S: Jerry Comiskey Wood and Light
FC: Jerry Comiskey Wood and Light | A Retrospective
1: Dedicated to my great-grandpa, Charles Joly, a woodworker who built beautiful furniture and whose furniture store inspired a little boy's first love of wood. | *Author's note: The following is only a sample of Jerry Comiskey's designs and construction - I was unable to contact all clients or photograph all projects. I wish I could have included every home and remodel - each and every one is extraordinary, unique and deserving of its own pages. Only time, communication issues and a toddler stopped me from including every project. Thank you for your understanding. - Kate Comiskey
2: Jerry Comiskey was born in 1937 in Ennis, Texas and studied architecture at the University of Texas at Austin. His first successful design and construction project was a fiberglass camper for his Ford pickup truck, which he and two friends called home for an overland journey throughout Latin America in 1968. Each of Jerry's designs and homes since that date have been celebrated and adored by the occupants. His experiences as an architect in the Peace Corps in Tunisia and his travels around the world influenced his designs. Each design is still created by hand on a drafting board, the same one Jerry has used for forty years, with photos of his dogs looking down on him. Jerry’s homes are full of detailed wood work and a variety of unique rock or granite surfaces that provide a soft, natural feel to a home. Angles of light and wood meet to lend a cathedral-like quality to a room, staircase or even hallway. His designs emphasize placement of the home to blend seamlessly with the natural beauty around it - each window is designed to provide a zen-like view and is often equipped with a luxurious window seat from which to enjoy it.
3: Only top artisans and builders have contributed to these homes; their pride in their work and strong, decades-long relationships with Jerry can be felt from the hand-crafted custom cabinets to the massive river rock fireplaces. He treats everyone with the same respect and dignity. Jerry's homes are works of art worthy of the highest architectural tribute, yet they are also warm, inviting spaces where friends and family feel comfortable gathering around a table. In fact, most of Jerry's clients have become personal friends, and he and his family have spent many an evening or afternoon in the homes he has designed and built. On this, his 75th birthday, we honor him as a craftsman, architect, builder and friend. His incredible work will live on as long as the wood in the walls still stands and the tiles of the floors still carry coming generations. We honor him every time we curl up to watch the rain from a window seat, or prepare hors d’oeuvres in one of the grand kitchens, or sip wine with old friends on a beautiful rock veranda perched over the rapids of a deep green river. We honor him for all the luxurious homes he has built on impossibly steep cliffs, in the midst of thick black mud, in the crazed winds of the Pacific coast, and even one gingerbread cabin hand-built without the use of electricity or power tools. We love you Jerry, not only for your skill and vision, but for your honesty, integrity and kindness over the last 40 years of business. Your art has graced our lives and enriched our world - may there be many more to come. May 2012
5: Every great architect is - necessarily - a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age. - Frank Lloyd Wright
6: The Beginning - The Big House
7: In 1971, Jerry and Kevin moved to Oregon so Jerry could design and build his first house for his mother-in-law, Dorothy Terry. The site was located on a spectacular bend on the North Umpqua River known as the "Hogback." Jerry designed and built the house to rest on the edge of a cliff high above the North Umpqua - a truly impressive feat for a brand new architect. The Comiskey and Terry families spent many a good year and threw many a great party in the house, which they called simply, "The Big House." Forty years later, as this book goes to print, Jerry is in the process of remodeling the Big House for the first time for its current owners, Chuck and Zoe Foster. The Big House will forever have a special place in the hearts of the Terry and Comiskey families, as well as a place of pride as Jerry's first major accomplishment.
10: Christensen House In 1974, Jerry, Kevin and baby Kate moved to Kneeland, California to complete his second major design and construction project for the Christensen family. Here Kate spent her first year of life while Jerry created a ship above the mist.
