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Closer to the alpacas: Couple moves down the mountain, with help of family builder friends

By on August 24, 2019 in Featured Homes with 0 Comments
Siting the home for the best views, while allowing for wind and sun, was an important step. The entire alpaca operation is visible from the tall windows, and the owners enjoy summer’s sunny mornings and shady evenings on the east-facing patio, at right. Photo by Travis Knoop

This is one of the homes on the Building North Central Washington’s 2019 Home Tour and Remodeling Expo. 

Tour dates are Sept. 13 – 15, with 11 homes. Visit: www.buildingncw.org/events for more information and to buy tickets for Chefs on Tour on Sept. 12 and for the tour itself.

Story by Susan Lagsdin

Photos by Donna Cassidy

It was the Monteith brothers who built a home for Sue and Randy Steensma.

But it was the alpacas that moved them down the mountain.

The home’s front entryway introduces visitors to the strong dark beams and rockwork that’s repeated inside. Sidelights at the door offer the first peek at the Horse Lake hillside straight across the valley.

Sue became enamored of alpacas in 2005, and the original four darlings kept at their high-up Eagle Rock home expanded enough that they purchased some (not very) nearby acreage for more. And more, as the business of breeding and raising the animals grew.

She doesn’t remember the final straw, but the inconvenience of driving twice a day to check on the animals at their big alpaca pasture at the base of Lower Monitor Road motivated the couple into architect Brad Brisbane’s office, sketching traffic patterns and computing square footage of a new house.

The 12-acre piece they’d purchased in 2010, the terraced open end of a hillside orchard, was always intended as a place to downsize, and the time had come. 

And what better choice of builder than their own son’s buddy from high school and his brother? They naturally chose Monteith Construction. (The couple also encouraged their new favorite builders to try for this year’s Home Tour, first time.) 

Parts for the ornate stair railings “came in a million different pieces” said Mike Monteith, but all agree they came together in a simple, functional design that suits the style of the house.

Fast closing in on 40, John and Mike Monteith, who Sue calls “the boys,” have been building quality houses on their own for five years, after 12 years apprenticing with and employed by builders Scott and Gary Isaacson. 

Working as family friends could put special pressure on a builder and owner alike, but John and Mike heartily agreed with Sue’s first description of the relationship. “It was smooth… easy… wonderful!” She went on, “If I couldn’t make a decision, they’d always help me.” 

John said, “We loved having her here, sometimes twice a day. It was so easy to say, ‘come take a look’ and try things out before we got too far.” They even mocked up a fireplace surround, and a kitchen island, for her approval. 

They built or oversaw every detail, pleased for a final walk-through just in time (that brought a collective “whew” from the trio) for the Steensmas to host the 2018 Christmas party for Randy’s company, Honey Bear Tree Fruit.

And what about the pressure of being brothers, close in age, different in temperament and working together all day for months at a time? 

The master bath continues the home’s color scheme in its tilework and features knotty alder wood with maple stain, a coordinating constant throughout the house on doors, all the wood trim and the cabinetry.

John explained that growing up in Swakane Canyon, they’d become each other’s best friend. “There was nobody else — we depended on each other. People are always surprised that we get along so well — and we have from the time we were kids.”

The brothers were pleased with the opportunity to build a friend’s home, and they found it a satisfying process that matched their own work ethic. 

With a 22-foot ceiling opening up the main living area for the expanse of light and views, the lower foyer and kitchen ceilings offer a cozy contrast. Here Sue shares a few building stories with John.

Mike said, “I don’t think that there is anything that we would change. We take a lot of pride in our work and are very hands-on with the entire project from start to finish.” John added, ”We’re always here on the job, 40 hours a week — that’s something we learned a long time ago from the Issacsons.” 

Three major features of the project were a well-researched and deliberate choice: the rock facing, the woodwork and the floors. 

The earth colors of the outside rock, the interior fireplace and dramatic vertical beams match the earth tones of their hillside site. Inside, decorative rock was precisely cut to fit “dry stacked,” while exterior rock is securely anchored with grout. Soft grey wall colors were pulled from the rock palette. 

Also lending continuity was the untypical consistency of the full-house window and door trim and all the doors and cabinets themselves. Sue searched wood shops on her own for colors and became enamored of the grain, glow and tone of this particular combination: knotty alder with a walnut stain. It’s everywhere, and it works. 

Sue Steensma fully enjoyed working with builders John Monteith, above, and Mike Monteith, left, friends of the family from way back when and now again.

The choice of hand-scraped white oak for all the floors, with appropriate touches of soft carpeting, lightens the all-over look. 

Some favorite items were included by the architect, some added by the builder. 

As the house neared completion, John and Mike constructed one more beam to anchor the living room entrance, the deeply coved master suite ceiling, a wall fashioned from an old silo, bedroom window seats, delicate wrought iron stair rails, patterned patio concrete. They even built the big family-sized dining room table. 

What visitors tour will be a Northwest-craftsman style 3,400-square foot home with a distinctive presence and an easy floor plan. 

But long before the walls and roof and the exquisite finishing details (that’s John Monteith’s favorite part) were in place, the groundwork of the house was the most rigorous challenge. 

The view from the wall of front windows is of the barn and alpacas grazing serenely in the fields.

The Monteiths swapped out overhead power lines for 1,200 feet of underground, re-routed the access road to the top of the house site, and on an engineer’s advice poured 12-inch foundation walls. A terraced lawn and rock wall at the ditch side of the home seemed simple by comparison.

But that’s all backstage, over and done — what brings pleasure to the Steensmas every day is not about dirt, rock and concrete; it’s the south view to the foothills, the flow of the house, the natural colors, the functionality of each room. Storage space is generous, parties and big family gatherings are a breeze.

Equally pleasurable is the much-improved access to the big barn and pastures, which are well-tended and scenic in their own right. 

Sue pointed out a pair of binoculars hanging on a hook in the patio. “It’s so easy to see every single one of the alpacas whenever I want to.” 

Two years ago, she drove a few miles to tend her flock; now it’s just an easy stroll down from the patio. 

Travis Knoop is a local real estate photographer working in Central Washington. More of his work can be found at 

www.TravisKnoopPhotography.com.

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