Second Life | Seattle Met Article

Second Life

Kyla Fairchild finds a home for No Depression online, and another for herself on Camano Island.

    By Brian J. Barr - December 2008 issue
Image: Will Austin

IT HAPPENS EVERY TIME. Friends enter Kyla Fairchild’s vacation home on Camano Island and immediately point to something: the shimmering metallic wallpaper, the very Brady, wood-paneled television set, a stretch of high-pile carpet. “Oh, my God,” they always exclaim. “We had that in the house I grew up in!” It’s no surprise that the house, with its groovy ceramic mushroom molds and plush furniture, belongs to Fairchild. The publisher of roots-music zine No Depression, one of the most respected music publications in the country—the one the musicians themselves read—she is also the owner of cool-kid kitschfest Hattie’s Hat bar in Ballard. Fact is, Fairchild would have decked her place out in one-of-a-kind thrift-store and antique-mall finds no matter what, but she did not start from scratch. The previous owner—the widow of a south Seattle grocer—had built and furnished the house in 1979, then left it alone. When she sold it, she left behind every Danish end table, standing ashtray, and dimpled-glass vase. Fairchild couldn’t believe her luck. 

Picture windows offer stunning vistas, and create a spare, airy feeling despite the many appointments.

“I love feeling that these things had a life before me,” she says, standing in the long, sunken living room. She points out a brass sculpture of a fish in midleap and two burl wood coffee tables. “These were all here when we moved in,” she says. Even the magazines—among them a 1978 Newsweek with Jimmy Carter on the cover and the headline “Can He Lift the Economy?”—she found after purchasing the property five years ago with husband Ron Wilkowski, a senior vice president at a bank. “Isn’t it amazing?” marvels Fairchild.

It is, and not only because it functions as a sort of aesthetic altar to a Generation X childhood. In many homes, old Atari game systems and psychedelic plaid pillows would look like tacky clutter, but here an open-floor plan and modern, vaulted ceilings have a flattering effect on the massive amber-hued glass lamps and burgundy wall-to-wall. Still, it’s a testament to Fairchild’s exceptional eye that the decor feels always just on the verge of kitsch, but never unsophisticated; nostalgic, but not outdated.

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The chalet-style fireplace takes center stage, thanks to a strategically placed sectional sofa.

Over the years, Fairchild has holed up on Camano mostly in summer, when she can work close to the ocean and far from the distractions of the city. On weekends, she likes to extend an invitation to friends and music-industry folks, but this year she has barely had time to make the hour’s drive from Seattle herself. Last May, No Depression suspended its bimonthly print schedule, the consequence of rising publishing costs and a changing recording industry. Fairchild has been involved with ND since 1995, when, as a new mother “going crazy stuck at home all day,” she approached cofounders Peter Blackstock and Grant Alden and offered to help with distribution. She had virtually no experience in the music industry, but within three years she became the magazine’s copublisher and part owner. When ND announced it was folding, friends and fans cried out for Fairchild to take the pub online.

In May, she purchased majority ownership from Alden and Blackstock, and, despite knowing almost nothing about Web-based businesses, set about giving the zine a second act as She hasn’t stopped working since.
Imparting her vacation home with new life proved less challenging. The living room, which faces Whidbey Island, has floor-to-ceiling windows offering sweeping views—at high tide the waves appear to roll in right under the house—and an enormous ski-chalet-style fireplace built of thin, angular slabs of stone. Around it, Fairchild arranged vintage pieces like a peachy-white, crushed-velvet recliner, a wasabi-green armchair, and bright, nubby throw pillows. Echoing the shape of the long, narrow room, a massive cream sectional works to pull the seemingly disparate pieces together into a cohesive, cozy whole. On display behind it is a 1960s General Electric turntable that Wilkowski discovered buried in the widow’s old entertainment unit. Fairchild dusted it off and replaced the needle, and it now spins vinyl records (the Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits, Don’t Tell a Soul from the Replacements), cranking out tunes through speakers the color of rosé wine. The couple left the wallpaper, handmade sheets of actual dried leaves over a deep burgundy background, untouched. In the evening, when the last sunlight dances off the surface of the water and onto the wall, every stem and vein shines like white gold.

To update opulent bathrooms, Fairchild added modern accents.

The bathrooms were even easier to update. In the master bath, Fair-child simply swapped the white and gold hardware for chrome, giving the space a sleek, contemporary feel. Downstairs, she bought new linens to match the walls and tile, sticking with the original, earthy palate: amber, wheat, red maple. Luckily, those colors were back in style (and thus in stores) at the time of redecorating. To replace anything else, Fairchild will have to wait until the shades are once more in mode.

The widow’s nautical-themed paintings and photographs still hang throughout the house. Fairchild added some vintage 3D pieces: a sprinkling of brass leaves by the stairs, a pair of wooden horses which jump playfully toward one another in a bedroom upstairs. But she also brought in some contemporary works: In the upstairs hallway—a mezzanine-style catwalk visible from below—hangs Treescape, a giant, expressionist piece by Seattle painter Dan Amell. With its organic tones and broad brushstrokes, the work evokes the Northwest wilderness by way of American expressionism, and plays well against the ceiling beams and pale wood banisters. Using squares of colored paper, Fairchild worked with another Seattle artist, Jenny Beedon-Snow, to lend Mondrian-style flair to the kitchen’s paneled ceiling.

As the sun goes down, the wallpaper made of real leaves shines like white gold.

One area of the home required a total overhaul: the flat green patch of golf-course lawn hemmed in by a penitentiary-style, six-foot-high fence. Daunted, Fairchild called on Brandon Peterson, owner of the Palm Room, who ripped out the grass and planted native salal, western sword fern, umbrella pine, and vine maple. In the center, he installed stepping stones and padded them with native mosses. He then tore down the chain-link fence and built a short wood barrier, fitting giant driftwood benches around the perimeter. Now, Fairchild’s family and guests see unobstructed vistas of North Puget Sound and the bustling boat traffic at the adjacent public launch.

It’s a great view, but Fairchild, who is still struggling to work through the kinks of her recently launched Web site, won’t be seeing it all that often in the coming months. When running smoothly, she says, will feature new reviews, regular blogging from longtime ND contributors, and an archive of the print edition—but there is still much to be done. Driven as she is to restore ND to its erstwhile glory, the publisher says she’s always sad to return to the realities of the city after stealing away to the house that, though appointed with the relics of another woman’s life, feels very much like home.

This article appeared in the December 2008 issue of Seattle Met.

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