12: The Resort In 1972, Jerry and Kevin bought a piece of land two miles up a mountain near the North Umpqua river. Jerry designed a gingerbread cabin in the woods and the family lived in a tent with an outdoor kitchen (complete with a hanging cut-glass window) while Jerry and friends built the house with hand tools, trees from the surrounding forest, recovered antique wood and stained glass windows. Here the family lived for the next seven years in an oasis in the forest, completely off the grid. The cabin was Kate's first real home, which she cherished, and the forest was her first playground. When Nina was born she slept in a cozy drawer next to her parents and snuggled with her sister in the morning while Pooben made a fire. Life in the cabin was much like Little House on the Prairie, with kerosene lamps and sweet, fresh water hauled from a spring that came straight from the mountain. On a clear day you could see the adjacent ridge and Eagle Rock from the cabin. It was a memorable experience for all who came in contact with the special place.
14: Jerry created the backdrop for the woodstove by hand from rock he had collected from the North Umpqua area.
15: Jerry's design for their future dream house in the woods, next to the cabin on the mountaintop.
16: Kummel Cabin This cabin resembles a fairytale cottage in the deep woods more than any other home Jerry has designed. It is accompanied by a magical screened gazebo on stilts, nestled among the old firs. As a child, Kate once claimed the gazebo to be "the place where the King plays chess."
17: Scott House
18: Edwards House and Remodel
20: Kip Roberti House | Wrigley House
22: Kurtz House
23: Before, 1971 | After, 2012 | Jerry designed and built both the Kurtz' small house in the 1970's and the larger house in the 1980's. They are set in a spectacular location on a steep cliff high above the North Umpqua river. It was one of the most difficult work sites Jerry encountered. One day he was on the roof, high in the air, leaning out with a chain saw to cut branches off a tree. He was tied to a beam, which suddenly fell off the structure. Jerry was pulled down and flipped, using the scaffolding, and landed upside down in the tree branches. The beam landed below, luckily leaving enough slack for him to remain stationary. | Somehow those at the job site all managed to get him down safely with only scratches and bruises. Luckily he was not hurt more severely and continued on to complete the construction on this extraordinary design.
26: Hazen House
28: Gomes House
30: Driver House
32: Wrigley House
33: Spooner House
34: Utz House
38: Larry and Roberta Hall House
40: The house Jerry built for Ed Hall and Dee Tiffany was both the first fully wheelchair- accessible and the first semi-green home he had designed. In this home Jerry used many recycled materials and green techniques for the construction. He created a functional space specifically catering to Ed's needs, while maintaining the same warm beauty, light and innovative design that are a signature of all his houses. | Hall/Tiffany House
42: Black House When Dennis Black, the founder of Umpqua Feather Merchants fly tying company, bought a skinny plot of land on a cliff immediately above an emerald green fishing pool in the North Umpqua River, he was told the terrain was too steep to build a home. So Jerry designed the house with twelve levels and pilings driven many feet into the bedrock in order to accommodate the almost impossible terrain. The result is a creative, luxurious home where a hallway or staircase leads to each gem of a room. Every space contains a view of the river that takes your breath away. For a fly fisherman, this is the ultimate home - one could not be more intimate with the river unless he had hatched in it.
46: Martin House
48: Kahn House
53: Feldman House
56: Miller House
57: In the 2011 Umpqua Valley Showcase of Homes, the Miller's house swept all awards, winning for Favorite Bathroom, tying for Favorite Kitchen and winning the People's Overall Choice Award for Best in Show.
60: Akse House
62: Caddock House
63: Gade House (In progress)
64: Steamboat Inn/ Van Loan Library
65: Valley's End Farm, Comiskey Farmhouse Remodel | Before, 1983 | After, 2012
70: Remodels | Each new situation requires a new architecture. - Jean Nouvel
71: One of Jerry's great gifts is the ability to envision beyond the obvious. This is clearly evidenced in his ingenious designs for new homes on difficult terrain and challenging sites. But his creativity and vision are sometimes even more evident in the remarkable remodels he has designed and constructed - a small dingy kitchen is pushed out into a driveway and is transformed into a culinary space fit for a chef; a dark bathroom gains a perfectly-placed window and Italian tile and is suddenly fit to bathe a queen. Although the following pages hold only a sampling of the dozens of remodels Jerry has contributed over the decades, they are representative of how his touch can forever alter and glorify even the smallest of spaces. | Before | During | After
72: Compeau/ Roberti Remodel | Carlos Compeau Work Shop
73: Wolf/Hazarabedian Remodel | Lasswell Remodel
74: Erickson Remodel
75: Valley's End Farm Guest House Remodel | Before | After
77: Valley's End Farm Century Barn
78: Jennings Cabin Remodel
80: The building on the property purchased by Howard and Marjorie Feldman was originally a large hay barn, constructed in 1852. In the 1970's it was converted into a winery, which it remained until Jerry remodeled the upstairs into an art studio and meditation oasis for Marjorie. The remodel transformed the space into an ideal artist's loft while retaining the characteristics and antique atmosphere of a century barn. | Feldman Barn
82: Terry/Kimoto Remodel
86: Children, Chickens and Green Things
87: Jerry's designs have been transformed into grand homes and luxurious spaces. But it is in his marrow to create beauty in all things that he does, even those for his littlest fans. Following are a few of his creations for all creatures, great and small.
