Beach-front, bay-views, and bed-frames

Alaskan history and modern luxury combine for the
perfect getaway in Ketchikan

Story by Mara Severin • Photography by Scott Kemp

W hen Scott and Angela Kemp found the property listing online, they couldn't believe their luck. Sixty-two acres of land nestled in Naha Bay, with 2,000 feet of beach frontage. Set on a site steeped in Alaskan history, the property also boasts salmon streams, diverse wildlife, and old-growth trees. Throw in its own waterfall and the ad was clearly an offer that they couldn't refuse.

Gary Ohmer; Stephan Peters Architects
General Contractors
Scott & Angela Kemp
Interior Designer
Kit Kelly, Corvallis, Ore.
Framing Contractor
Byron Construction, Ketchikan
Excavating Contractor
Miles Enright, Ketchikan
Roofing Contractor
Chad Mickel, Ketchikan
Trevor Sande, R&M Engineering, Ketchikan
Clay Keene, Ketchikan
Dock Construction
Tom Fabry, Ketchikan
Gold Rush Mechanical, Ketchikan
Tile Flooring
Mid-Valley Tile, Corvallis
Hubbardton Forge (dining room), The Lighting Gallery; Quoizel (kitchen pendants); Triarch International (living room and entryway pendants); Electrical work by Channel Electric, Ketchikan
Kitchen Countertops
Granite, Oregon Tile & Marble; Installation by Quality Tile, Lynnwood, Wash.
Kitchen Cabinets
Canyon Creek Cabinet Co.; Installation by Ohmer's Finish Carpentry,Ketchikan
Kitchen Flooring
Palo Duro Hardwoods
DCS range and vent hood; Liebherr refrigerator
Faucet Fixtures
Kohler, Woodworks of Ketchikan

They did not let the grass grow under their feet. Six weeks after that fateful day, the Kemps turned operations of their Oregon-based software company over to their manager and embarked on their new full-time job: turning a piece of wild Alaska into an elegant and luxurious oasis – Saltery Lodge.

Ocean views outside-opulence within

Scott, a self-described "guy's guy" was so enamored with the property that he "could have put a forest service cabin on the site and been happy." But, he says with a laugh, "I'm married." So while he focused on the hard-core logistics of building, Angela focused on the décor and their shared dream of a home that epitomizes "rustic elegance."

The main floor is open and inviting with the great-room opening up into the dining room and kitchen. The predominance of Douglas Fir trim echoes the wooded surroundings outside the lodge. The classic furniture with substantial sofas and deep, inviting leather club chairs suggest an Old World opulence. Hints of an Alaskan sensibility are seen in the fur throws and cozy fireplace. It's an environment that encourages leisure.

And while the lodge features many Alaskan works of art, it's clear that the main work of art is the scenic outdoors. And it is beautifully and dramatically framed in 12-foot-tall floor-to-ceiling windows.

Upstairs, the bedrooms are unique, playful and distinctly Alaskan. Each has its own Alaskan theme, accented by custom artwork.

The fish bedroom with its marine-like color palette boasts a dynamic sculptural mural of salmon swimming towards a hungry bear. An unmistakable highlight of the aviation room is the museum quality reproduction of a DeHavilland Beaver float plane commemorating the first beaver commercial flight service in Ketchikan. The Alaska Native bedroom is adorned with cultural art and artifacts.

And if the master suite has a theme, it's, well, luxury. A 1,000 square-foot room with expansive windows, the room boasts a private deck, a sitting room, Jacuzzi tub and fireplace. Best of all, is the incredible view of the bay.

Contracting challenges that are… concrete

The Kemps acted as their own general contractors. "We were kind of crazy to do this ourselves," admits Scott. "To do this from scratch."

If you've never built a house before, you can still probably imagine the enormity of it – the challenges, the joys, and the headaches. Now picture building a 4,500-square-foot luxury lodge complete with a boat dock. Now picture the house site seven miles from the nearest road. If they were crazy to build on their own, says Scott, "we were extra-crazy because we were off the road system."

"Everything had to brought in by boat or by barge," he explains. Even transporting simple things like concrete became a huge production. "We had four concrete trucks on one barge," recalls Scott. "We were mixing on site with 21 people at the property pouring concrete."

When it rains (in Ketchikan), it pours

The logistical challenges were both physical and organizational. "You couldn't build 'just on time,'" says Scott. "You had to really plan ahead since each barge trip was expensive." This meant filling each barge to capacity each time it made a trip. "At one point we had 80,000 pounds of sheet rock which we ended up storing at the site for a year," he recalls.

"Everything had to be touched five times," says Scott. Every piece of material had to be picked out in Seattle, put on a barge to Ketchikan, unloaded and moved to their barge, then unloaded again at the site.

And then there was the weather. In December of 2006, Ketchikan had 31 inches of rain. "It literally rained every day," says Scott. Which meant that Scott and his 3-year-old daughter Adriana, took many a wet trip at 6:30 in the morning to transport people and things to the building site. Luckily, says Scott, the bay is an area well protected from southeast and north winds. "It's completely sheltered," he says. "It can be blowing 60 miles per hour in Ketchikan, but there's not a single wave hitting our docks."

A family affair

Building the home was truly a family affair. During the building, Adriana was "attached to me at the hip," while Angela and their older daughter Sarah divided their time between Alaska and their home in Corvallis, so Sarah's schooling could continue relatively uninterrupted. Having the whole family on-site and involved was a great experience for the family, says Scott, who was accustomed to working 80–100 hour weeks at his software company. "It was really bonding," he says.

Unearthing pottery, pants, and the past

The building site is more than beautiful. It is the site of some extraordinary Alaskan history. The location of one of the most productive canneries in Alaska a century ago, the remote and isolated area was once a bustling and industrious community with a population larger than Ketchikan's. "It was a big deal," says Scott: "It was where the steamships would stop. It was the place to be before Ketchikan had a name. It got a post office before Ketchikan did."

The forest has hidden much of the evidence of the abandoned past, but not everything. "If you hike back in the woods a bit, there's so much stuff that the forest has grown over," says Scott. Underneath the root system of a single tree, the family has unearthed "10 or 15 bottles, boots, pottery, shoes, even a pair of pants." It's like living on an archaeological site. Bed frames remain in the woods with mature trees growing through them. And cabins on adjacent lots once housed the cannery's workers. Most evocative, perhaps, is the graveyard that is home to headstones that date back as far as 1895.

The mysterious glimpses of a hard-scrabble past only emphasize how much the Kemp family's hard work has paid off. It's hard to know what the cannery workers would make of the magnificent house that rises above the bay. An impressive and inviting home and lodge, it's the perfect destination for those who like their fishing, wildlife, and adventure steeped in history and gilded with luxury.