A new cottage industry on Ericksen

Denise Grannan is among the first occupants to move into the new Ericksen Cottages development north of Winslow Way. - ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo
Denise Grannan is among the first occupants to move into the new Ericksen Cottages development north of Winslow Way.
— image credit: ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo

Denise Grannan and husband Greg Diamond looked for all the world like the young couple on the way up the housing ladder, having gone from a Chicago loft to a 2,900-square-foot home on Bainbridge.

But last summer, they decided to climb back down. They sold their house in the Brookfield subdivision, “camped out” in an apartment for a couple of months, then moved two weeks ago into one of the 11 new 1,050-square-foot Ericksen Cottages.

“Our family and friends thought we were going crazy, because this is just not the typical thing to do,” said Grannan. “The usual thing is to go for the McMansion.”

The cottage is snug but functional for a family of three-plus-large-dog.

There’s room for six places around the dining-room table, which is immediately adjacent to the comfy chairs pulled up in front of the TV cabinet.

Son Nicholas has enough floor space around his bed for playing. And while there’s not a lot of extra room around the bed in the upstairs master, a loft area provides space for reading or for a small office.

“I was a little nervous going in to see if it was going to work, mostly about the kitchen, but it worked fine,” said Grannan.

The family got rid of a fair amount of stuff when they moved – a purge, Grannan called it – but they have gotten everything in the cottage except the books, a problem they’re still mulling.

“We don’t have a living room, a dining room or a library, and our guest bedroom is the Island Country Inn,” Grannan said.

They are, she acknowledges, city folks, who had actually thought about moving into Seattle to get their urban “fix.” But they found an alternative in the cottages, located on a lower Ericksen lot of less than an acre.

Providing an alternative to the big house is the whole point of the cottages, according to co-developer Dave Gilles.

“We were aiming at empty-nester types whose kids are gone and who want to downsize,” Gilles said. “These are easy to take care of.”

The project was a joint venture among Gilles, who owned the land, architect Charles Wenzlau and Jim Soules of the Cottage Company, who had done a highly praised cottage project in Langley, on Whidbey Island.

“After I bought the property, I rented it for a couple of years trying to figure out what to do,” Gilles said. “I knew Charlie, and after we started talking, we met Soules, then went to Langley and looked at that project. While those were a little small – some of them are only 650 square feet – we know something like that would work.”

The small footprint of a cottage meshes with the historic older homes along lower Ericksen, Gilles said.

“We could have put a big mixed-use building on it to try to maximize the profit, but we wanted to build something we could be proud of in keeping with the scale of what is around here,” he said.

The 11 two-story cottages are arrayed around a central lawn. The two- and three-bedroom homes each have two bathrooms, a kitchen that opens into a single all-purpose room, a small fenced yard and a front porch.

“The porches are 8-by-10 feet – as big as a room,” Wenzlau said.

All are heated primarily by a fireplace-type gas stove in the main room, with supplemental baseboard heat in the bedrooms, which Grannan reports hasn’t yet been needed.

By summer, the courtyard should be a colorful site. The common sidewalks are already planted with perennials and winter-blooming camellias, planter boxes are bolted to each porch railing, and a layer of mulch has been spread on the yards to invite gardening.

All the parking is in garages on the south edge of the property.

“This is what really makes the project work, keeping the cars out of the center,” said Wenzlau. “We don’t bring the driveway to the house. Everyone walks in through the garden.”

Each cottage gets one covered parking space in a garage, which also has separate closets to store skis, golf clubs, bikes, or anything else that doesn’t have to come into the house.

A common house, currently under construction, will have a small kitchen facility and a work bench. It’s both a project area and a space that could be used for a larger dinner party than one cottage could accommodate, Wenzlau said.

Seven of the 11 cottages have been sold through the Cottage Company, and four remain available. Age range of the buyers varies, Gilles said, but so far, Grannan and Diamond are the only couple with a child.

“We’d love it if someone with a child bought one of the other ones,” Grannan said.

At $320,000 to $340,000, the cottages are not inexpensive, particularly on a square-foot basis. That reflects, in part, the relatively high-end construction being done by Steve Deines and Craftsman Builders, and in part the high costs of in-town land.

In order for cottage housing to become a partial answer to the city’s need for smaller and more affordable houses, Wenzlau believes they need to be allowed outside of Winslow’s core area. An ordinance to allow cottages in medium-density residential zones has been drafted, but hasn’t moved through the Bainbridge City Council yet.

Wenzlau believes the Ericksen Cottages will make or break the concept.

“If people like this, I think they’ll be less afraid of the idea elsewhere,” he said.

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