88: Chicken Houses
89: Green Houses | And Doll Houses
91: I have worked for Jerry for almost 13 years. In those years I have been taught from one of the best in construction of finish work and detailing. Jerry has been a great boss and I look up to him and respect the name he has made for himself in design and building of custom homes. My wife and I are very thankful for the wonderful home he designed for us. -Mike Koyle Jerry is a wonder and in house construction he gives new meaning to the term "Jerry-Built." - Don Best Janice and I are both extremely happy to be fortunate enough to live in a Jerry Comiskey designed and built home. Obviously there is something special about Jerry's houses. They all have unique and individual warmth that you do not find in all homes. I have been involved in the construction of many of Jerry's projects through my plumbing business. Not only are those homes special but the people residing in them are special. To this day some of our best friends are the people we met through Jerry and his building. Jerry is a treasure to us all. - Jon Kurtz We were long time friends of [Jerry and Kevin], and our Glide property, being a steep incline to the river, made it look like an impossible place to build a home on. Jerry came out and spent time looking at the situation, then came back a couple weeks later with the plans all drawn up. He made the impossible possible. As we were still spending most of our time out of the country, we weren't here to watch the construction, so we had a great surprise when we came home to it. We consider our selves lucky that Jerry had the time to see it through , taking two years to complete. - Dennis and Maew Black
92: Jerry’s Gifts and Quiet Genius Jerry Comiskey gave us a precious gift—our very own home. We had never dreamed of building a home, but when we decided to move from our Fisher Road home after twenty-seven years, we learned Jerry was between houses—and we had our Glide property available for Jerry’s imagination. Larry wanted to be closer to his trees and this was the logical thing to do. And I could have a forest to turn into a garden. Jerry chose to build BETWEEN the two landing flats available. Since the property is mostly on a hill, he gave us a two-story home that had a downstairs for us, an upstairs for our kids and grandkids, and all of it wheelchair accessible for our son, Ed. This was Jerry’s first accessible home, complete with wider halls, no steps into the entries and an accessible bathroom. (Later he was to build the ultimate accessible home for Ed and Dee.) Prepping the property began in the fall of 1996, foundation poured in January 1997—and we moved in October 10th 1997. In between were some of the most fun times Larry and I have ever had. I was always up taking pictures, we’d come together and stain siding, varethane doors and window trim and generally bask in the luxury of a home built just for us. When Jerry asked us what kind of a fireplace we wanted, I said, “A really pretty one!” How’s that for giving instructions!?! And he and Carlos gave us a beauty. Jerry’s genius was evident all the way through the building process. His precision, attention to detail and ability to change things at the last minute for the betterment of the whole (like giving me a skylight over the stove while the framing was going up) were consistent throughout the process. We have been in our Glide mountain retreat for fourteen years and have enjoyed every moment of it. Our living room, with its high ceiling makes an excellent recital hall for my students, the loft is a grandchild’s dream, the privacy of the apartment works so well--“Thank you” doesn’t begin to say how grateful we are for our beautiful home in the woods. With much love and admiration, - Larry and Roberta Hall PS Larry’s chief concern throughout was that Roberta wanted to run away with Jerry—but then I know for a fact that all the women for whom Jerry built homes felt that way! Kevin, forgive us!
