Perpetual projects | The Seattle Times

YOUR PLACE: A couple pours more than 20 years of hard (and whimsical) work into a Bainbridge Island home.

AT A FREQUENCY heard only by the most zealous do-it-yourselfers, a down-on-its-luck fixer-upper on Bainbridge Island sent out an insistent SOS, crossing county lines, one formidable body of water and more than 70 years.

Other potential rescuers steered clear, but Mark and Wendy Johnson ran right toward the trouble. They had just achieved that magical, elusive state of completion in their home in Redmond, after all — so, clearly, it was time to move.

The please-help-me home, basically a cabin back in 1920, when it was built, had been significantly remodeled in 1976. “The place needed a lot of love, and more space,” Mark says. “I smiled at Wendy and said, ‘I’ve got projects again.’ ”

Understatement alert. The Johnsons bought that home in 1993, so there’s been more than two decades’ worth of projects — so far.

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“We tore down a lot,” says Mark, who has a degree in architecture but never practiced (he’s worked in construction and, for the past 20 years, in real estate for The Benaroya Company; Wendy works for Seattle City Light). “I knew commercial construction, but residential is different.”

Live and learn, you know. Live and learn.

“The first thing we did was build a pier,” he says; it’s 128 feet long, of reclaimed piling and framing material, with a floating dock. (The Johnsons live on a gorgeously secluded ¾-acre lot with 75 feet along Eagle Harbor.) “I did that dock for $15,000, did it mostly myself. I did my whole dock and pier for less than what just the permitting would cost today.”

Mark Johnson created this hallway piece, “B-Flat,” from a piano he’d bought his wife, Wendy, so she could learn to play. “It was a lousy piano,” she says, but in the three hours Mark took to strip it down, inspiration struck: “Oh … artwork,” he says. (They since have acquired a new, better piano, a gift from Mark’s mother.) (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)

In 2001, after years of “noodling concepts” and accumulating “the money and guts to pull the trigger,” Mark designed a complete remodel of the house, which included demolishing 65 percent of it. “I added 1,000 square feet but tore out 1,000 and added on to the second floor,” he says. “I drew up the plans, got the permit and named a…

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