WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. — Most of us spend hectic days and quiet nights searching for home. Several years ago I found mine on Whidbey Island, a sea-horse shaped stretch of land made up of beaches and bluffs, villages and farms.
Just a 30-minute drive and a short ferry ride north of Seattle, the island takes me back to a New England summer 30 years ago when the woods smelled of birch and maple and life was as simple as a drive in the country.
The quiet times and the wooded countryside do much to conjure up those memories, but it's Whidbey's bed-and-breakfast homes that reawaken my sleeping youth.
Although B&B means different things to different people, it reflects an old-fashioned painting here. It's the smell of coffee and muffins, the sounds of kitchen pans and quiet conversation. It's the sun sliding into bed with you at dawn and the birds calling you from dreams.
Mother and Daughter
At Home By the Sea, on East Sunlight Beach Road in Clinton, it's the warmth of Sharon Fritts-Drew and her mother, Helen.
Sharon arrived on the island in 1979 after 10 years in Afghanistan and Iran. She brought her Middle Eastern treasures with her and moved self and baggage into a half-finished house overlooking Useless Bay, which is anything but that to the thousands of geese, ducks, gulls and sandpipers that call the inlet's calm waters home.
"I got lonely in this big house by myself," Sharon said, "so I ran an ad in the paper for bed and breakfast. To my surprise, somebody answered it and here I am, seven years later, enjoying life as an innkeeper."
Sitting in the living room, sipping coffee and looking through windows across the beach to the bay and its backdrop of bluffs and mountains tells you everything you need to know about Home by the Sea.
Except for the squawk of a gull, it is quiet. The smell of freshly ground coffee or home-baked muffins fills the two-story cedar house, while a bright afternoon sun blankets potted plants.
A wood stove and an upright piano portray turn-of-the-century America, but tribal Persian carpets and a brass samovar let you know that this is a worldly place.
The upstairs guest rooms offer more of the same, including the views. Persian pieces dot nooks and crannies and comforters cover iron beds. Terry robes and large towels are hung for evening dips in the hot tub. Doubles are about $72. For reservations call (206) 221-2964.
If tranquil and eclectic describe Sharon's home, country elegance best defines Caroline's Country Cottage on 6th Street in Langley. Formerly Sally's, this remodeled turn-of-the-century farmhouse sits on a knoll overlooking the village and Saratoga Passage.
Caroline Satterberg and her husband, Jack, took over for Sally in 1985, but little else has changed. Breakfast still offers a sun-room setting, with homemade breads, egg dishes and fresh fruit, while the decor remains bright and gracious.
Sea-green floral-print wallpaper freshens the living room, which otherwise looks quite formal with its Belgian draperies, Louis XIV clock and mixture of French Provincial and Queen Anne furniture. However, this impression is deceiving, as the house is otherwise warm and friendly, especially the two upstairs guest rooms.
Catherine's Room is my favorite. The sloped ceiling, fir floor and brass bed make me feel completely at home. And the windows never let the Pacific Northwest out of sight: Puget Sound glistening in the sunrise, the summer snows clinging desperately to distant mountain slopes.
Downstairs a third, more modern room features the advantages of maximum privacy and starlit nights, with an entrance onto a patio, hot tub and skylight that open onto the stars. Doubles are about $65. For reservations call (206) 221-8709.
On the outskirts of town, at the corner of Coles and Brooks Hill roads, the Saratoga Inn shatters the theory that an inn must be old to have charm. The inn does cheat a little--it looks old: owners Debbie and Ted Jones planned it that way.
The two-story, shingle-clad Cape Cod looks more like a New England inn with roots in the Revolution than a modern lodge built to welcome its first guests in 1983. Sunburst gables, beveled-glass windows and wide verandas are framed by English cottage gardens and a picket fence, while inside are hardwood floors, hanging quilts, fireplaces and a blend of country antiques.
The only things missing from this otherwise historic-feeling inn are things I don't miss--drafty windows, thin walls and a general lack of hot water.
The conveniences and charms of this place are best appreciated in the five upstairs guest rooms. Although Queen Anne's Lace features the best water and mountain view, Willow remains my favorite.