93: The cedar cabin was designed in the early 1970's by Jerry, Bob and Norma, and we still have the lovely sketches and models that Norma made. It got built in two stages, first as a small one room with a kitchen and bathroom downstairs, an upstairs loft and a front porch. Gradually the front deck, back deck, treehouse and master bedroom and den were added, all with the same careful craftmanship that is Jerry's trademark. In all these years, the cabin has held its own through storms and heat and forest fires. It's a joy just to come in and walk around in it. Bob and Norma are both gone, but the house is their legacy and Jerry's, and will always be a treasure to our family. - Julie and Marc Kummel I want to take the liberty to send some news... For the first time, Jerry had a home in the Umpqua Home Builder’s Association Showcase of Homes this September. Bill and I were lucky enough to have the pleasure. Jerry wanted to be part of the tour to support Mike and Brandon as well as all the subs that work for him - typical Jerry , thinking of others and not himself! There were three categories of competition – best kitchen, best bathroom, best landscape and people’s choice overall. Jerry tied for first for best kitchen, won best bath and came in first runner up for best landscape. Finally, he won people’s choice overall. Just thought you would like to know!!!!! I have not seen anything in the paper yet, but I hope he gets some broader recognition! - Elin Miller I loved working with Jerry. It took me a while to figure him out. If I suggested something and he didn't like the idea he would always say, "Are you sure you want that?" That was his way of saying it was a dumb idea. Also, what I love about the house is that he took the time to come to the location several times and place the house where there isn't a bad view in the house. He put a lot of thought into it. We love our house! - Shirley and Andy Kahn
94: When we thought we might be able to have a house built, we of course started saving every cool thing we saw in Sunset magazine and taking pictures of every house we liked from Colorado to Baja. By the time we met with Jerry at his kitchen table, we had folders of clippings. He was unfazed and very gracious; he had done this before. We had a picture of a fireplace we liked made with Texas Limestone (I think Dale at The Rock Yard may have identified it by calling the architect. It was either that or the rock from Telluride for the outside walls.) As it turned out, San Antonio was extending their River Walk and there was a prolonged wait for Texas Limestone. Jerry had an architect friend in Texas who could not only expedite getting the rock but also have some special cuts made and obtain hearth and mantle peaces. He flew to Texas, rented a truck, and drove the rock to North Bank Road. Just another example of how his influence extends far beyond Douglas County and the degree to which he will go the extra mile (or thousand or two) to satisfy others. After the house was completed, Jerry delivered several walnut logs to make sure the fireplace was properly stocked. - Judith Martin I have been lucky enough not only to have a Jerry remodel but be part of his family for 20 years....he is a wonder, a gem and someone who is a great friend . -Lani Kimoto Wonderful project [book] and a great gift to your very artistic dad. And he's an outstanding human being. What a great idea! -Matt Driver
95: Jerry and his crew worked on our home from May 1999 until about June, 2001. When we were looking for property, he graciously came out to examine each piece and gave us his professional opinion about any issues of which we needed to be aware. Once we had the property on Garden Valley, he and his crew basically became members of our family, since Paul and I lived in a trailer on the property and spent time on the construction site all day long. In fact, Jerry even showed me how to stain the cabinets to get them ready for finishing....for about 6 weeks I joined the crew every morning at 7:00 to get those seemingly endless cabinets ready for the final finish coats. The people who were planning to build after us were not ready exactly when Jerry expected, so we had another 6 weeks or so with him and his two workers to finish every little detail, including the cabinets for the garages, hooks for hats and the wine cellar. On their last day, we gathered for coffee on the deck, overlooking the river, and I have to confess that both Paul and I had tears in our eyes when they left. We could not have imagined a better experience than the privilege of having Jerry build our beautiful home. We thank him every day we are in our home and consider him as one of our most valued friends. - Lory and Paul Utz What a wonderful idea and project to honor Jerry on his birthday. He truly is an artist in his creation of beautiful and original houses. - Charlie Spooner I still dream that one day Jerry will design a home for me. It's been a dream of mine since I was a kid, going to his job sites with Kate. All I could think was, "Wow. This is what I want to aspire to. This is amazing. " Now I bring my kids from California to my parents' house in Umpqua, designed by Jerry. They thrive here - it's livable. The whole family can be here. They love it. They call this house "Oregon." -Melissa (and Sue) Gomes
