John, our architect, emailed us with a worrying discovery. He said that the house we planned to build to replace the Yurt might need to have a sprinkler system. Needless to say, this was a shock.
The problem is that our road on Orcas Island doesn’t have infrastructure we took for granted in the city, like fire hydrants and city water that can help douse a house fire. To avoid installing a sprinkler system, a big fire truck needed to be able to turn around on our property. To get over this hurdle, the county Fire Marshall needed to come out and take a look.
I expected, with a title like Fire Marshall, for the person to be a grizzled and close-to-retirement firefighter. To our surprise, he was a friendly, young guy who lives on the island. We seemed to have things in common.
At the time, we were still in planning mode
and very far from building a house. In fact, we faced an uphill climb in the context of finding a builder on the island who was affordable and available. We did some research and met with a few who were scheduling new projects more than a year out. They all had good reputations and did nice work, but seemed to be going through the motions. They were overwhelmed with demand and didn’t seem hungry for business. We didn’t know where to turn. How do you find a good builder in a new place?
The nexus of Orcas Island serendipity is the farmer’s market and it was there that we crossed paths with the friendly Fire Marshall. We reintroduced ourselves, and chatted for a bit. I learned his name is RJ and just before moving on, he invited us to see live music at his barn that night. I was psyched to get an invite, if not a little anxious about appearing at a party where we knew exactly one person.
That night we arrived, met RJ’s partner, Ali, in the house and eventually found a group of people around a campfire along with an assortment of potluck dishes, a half keg of beer and music emanating from the metal barn. As we made our way to the campfire, RJ saw us and said to a friend, with a bit of surprise, “Hey - They came!”
He didn’t know, but we had recently committed to acting on this exact kind of situation. Meeting people and becoming a part of a new community isn’t easy. It requires putting yourself out there, accepting invitations and importantly, showing up.
After a few introductions by the campfire, we wandered around and tried not to look too awkward. I chatted up a guy named Matt and eventually the conversation turned to our story. We told him about splitting our time
between Seattle and Orcas, the Yurt
, and our hope to someday build a house on the same property. I told him that we were working on plans
, but still needed a builder.
After hearing our story, Matt smiled said, “Well, I’m a carpenter and work with a contractor who builds custom homes.”
That get our attention. We expected him to follow that statement with something like, “But we’re booked out until 2021.” But that didn’t happened. Matt said he was working for Drew Reed and gave us his phone number. Drew would be happy to talk about a new project, he said. I thought there must be a catch.
We talked to Matt a bit longer and something he said stuck with me. He liked working for Drew and felt that he treated his employees well. That mattered to us.
Within a few days, Drew came to the Yurt to look at our plans and talk about his experience. He was a contractor in California for many years. After moving to the island, he cranked up his contracting business and had recently grown to have one of the bigger teams. He looked at our plans and immediately saw the concept and the challenges we were likely to encounter. It was clear to us that he had experience in building homes like the one we were designing.