By Andrea Brown Special to The Herald
Gabriella Santos doesn’t use her high-end French La Cornue stove to impress dinner guests.
Instead, she lights a log and hangs a chicken in the fireplace spit.
“It doesn’t need any attention,” Santos said. “It does its own thing. The weight of the chicken makes it spin.”
An hour later, dinner is served. Just like in the old days, before the invention of Costco rotisserie chicken.
Santos will have a chicken gyrating in the hearth for visitors to admire on the Dream Kitchen Tour by the Whidbey Island branch of the American Association of University Women.
Six kitchens on central Whidbey Island are featured for the annual event that funds scholarships for female college students.
The AAUW Dream Kitchen Tour is more than a parade of fancy stoves and fridges.
“We select kitchens that reflect the passions and lifestyles of their owners,” said Bonnie Abney, tour chairwoman.
Other kitchens in this year’s central Whidbey Island tour include a contemporary Northwest home and a craftsman revival that underwent a revival itself.
“I love to share the house,” Santos said. “I call it ‘The 1859 Sea Captain’s House.’ “
The home originally belonged to Captain J. Henry Swift, whose cargo ship hauled Washington lumber to France.
Santos bought the house in 2006 and remodeled it back to the bones. It’s how she keeps a roof over her head. Over the past 40 years, she has lived in and restored 23 homes, primarily in California, several of which were sold to celebrities.
The 65-year-old doesn’t hire a team of beefy guys to get the job done. She grabs a sledgehammer and gets dirt under her nails.
Still, she needs professional help. Coupeville craftsman Todd Heppner was her right-hand man for this massive overhaul. “He never once rolled his eyes at me,” she said.
It took more than three years of hard labor to restore the home’s original splendor buried under plaster and tile.
“I had to take off all the years of other people covering everything up,” she said.
The exception: “The fireplace, which was in the original kitchen, was in perfect shape. I can imagine Captain Swift pulling up his big tall ship and a chicken waiting in the fireplace for him.”
Tucked behind an old picket fence and dark shingles, the home has 200 feet of beachfront and killer views of Penn Cove. Santos shares the acre of land with a rooster and three chickens, which are not destined to be spun on the spit.
“It’s an old house, but it’s like having a new house,” she said. “I take something back to what it would have been as much as I can, while still keeping the modern conveniences.”
Look around her kitchen and try to find something 21st-century. Well, other than the gleaming Italian espresso machine.
“I hid the Sub-Zero drawers and freezer. I hid the dishwasher. I hid the garbage disposal switch,” she said. “I even hide the plugs.”
The black-and-brass French stove was inspired by Claude Monet. “It looks very much like his stove in his cookbook journals,” she said.
Soapstone countertops match the original fireplace mantel. The chandelier has candles, not light bulbs. The maple flooring in the kitchen was a lucky find at a Seattle salvage shop.
Santos started out her career as an assistant to a dentist. “One day his chair broke, and he said, ‘Get in there and fix it.’ “
She fixed it, and from there turned her hands on houses.
It wasn’t easy for Santos, a single mother whose education was cut short by dyslexia.
“I did all the work as a matter of cost,” she said. “As time went by I kept doing it because I found I am so much of a perfectionist.”
It paid off. “The most expensive home I sold was for $2.2 million,” she said.
“This one is Ralph Lauren shabby chic. It is very masculine, with all the different woods, the ruggedness of it and the old rough timbers.”
Santos says she’s had offers but is not planning to move again.
“I’m 65 and would sort of like to retire,” she said. “It’s work, but it’s fun work.”
Dream Kitchen Tour
What: The fourth annual AAUW Dream Kitchen Tour will feature six kitchens on central Whidbey Island.
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Where: The tour begins at the hospitality center at Coupeville United Methodist Church, 608 N. Main St.
Cost: Tickets are $15. Price includes maps, directions and a detailed tour guide. Tickets are available the day of the tour at the Coupeville church. They can be purchased in advance at Angelo’s in Oak Harbor, Lind’s Pharmacy in Coupeville, Sound Business Center in Freeland, and The Star Store in Langley.
Want to spend the night in the Sea Captain’s House? Gabriella Santos rents a downstairs suite with private entrance on the bed-and-breakfast site: www.airbnb.com/rooms/514919