Whatcom Magazine

Whatcom Homes: Fairhaven home shows Japanese influence

A galvanized farm water tank serves as an outdoor soaking tub at Ross Grier’s house in Fairhaven. Grier grew up in Japan, where a wooden soaking tub called an “ofuro” is a traditional home feature.
A galvanized farm water tank serves as an outdoor soaking tub at Ross Grier’s house in Fairhaven. Grier grew up in Japan, where a wooden soaking tub called an “ofuro” is a traditional home feature. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

When it came time to design and build Ross Grier’s house overlooking Fairhaven, his years growing up in Japan and his background in timber framing would both play a part in the end result.

So would his support for energy-efficiency and recycling, as well as his preference for using materials in as natural a state as possible. Then add his interest in how a house fits in with its setting and contributes to the visual legacy of the community.

“Buildings should be well-considered and well-done,” Grier says. “This is an attempt to do that.”

Grier has a professional interest, too; he is one of the owners of Bellingham Bay Builders, which built his house on its long and narrow lot a decade or so ago.

Grier was drawn to the hillside property’s proximity to Fairhaven and its view of Bellingham Bay and the San Juan Islands.

“To our delight, the south view of the Chuckanuts was a real bonus,” he says.

The three-story house has a separate living space on the bottom floor for use by family or renters. The street-level entrance leads to the middle floor, with bedrooms and bathrooms. The top floor has an open-floor design and saves the best views for the living room and kitchen. The top-floor deck wraps around the west and south sides.

Japanese influences abound. Grier wanted a notable main entrance, because people in Japan always use the front door.

“The experience of entering the house had to be special,” he says.

His house features a front porch, and a pivoting front door that’s a 4-by-8-foot slab of broadleaf maple.

On the middle-floor, a galvanized farm water tank serves as Grier’s “ofuro,” the soaking tub common to Japanese homes. Several times a week, Grier fills the tub with hot water. Per Japanese custom, he dips a small basin into the tub and uses the water to cleanse himself before he climbs in to soak at the end of the day.

The tub’s setting is open to the outdoors, with a view of the San Juans. On a wall behind the tub, a Japanese ink painting portrays the Chuckanut Mountains and Mount Rainier.

His fondness for natural materials is most apparent in the living room, where a broadleaf maple about 12 feet tall acts as a support beam. The bark was carefully peeled away to reveal the tree’s formerly hidden contours.

The house uses recycled timbers, including a 46-foot-long piece salvaged from a Portland, Ore., warehouse and used for the house’s ridgeline.

The master bathroom has a no-wall shower with pebble flooring. The pebbles has some texture to prevent slipping, but enough substance to massage the soles of the bather’s feet.

“Its supposed to offer some foot therapy,” Grier says.

To save energy, the walls and windows are well-insulated, and rooftop solar panels produce electricity. Natural gas-heated water flows through piping in the floors, and a natural gas fireplace in the living room stands ready to help take the chill off.

“It’s a privilege to live here,” Grier says.

Home Makers

General contractor: Bellingham Bay Builders, 360-733-7500, bellinghambaybuilders.com

Architect: Greg Robinson, 360-940-0180, gregrobinsonarchitect.com

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