The Cliff House gets as close as it can to the water— and to the owners’ original vision
We don’t think you can see Russia from Frank and Kristi Martin’s back deck, but alert little eyes certainly can spy lots of hilly landmasses from their gloriously high-up home in Anacortes, Washington.
“Guemes, Cypress, Blakely, Decatur, Lopez — in the distance, Orcas,” Frank says, pointing out a who’s who of rock-star islands. “And this is supposedly the only place in town you can see both ferry docks (to Guemes Island and to the San Juans).”
Stretching securely along an elevated sliver of Old Town, the Martins’ home takes a decidedly modern viewpoint as well as an advantageous one — and, in doing so, has taken a couple of prizes, too.
“We used all local craftsmen, from our architect, Brooks Middleton, to our builder, Nels Strandberg (of Strandberg Construction),” says Frank. “Their efforts were rewarded, as they won two awards from the Skagit/ Island Counties Builders Association, including Project of the Year.” (The second was for “singlefamily residential, 3,001 square feet and above.”)
Among their winning efforts: siting this one-ofa-kind inhabitable observatory more than 50 dramatic feet above the Guemes Channel.
“With our engineering, 30 pilings were built into the foundation, within 10 feet of the marine buffer,” says Frank. “Kristi and I refer to it as The Cliff House— we’re as close to it as you can get.”
The doubly triumphant project began, as so many do, with a property bursting with potential, and an internet-inspired dream primed for a little popping.
“There had been a 1950s home here, on kind of a plus-size lot,” Frank says. “A lot of people had looked but didn’t have a vision. We bought it and had a vision: We wanted to build a modern house.”
The Martins showed
Middleton some photos they’d found online of a particularly visionary modern home in Cape Town, South Africa: “high ceilings, lots of glass, right on the edge of the water,” Frank says.
Middleton remembers responding: “That looks expensive.”
To which Frank responds: “Brooks brought us back to reality.”
Still, this dreamy reality of a Cliff House checks almost all the Martins’ original wishlist boxes — just not the hoped-for infinity pool, which the city nixed, Kristi says. Instead, anyway, “We’re in the hot tub every single day.”
“One of the main things we wanted was a woodburning fireplace,” says Kristi. “An elevator, we really needed. The laundry chute Brooks designed. A big walk-in closet. A big (kitchen) island.”
Adds Frank: “Good entertaining spaces. A big built-in bookcase just outside the kitchen. We were really big in terms of a no-maintenance exterior: glass, steel, corrugated metal, concrete.”
In other words, Middleton says, “They came in and said, ‘We want a cool house.’ That sounded fun to me.”
Know what else is fun? Happy, beyond-yourimagination surprises are fun.
“There are so many things I thought never even could happen,” says Kristi. “The paneling, the glass shelves floating, our big deck, a built-in TV in the floor. Two doggy doors in exterior walls (for little Cleo). There’s so much glass, but he found the perfect spots. Everything in this house has Brooks’ name on it.”
About that paneling: The word sounds so standard, but this is anything but. This is a laminate manufactured in Italy by CLEAF that “comes in giant sheets,” says Middleton. It coats the walls with the richness of hot fudge. It fronts the cabinetry in melty French vanilla mixed with just one dollop of hot fudge. It’s warm and really, really cool, and you can’t not touch it.
And then — surprise! — it takes on a whole different dimension.
“We have a lot of art pieces,” says Frank. “Brooks came up with a way to frame our pictures: Sheetrock on the paneling. We’ve never seen Sheetrock as a frame inserted in paneling.”
Says Kristi: “Every picture just kind of fit — a picture framed in drywall. I just couldn’t imagine it. It happened, and I said, ‘Oh, I get it.’ ”
Even if Russia remains a bit distant, there’s a lot to take in at the Martins’ modern Cliff House — including that special sensation of living on the edge.
“Here, you feel like you’re floating,” says Kristi. “We had a houseboat on Lake Union, and we lived in five houseboats the last 10 years. Now I like pulling into the garage. I’m still on the water.”
The view from the living room in Frank and Kristi Martin’s home is unobstructed.
“In this room, we wanted shelving for pictures and knickknacks,” says homeowner Kristi Martin. “They’re floating glass shelves, and they look amazing.” Adds architect Brooks Middleton: “They’re pinched in from behind.”