96: Our house was one of Jerry's earliest, begun in 1973 and finished in 1974. Jerry, Kev and Kate (just short of her first birthday) came to our home in Eureka and lived with us until they found a cabin on Maple Creek Road near the building site on Kneeland. We had nothing but the land. Jerry did it all: lane to county road, electricity, water system, special effects such as two old chandeliers which had been removed from banks, landscaping. He worked on and supervised the construction, assisted by one, sometimes 2 carpenters plus a motley crew of our sons and some of their friends. Thirty years later we continue to love living in our House. It has mellowed of course but is not old. Jerry's style never ages. Here on Kneeland, living in Jerry's house, we see the sun and moon rise and set and watch the weather in the winter and bask in the sun in the summer. When it was all over and done I am sure the Comiskey three were happy to return to the Umpqua but we had a wonderful time, live in a wonderful house, and made wonderful, life long friends. We treasure Jerry and his family. - Sally and Norm Christensen I deeply regret not photographing the pocket doors he used between the sections of the new addition. They were the same as the ones he had as an enclosure of Kate's sleeping quarters in their little house on the hill near Glide. Jerry had gotten 4 of them from an old house in Roseburg that I think was about to be demolished. Two of them were used for Kate, & the other 2 (I felt SO HONORED!) went to me. Jerry & Mike (Ike's son) spent hours stripping them on sawhorses outside. I loved those doors with all my heart; & I think that of all the things about that house that I missed when I had to sell it after my divorce, I grieved most for the loss of those doors! I can't believe I didn't get photos of them, but the pictures were all taken on my last hours at the house, and it was a very emotional goodbye. I'm surprised I even had the presence of mind to take pictures before I left of what had been my house for 25 years. Jerry is always at the top of my list of whatever the need might be. A couple decades ago I posed the question to myself: if I were marooned on an island, what 12 people would I choose to have on the island with me? Even then I knew it would be impossible to limit it to only 12; now I think it would be hard to limit it to even 75, but Jerry would still be in the top 12! - Judy Lasswell
97: Forty-one years of houses, what a journey... as Kate began this book, I went back through the years trying to get people, places and dates straight, trying to remember ---and realized that like so many of us, I could only place his projects by using the ages of our kids or which dog we had! What with all the photos Kate has collected, Memory Lane has seriously beckoned-- but since I had a unique perspective as he designed his projects, I want to say a little about that. Every design Jer has ever done brought me the same sense of pride and wonder: “How the hell can his mind pick up a bunch of lines on a flat piece of paper, put them together 3(or 6!)-dimensionally in the middle air, then turn the completed house around in his head to find exactly the right place to set it on the land?!” (He of course finds this talent unremarkable, but none of the rest of us does.) There were so many foam-board models he labored over so he could convince his clients of his vision; I remember sitting on the floor of The Big House with assorted Christensens as he moved a flashlight over the model, showing them where the winter sun, the summer sun would be. (There was an orange standing in for the sun at other times.) There were accounts of smiling discussions with the client: “Yes, you DO have to leave room for the staircase! No, an outside one will not work.” | Basically, Jer is “working” all the time—and he is working as an artist. Many is the dinner when I can see him working out some problem in his head --- and he has spent so many entire nights tossing and turning, solving knotty design or construction questions... I think the primary knowledge I have of how Jer’s mind works after all these years is that he lives to create useful beauty, no matter how small the example--- beauty that will also help generations understand that beauty-for-no-reason lifts the soul. That the grace of one’s environment matters. That how we fit into the natural world matters. When he knows that a corner of trim or five rafters fitting together are done perfectly--- though he might be the only person ever to see them---his satisfaction is that of a true artist. Fortunately, he is passing this care for detail and his standards of craftsmanship on to his “successor” contractor/builder, Mike Koyle, who keeps the visions of Jerry’s plans vitally alive by calling him about fifteen times a day.. Jer's children, dogs, chickens and I have been so lucky to live surrounded by his ongoing vision of light and substance for all these decades! The three houses he has given us to live in have so changed our lives from what they would have been, enriching them immeasurably. Thanks, Jer! Love, Kev | Forty years of people have made that leap of faith, and they are still leaping: “Yes, in the end we believe he will keep our house from falling into the river/crashing over the cliff/looking like every other house.” “Yes, he will be able to merge what we think we need with what e knows we actually want.” That is why every house is so different, even while there are his details that follow through; uniquely he has been able to use his own hands to create what comes out of his own head, inventing something, placing a “needed” window in at the last moment or changing the shape of a porch pillar as he is looking at it. This ability, this flexibility of perception that he can then translate to the concrete, is, I think, what amazes me most.
