My Houzz: A Zany Cottage Rental Becomes a Coastal Bohemian Beau
Houzz at a Glance
Who lives here: Trace Farrell, a writer and massage therapist
Location: Oak Harbor, Washington
Rooms: Two bedrooms, one bath, plus basement
Age of Home: Built in the 1940s
Built in the 1940s and added onto over time, the one constant of the home is its stunning bluff-side location overlooking the northern point of Puget Sound. Drier than Seattle 30 miles to the south, the home’s location certainly helped this reluctant renter enjoy her new location. “The light is amazing,” she says. “In fact sometimes it’s too bright: something I never thought I’d say.”
A tree, a bench and a rustic fire pit are all that are needed when you have such a sweeping eagle’s eye view. The bench was constructed from washed-up wood hauled up from the beach, and was designed with a back which can be moved to either side, making the bench work for both water viewing or enjoying the fire pit.
Inside, the home is filled with myriad collections and all things found; a carefully-curated space borne of a discerning eye and good old hard work. “I was working within a system of limits,” Ferrell explains. “Without money, I basically looted, scavenged and pillaged everything you see here.” This meant one and a half years of constant home improvement projects. “As I started to really work on the house, it just spiralled into more and more work,” she says. “I scraped and sanded a lot: a whole lot. And I’ve painted each room multiple times.”Painting on File Cabinet: by Buffy Cribbs
The original hardwood floors had been painted over with red semi-gloss paint. The process of exposing them became indicative of Ferrell’s relationship with the house: “I realized while working on the floors that I didn’t want to take every last bit of paint off. If I took off or left on more, the floors wouldn’t have a voice anymore.” she says the house began, in this way, to insist upon things. “Everything here has happened to me, “Ferrell says. Every time she had an idea of what the house needed, it often didn’t feel right in the end.Coffee Table: Vintage. From a neighbor’s garage sale. She had brought the table from Kansas City as a young bride.
Originally Ferrell had a palette in mind for the house, but the house would have none of it. “I’m not a particular fan of blues,” she says, “but it’s the color this house wanted.” Restricted to using paint she was given or found, Ferrell ended up mixing her own wall colors. “There was a lot of standing around, looking at sight lines; looking from room to room,” she says.Side Table: Found in pieces on the sidewalk.Black Chair: One of two bought through an ad for $15.
The result is a range of light, seaside blues in the home’s living room, family room and stairwell. The bureau-already a wonderful, worn light sea-blue-was salvaged by a friend from a mechanic’s shop, and painted inside with flowers. “I traded my friend a massage for it,” Ferrell says. It now comfortably houses a TV and stereo.
The process of cleaning, sanding, painting; of undoing layers of grime in some places and paint in others ultimately brought Ferrell to a kind of peace with the house. “I wasn’t about to take the house down to the lathe,” she says. “I asked myself at what point do I give in and accept the house for what it is? Even as I work on the house, it’s in a process of breaking down. Some day this house will literally fall to pieces. I like to see that process show through,” she says. I like to see the entropy of life.”A corner of the living room has become a writing office, created out of a collapsed outdoor table from her neighbor’s yard. “It’s very powerful for me, this table. It’s committed to its own process of devolution,” she says.
Behind the writing desk a wall of built-in shelves hold more cherished items, placed just-so to bring maximum enjoyment. “People have a strong reaction when they see this space,” Ferrell says. “I think it’s the narrative resonance: it resonates spatially, even if they don’t know the stories behind things.”Tarot cards line the wall behind containers collected over the years, which in turn hold loved items and those found through travel, such as dove eggs, bones, feathers and art made by friends.
A compact space at odds with the often-touted great room concept, the living room connects directly with the petite dining corner, which in turn connects to the original galley kitchen. “I know a lot of people like large spaces,” Ferrell says, “but I like little rooms. They feel so sweet.”Framed Print: ‘The Bird and the Bride’, Sarah Landwehr
Two steps across a tiny hall brings you from the kitchen back into the living room, which houses a collection of books in three truly unique bookshelves. Designed and built by Ferrell’s ex-husband, the shelves are held together with pipe clamps, a horizontal slip of wood and a small L-clamp, “floating” on the wall without use of a base. They’re “kinda miraculous,” she says. And they also free up valuable floor space.
The master bedroom is a cozy, eclectic refuge, with a vintage parasol drawing attention away from a less-than-satisfactory ceiling, and collections of hats and dresses working double-time as decoration. The dresses hang on a bamboo screen fully opened to hide a wall opening. The pictures are bird paint-by-numbers found in New York City’s Chelsea Market, and framed. Ferrell elected to fully remove the room’s red floor paint, finishing the floors to draw out its warm tones.
As someone who recognizes the specialness of her home on the bluff, Ferrell likes to share the home with others. “I’ve tried to loan it out a lot,” she says. “It often feels like too much for just me; I want to share it.” The home’s effect on others has been consistent. “This is an unconventional home. At first I didn’t know how people would react to it. But those who’ve stayed here have loved it. They almost always say the same thing. They tell me “This place is magical.”