Indoors and out

The Dernbachs’ residence revels in its waterfront locale, ambience.

Staff Writer

Rick and Kathy Dernbach’s deck was the view seat for Tuesday’s storm.

Black clouds moved in; as thunder growled and the wind freshened, scudding whitecaps offshore created the illusion of forward motion, as if the jutting deck topped a schooner rather than the Manitou Beach home.

The impression was reinforced by the configuration of the site, which features a wide swath of lawn that eddies around islands of driftwood, rock and pampas grass as it falls away toward the water.

As the thunder grew louder, the family beat a strategic retreat.

“Guess we’d better go in,” Kathy Dernbach said, “before the rains come.”

Once indoors – the residence is one of six to be featured on the May 8 home tour, sponsored by Bainbridge Performing Arts – one doesn’t feel closed off from the natural setting. The design is intended to merge outdoors and in, an important theme of the couple’s dream home.

“They wanted an open plan that brought in the expansive views and incorporated the outdoors,” architect Ronald Holsman said, “so I used French door and floor-to-ceiling glass.”

The peripatetic Dernbachs moved to Bainbridge island three years ago. A career that took them all over the globe, with 16 moves in 36 years, made building their house particularly meaningful.

Large without being grand, the 4,500-square-foot house welcomes guests – and family.

At a time of life when many couples downsize, the Dernbachs made the decision to build in more space to accommodate kids and grandkids.

It’s easy to envision youngsters running through this home, where kitchen, dining room and great room are defined without being closed off.

“We downsized once a few years ago, and it didn’t work for us because we couldn’t get the whole family together,” Rick Dernbach said. “We kind of wanted to have a ‘retreat house,’ where the kids could come and just relax, and the grandkids could run around and be on the water.

“It’s wonderful to have them in here, all running around.”

One of the Dernbach’s sons lives in Seattle and often makes weekend visits with his wife and 18-month-old child. Their other son frequently flies up from California with his young family.

Building guest suites and children’s rooms into their home has made the frequent visits easy.

Designed to be a multigenerational haven, the Northwest Country-style, two-story home also includes a contained apartment for Kathy’s 87-year-old mother, whose 800-square-foot living space has a private entrance that opens onto the backyard.

Relatively low ceilings and woods that include cherry, fir trim and hardwood floors make the house cozy, while see-through glass transoms and floor to ceiling windows give the illusion of the higher ceilings that Rick Dernbach likes.

“We wanted an open concept,” he said, “but we also wanted a home that, when people walked into (it), it felt warm, so they felt drawn into the house.”

Their home is literally warm as well, with fireplaces in many of the downstairs rooms, and dual forced-air heating systems.

Both Dernbachs like to cook and entertain, and both wanted a space to serve food “away from the dirty dishes.”

So they included a formal dining room, then selected a round table that reintroduces a note of informality.

When their sons visit, everyone pitches in to cook the family favorites – fish and Italian food – and the open kitchen keeps people from stumbling over each other.

The couple wanted to display the artworks, china and antiques they have collected during their travels, but Rick Dernbach, in particular, dislikes clutter.

“I keep saying to Kathy, I do not like a ‘futzy’ house,” he said.

The solution: built-in cabinets and display nooks that are, themselves, simple architectural elements. It’s a strategy that removes the objects from the reach of small hands and lets the artifacts – which include antique cranberry glasses and Imari china – be seen without dominating the space.

It’s the simplicity, understated elegance and order in the service of relationship that suits these active retirees, whose interests range from book clubs to volunteerism. Kathy is ex-president of the Bainbridge Island Women’s Club, while Rick serves on the boards of Helpline House and Bethany Lutheran Church.

“We’re both active in nonprofits, so that keeps us busy,” Rick said. “We both play golf and I do some fishing. We like to travel and to see our grandkids. That’s what our life is about, these days.”

* * * * *

Bainbridge Performing Arts’ 15th Annual Home Tour on May 8 provides an opportunity to visit six island homes, each with a unique layout and decor. This year’s venues range from Northwest Contemporary to a 1969 vintage home. Advance tickets for the self-guided tour are available from local merchants and at BPA for $20, or $25 the day of the event. Call 842-8578 for more information.

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