Village Books owners, Chuck and Dee Robinson, always wanted to live above the store.
“It was actually part of our hopes when we first came to town,” says Chuck. “But there wasn’t a way to do that when we opened the store.”
“Not in Fairhaven,” adds Dee. “We actually looked at a place where we could have lived above the store.”
“But you never would have known us if that had happened!” Chuck interjects, and they both break out in laughter.
“We wouldn’t have lasted a year,” Dee agrees.
As the couple began to plan for a new building — opening in 2004, just a couple doors down from their first spot — they returned to that dream of living atop all the books.
“We planned to do a condo above and design it the way we wanted, with help from our architect,” says Chuck.
The 1,600-square-foot condo has been the ideal perch for Chuck and Dee, with its spacious entryway, open living room/dining room/kitchen, three bedrooms, two baths, laundry room, and wrap-around patio overlooking the Village Green.
Even on the gray day of my visit, when heavy cloud cover obscured vistas of the islands and mountains, the Friday Alaska ferry was visible at the Port Terminal. Chuck and Dee now have the water a stone’s throw from their door, as well as views of the charming Village Green and surrounding Fairhaven buildings.
“People often mentioned downsizing when we moved here, but really, our last house was 1,400 square feet, so we actually upsized a little,” says Dee.
The wall colors are a mix of neutral cream punctuated by an earthy red wall in the living room and a vibrant blue one in the master — chosen with the help of Scott Wallin, curator at the Whatcom Museum.
Craftsman-style cabinetry throughout and floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves in the living room and hallway add warmth, functionality and style.
John Blethen from New Whatcom Interiors built all the cabinetry, as well as the mantelpiece, which had to come up over the roof of Paper Dreams and through the patio doors because it was too large to fit up the stairwell or in the elevator.
The couple asked to have Blethen do oak cabinetry in the kitchen, baths, and entryway closet, but planned for typical white pressboard cabinets in the laundry room.
“John said, ‘Oh, please don’t do that,’” Chuck recounts with a smile. A quick peek in the diminutive laundry space shows the same gorgeous cabinetry and hardware found throughout the home.
The couple moved in a week before Thanksgiving in 2004, three weeks after the new bookstore’s unveiling. Chuck and Dee’s condo was still without kitchen counters and a sink.
“But that was okay, because we always go out to eat that time of year anyway,” Chuck says with a laugh.
In the run-up to construction being complete, the couple had begun to worry that reality might not live up to their longtime vision.
“It had been such a long time coming,” says Chuck. “As it got closer, we both hoped we hadn’t misimagined what it would be like.”
“What if we were disappointed?” Dee concurs.
It didn’t help that lots of people asked if they thought they’d be too close to work, unable to truly get away from the office.
The couple needn’t have worried. The condo has been a perfect fit from day one, and the separation of work and home has never been a problem.
“It was a dream come true, but it also made our lives so much easier because our condo’s office is connected with the store phones and computers,” says Dee. “But we can also mute and turn them off.”
The couple always joked that they have the best commute in the world. And when Dee retired in 2014, she had no trouble transitioning away from her work life.
“Nobody calls me or comes up and taps on the door to ask me anything,” she says. “And that’s been true the whole time. The staff really respects our privacy.”
Employees have avoided surprise drop-ins, but that hasn’t always been true of a few stray shoppers.
“It’s unusual, but we have had people walk in the door looking for, say, the mystery section, which is on the second floor of the bookstore,” says Chuck. “We’ve had staff people on the lowest floor say, ‘Go to the third floor,’ meaning the second floor of the store, but if you’re in the elevator and push 3, it’s going to come up here.”
“Just last week I had someone walk in,” says Dee. She was sitting in the office and heard the door open. “I said, ‘Hello, who’s there?’ and a guy said, ‘I’m looking for the café.’”
Again the couple starts to laugh as they recount the story.
“Come right in!” Chuck says, motioning to their kitchen. “It’s right over here!”
“Can I make you an espresso?” Dee jokes.
Many of the books lining the living room shelves that surround the fireplace are signed by authors and, in some cases, by folks the couple now call friends. Titles by Tom Robbins, Jim Lynch, Ivan Doig, Steve Martini, Laura Kalpakian and many more have pride of place.
Paintings and works by Northwest artists including Susan Bennerstrom, John Cole, Lisa McShane, Mary Froderberg, and more adorn the condo’s walls — a luxury the couple didn’t have in their previous home. Thirty-five pieces of their collection are currently on loan to the Jansen Art Center in Lynden for an exhibit that runs through January 2016.
“What little wall space we did have had bookshelves on it,” Dee explains. “When we designed this we said, we’re going to have bookshelves and we’re also going to have wall space. We had been hanging paintings in front of books!”
To that end, the condo’s hallway is extra wide to accommodate bookshelves on one side and art on the other. Guests will also find books in the den, office and master bedroom.
“Some people ask why, when we live above a bookstore, we have so many books,” says Chuck. “And, well, a big part of the reason we own a bookstore is that we love them!”
Scroll through the photo gallery below to take a virtual tour of Chuck and Dee’s home.