farm and all the old barn wood and I loved it,” he said. “So I thought I kind of wanted to recreate that.” Behind every shed and every decorative item in their yard is a story. He remembers where he found pieces. That is, the ones he can find. Jody planted ivy around a dying apricot tree once and watched the vines go wild. The vines engulfed the tree as well as the antique sled attached to it so that you can no longer see the sled. Odd things like that are part of the yard’s charm. “This is where I come down from life,” Jody said. “This is my getaway. It’s serenity to me.”

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It’s been quite some time since you’ve bought new carpeting for your home, and it is starting to show. What was once soft and stain free is no longer. It’s time you replace the carpeting, and while there are many factors to consider from pile cut to fiber to performance rating, the one that has got you stumped is color. You know you don’t want white or black carpeting, but beyond that, you have no idea. Carpeting can be costly, and once you purchase it, there’s usually no turning back. You’re stuck with the color you selected, so it better be right. Here are some tips to help you through the carpet color dilemma. What is the size of the space? Generally, lighter colors open up a space, while darker colors close it in, making for a cozier feel. While dark colored carpeting will hide more stains, it could make your small spaces appear even smaller. How much traffic does the space receive? While lighter colors are more easily soiled than darker colors; darker colors will show dust and lint. If the room where you are replacing the carpet receives a lot of use, you might want to consider a color in the medi-

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Lighter colors open up a space, while darker colors close it in, making for a cozier feel. um range to minimize the appearance of dust, dirt and lint. What is the purpose of the space? Bright-colored carpeting might prove a real distraction in a room intended for work or relaxation such as a home office or bedroom. It might do wonders, however, in a playroom or workout space, adding to the energetic feel.

How is the space designed? If you are satisfied with the design and plan to live with it for a long time to come, you might want to choose carpeting that will enhance it, such as an Oriental patterned carpet for an Asian-inspired dining room. If, on the other hand, you like to change things up, then you might to opt for a neutral colored carpet. That way, you won’t have to worry about designing around the carpeting. What kind of flow do you want to create in the space? Some people want a continuous flow from room to room and flooring is one of the best ways to create this. If you have wall-towall carpeting throughout your home and you want to keep the flow continuous, stick to one color. Just make sure the color varies somewhat from that of the walls and furniture, else you will end up with one big box. Most importantly, what color do you like? Choose a color that appeals to you that you can live with for a long time to come. Take home samples and review them at various times of the day in different types of light to get a real sense of how they will look in your home. What looks like an elephant gray at the store may look more like a pewter in your home.

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Home and Garden - Fall 2013 Edition  


Home and Garden - Fall 2013 Edition