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Pacific Northwest | June 20, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineJune 20, home
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BUILDING memories
Through family, friends and tradition, an island cabin grows
The ground-faced concrete-block fireplace is the focal point of the pavilion room. Ben stayed true to the spirit of his father's original design by incorporating floor-to-ceiling glass and a modern-day light shelf along the ceiling line of the room. Behind the fireplace is where owners Larry and Beverly Johanson have their offices and private master suite.
"One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters."
— George Herbert,
English poet

DURING THE SUMMERS on Orcas Island while other fathers would teach their sons to boat and fish, Seattle architect Ben Trogdon's dad taught him how to measure and build.

A major remodel is "one of the first things I remember doing with him," says Ben. "There's a real science to measuring existing buildings. I remember him being very specific."

He also recalls being "dragged out to project after project" until, Ben says with a smile, his dad "indentured us, me and my brothers," into building a cabin and house on a Doe Bay lot his parents bought in 1969.

But in the Trogdon family, Ben was not the only one to begin his architecture career on Doe Bay.
Architect Ben Trogdon, right, enjoys a laugh with his father, architect William (Bill) Trogdon. Ben's early memories of Orcas Island include being alongside his father on many of his design projects.
In the summer of 1952, his father, William (Bill) Trogdon, received his very first commission — to design a 600-square-foot cabin. Helge Johanson, an insurance man from Bellingham, had bought some farmland on Orcas, subdivided it among friends, and dreamed of building a small house on the water.

Johanson and his wife, Florian, hired Bill, even though he was still completing his graduate studies in the architecture program at the Harvard School of Design. Bill had landed a coveted studio spot studying there with Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius by way of a fortuitous road trip after his graduation from the University of Washington architecture program in 1950. The studio program had an eight-year waiting list, but one student failed to show — and Bill got in.

"It's kind of an incredible story. He really had to pull himself up," Ben says with admiration. "He grew up in Seattle, his dad died when he was 13. It took him a long time to put himself through the University of Washington. He didn't really have any sort of support system."
Through June at the Orcas Island Senior Center is a Trogdon father-and-son art exhibition. The show will feature "Architectural Abstract 'Window' Pencil Drawings" by Ben and "Figurative Drawings and Landscape Watercolors" by Bill. For more information contact the senior center at 360-376-2677.
When he landed the Johanson job, Bill says, he took the assignment with him back East to finish while he completed his studies. "We did it all by correspondence."

Many of the young architect's design features brought in a modern aesthetic that was unfamiliar to the Northwest then, particularly in island properties. The deck was designed without a rail to avoid obstructing the view, glass was used liberally to open up the vistas, and a light shelf, inspired by the work of a fellow designer, was incorporated throughout the interior.

"I'm sure no other cabin at that time had an architect. And subsequently, Helge talked other people into hiring Bill," says wife Dorothy (Dottie) Trogdon, herself an architect and graduate of the Harvard program, where they met in 1951.
Facing the pavilion great room, the new kitchen is in part of the new addition to the house. The high-quality fir cabinets and six-burner cooktop stove face the dining and seating areas. The fireplace wall is built with concrete blocks, while the floors are bamboo for durability.
"I finished the drawings, Dottie finished her thesis and we won a scholarship to Europe that we used as our honeymoon," says Bill. Home at last, "We came up to the island and saw the cabin built exactly the way I designed it — mistakes and everything! Johanson had so much faith in me, he saw that the contractors built it exactly the way I drew it."

When Helge's son, Larry, inherited the property in 1979, he and his wife, Beverly, called upon Bill to revisit the design and add 600 square feet. Then, in 1999, the Johansons decided to expand the house to accommodate year-round living and entertaining..

In keeping with tradition, Larry wanted to have Bill remodel the house.

"I complained that I couldn't do it," says Bill, who has been trying to retire for the past few years. "Then Larry had a great idea. He went behind my back and he hired Ben!"
Rounded Douglas fir posts support the structure and flank the large lift-and-glide sliding-glass doors installed on both sides of the pavilion room. The doors create a sense of transparency throughout the pavilion and sustain the openness from the courtyard to the water.
The master bedroom was part of the second renovation that architect Bill Trogdon had designed for Helge Johanson's cabin. The original light-shelf design bisects the generous windows.
"I always figured that Bill and Ben had an advantage over us considering other architects because they understood how we lived," says Larry.

"I would come here and visit," says Ben. "Larry's dad fixed breakfast over an open fire and would feed the neighborhood his special-ingredient pancakes. That sort of memory makes me particularly qualified to be their architect."

The three years of planning that followed were just another reason for the two families to enjoy each other's company. Many hours were spent sitting on the deck and talking about needs and wants, with a careful eye to keeping the project within means. "We wanted more light. We wanted a sun pocket, a place to be able to be warm and to still be outside and enjoy the water view and the territorial way," Larry says. "This is what Bill and Ben came up with in order to satisfy all the requirements."

"We finally got a scheme that worked, and we were just delighted," says Bill. "Ben and I were very much in agreement. We wanted two structures, but they didn't want to be outside all the time, so we made it all glass. The connection was an open grand space, and it was Ben's job to figure it out."

"Most of my involvement was finessing the details and trying to bring the project into reality," Ben says. The father and son remained true to the original lines and style, with Ben bringing his modern-day interpretations to the new kitchen and pavilion.

They began construction of the expanded 2,875-square-foot residence in 2003 with Dalgarno Construction, Inc., managing the project. Interior designer Sally Oien worked with the Johansons to update the furnishings.

For Ben, working with his father "was sort of like having another one of those conversations we always have about projects. But in this case it was especially meaningful, since it was Dad's first project and the Johansons are such dear friends. I feel that I'm carrying the torch."

Robin Fogel Avni is a free-lance writer specializing in lifestyle issues and trends affected by technology. Her e-mail is Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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