98: It is hard to explain how important Pooben's houses have always been to me. As a child I understood them through the smell of sawdust and sweat in my Dad's hair; the scrapes and bruises on his arms; the feeling of lofty spaces; the glow of sunlight on honey colored wood and the warm, happy feeling it gave me. As I have grown older I have come to appreciate the flow of the rooms and how they enhance the lives of those that inhabit them; the attention paid to the smallest detail, down to the nail in the ceiling 40 feet up; how each window, carefully placed, draws the eye to a landscape feature and creates a unique snapshot otherwise easily overlooked; how much thought goes into how the house is situated, so that sun flows into rooms at different times of the day, where it is needed; and of course, I have always appreciated Pooben's toilets with a view. Even Pooben's chicken coops display his cleverness, with balconies, removable fertilizing trays and rotating chicken yards among their features. Every time I visit one of his houses I see and learn something new, something I had not noticed before. While watching Pooben, I have learned the value of hard work, dedication, honesty and, most importantly, kindness. I am so proud to be his daughter and so lucky to have been exposed to his creativity my whole life. I truly aspire to be a hundredth as successful. I love you, Pooben. Neens
99: I feel as though I grew up in all of my father's houses; I spent so many afternoons playing at his construction sites, accompanying him to Gerretsen’s Building Supply or occasionally making spending money by painting a deck or doing site cleanup. I loved my childhood in the cabin and later in the farm house. I have brought dozens of friends from all over the world to stay on the farm - all of them remember it with a deep respect and fondness. There is a special quality to Pooben's houses – something healing, tolerant, loving. My father speaks not so much in words, but through the spaces he creates. I can feel how much he cares about my mother, me, my sister, his grandbaby, the dogs and the chickens through the rooms he makes for us. It's his way of keeping us safe, warm, and happy - by giving us a place to laugh with friends, make wonderful dinners, host parties and weddings and raise children. It's how he expresses love. | When I walk into one of Pooben’s homes I feel him in the rich wood of the floors, the dappled light of the river reflected on the ceiling and the view of the mountains from the Master bedroom. I can feel the kindness and warmth of his character in the soft surfaces and natural wood, his love for the outdoors and flowers and all growing things in the bathroom fern bar or from a window seat overlooking a garden. I can feel his perfectionism in how tightly woven and seamless is a design, becoming a house that will last for generations and weather many a Pacific storm. I can feel the artist in him in the great ceiling trusses, the pagoda-style rooflines and the zen garden spaces tucked in next to a side entry. I know someday when I am missing Pooben’s presence, I will have only to sit quietly at a dining room table with a bouquet of wild flowers in the middle, or warm my feet by a great river rock fireplace, or look out over Oregon hills from one of his kitchen windows to have him there with me. I know he will be there in those rooms, surrounding us with love long after he is gone. Thank you, Pooben, for being my dad. I am so honored by you. Love, Kate
100: With thanks to Kevin Comiskey for childcare, photography assistance, support, editing and remembering – this project would truly not have been possible without her (everyone dreams of having a mother like her when they try something new!); to Jerry’s clients for all the time and effort they contributed in the form of writing, enthusiasm and photos; and of course to Pooben (AKA Jerry AKA BaPoo), who is not only the beloved subject of this book but who also spent hours and hours taking his grandbaby on trips around the farm, showing her the chickens and dancing with her in the kitchen so I could have time to myself. He did this without question, never wondering what I was doing during the evenings on the computer! It has been a pleasure to honor him in this way. I am not the artist my father is - I hope I did justice to his life's work. I love you, Pooben. Thank you for being the person and artist you are, and inspiring one of your daughters to create a book of your work and the other to follow in your footsteps as an architect herself. -Kate Comiskey (AKA Chiggers)