I have clients, two forty-something gentlemen, one a pony tailed multi-generational Italian from New York, the other a quiet, soulful self-described hippie and founder of Seattle’s first vegan restaurant in years past. They are remarkable men with whom it is a delight to work. Mike, Italian/New Yorker to the core, hyperactive, whip-smart with terrier-like energy levels, is the artisan, the “house artist”. A natural athlete who went to national championships in three sports, his drive and enthusiasm are infectious, matched only by phenomenal talent as a builder and craftsman. At one time a shipwright, Mike combines a level of attention to detail with keen business prowess and general contracting deftness. He’s the most talented builder I’ve met in my career.
Jon, Mike’s business partner, is the epitome of “laid back”, the perfect counter-weight to the combustible builder. A musician, crooner of smooth rock love songs spiced with reggae flair, he is unflappable. Never without a smile, Jon is someone who, when asked how life is will always tell you it’s “good”. He’s pragmatic, the numbers guy; urging his partner to take time, spend the extra dollar and do it right. Between them, they are building what I believe will be Seattle’s finest Five Star Built Green remodeled home.
“Built Green” is defined as “an environmentally-friendly, non-profit, residential building program of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, developed in partnership with King County, Snohomish County, and other agencies in Washington State.”
Earning the Five Star designation requires builders to meet the highest and most exacting in environmentally sensitive building standards including but not limited to energy efficiency in the forms of advanced framing/extra insulation, installation of a high efficiency water heater system, efficient household appliances and air sealing. Indoor air quality requirements include using a low-pile or less allergen attracting carpet, low toxic paints and finishes and efficient ventilation. To conserve natural resources, builders are advised to deploy materials such as recycled plastic lumber or plastic/wood composite, engineered wood (laminated veneer, wood I-beams and I-joists, etc., fiber cement siding, brick, and scrap building materials – as well as posting a job-site recycling plan to decrease loads sent to the landfill). Water quality protection is implemented by employing porous paving schemes and utilizing rainwater collection strategies. Further to water quality protection is “Low Impact Development”, described as storm water management by means of “mimicking a site’s predevelopment hydrology by using design techniques that infiltrate, filter, store, evaporate, and detain rainwater runoff close to its source.”
In a metaphorical sea of plastic boats, dinghies and oil-spewing old tugs, Mike and Jon’s project is the gleaming wooden schooner, sails unfurled and silhouetted against the setting sun. It rocks! Each day, they bring their infectious joy to the site. Not to sound too naive or Pollyannaish, they are builders who often utter the edgy superlatives one would expect. However, having said that, there’s something special in the air with these two. Even their finish carpenter is a surprise. Typically dust covered and paint speckled, he brings the knowledge and expertise of his MBA degree to the worksite (having owned and run a very successful import business in Mexico before 9/11 dried up his product supply chain), sharing with his bosses insights on business theory and philosophy. He drives a classic Jaguar.
The house, built in the early 1900s, was in less than stellar repair at the time of their purchase for which I was their agent. We had competed against twenty eight buyers on two other properties before discovering this unique opportunity. Upon closing and the inaugural “look around”, we found in the basement behind a plywood wall a dusty, cobweb covered suitcase. In it was someone’s stamp collection, obviously gathered over many years and with great love and care. Contained within was also an army enlistee’s dress coat from World War Two, secreted away perhaps decades before. Mementos of years and memories passed. As if to anoint their project, the son of the coat’s former owner strolled by one day. Introducing himself as someone who had lived there as a child long ago, teary-eyed he was reunited with his father’s belongings, blessing the builders endeavors in the process.
What impresses me most about Mike and Jon is their ethic, their desire to craft a home which is not just classically designed, environmentally friendly, bordering on indestructible by today’s standards, and most importantly hand built with the love and attention to detail of true artisans. Indeed, detail is everything in this house from the bead board soffits with handmade Edwardian-style rafter arms to reclaimed hardwoods from one of Seattle’s historic old high schools. No finish work is left unattended. Even the shut-off valves for the closed system hot water radiant heating pipes are presented in a tidy, convenient vertical position like so many soldiers standing at attention.
Once a ramshackle, teetering old home, the last vestige of a family’s memories, it is now a gleaming new beacon of what is possible in today’s increasingly environmentally sensitive world of construction. Not every builder is an artisan, nor inclined to take on the time, cost and attention necessary to achieve such artistry. However, it’s comforting to know that out there exists at least one team intent on bringing their excellence in art and ecological sensibilities to the craft of home building. I won’t mention their company today, as final touches on the property are still being applied. When the “ship” launches you may be certain I’ll give the boys a public plug.