Coupeville kitchen opens portal to the past

Rebecca Olson / Whidbey News-Times Gaye Santos’ home features French-inspired items like the stove at right and the pot rack in the background. When researching the sea captain who built the home, she discovered that he often traveled to France and Santos paid tribute to this part of his life to enhance her kitchen.   - Rebecca Olson / Whidbey News-Times
Rebecca Olson / Whidbey News-Times Gaye Santos’ home features French-inspired items like the stove at right and the pot rack in the background. When researching the sea captain who built the home, she discovered that he often traveled to France and Santos paid tribute to this part of his life to enhance her kitchen.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson / Whidbey News-Times

The first step into Gaye Santos’ Coupeville home is a big one, taking visitors back in time to 1859 to a log home, chinking visible between the whitewashed logs inside and Penn Cove sparkling outside the wavy glass windows.

By using the materials of the 1800s to restore the former sea captain’s home, everything about the house is authentic. Visitors can see for themselves when the home is featured on the American Association of University Women’s Dream Kitchen Tour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25.

Tickets to the Kitchen Tour cost $15 and offer visits to six Central Whidbey homes. The tour is AAUW’s major fundraiser and benefits annual AAUW scholarships, including four scholarships to graduating seniors from each Whidbey high school and the Whidbey Island campus of Skagit Valley College, two scholarships for advanced studies in the arts and one leadership conference scholarship to a Skagit Valley College freshman.

Aside from the breathtaking restoration of the home, Santos’ home is unique because it features two kitchens: the 2012 kitchen and the 1859 kitchen.

The 1859 kitchen is the original kitchen of the home: a rock fireplace built by Chief Snakelum. An antique rotisserie hangs in front of the fire, often with an herb-stuffed chicken rotating before the flames. Santos winds the rotisserie with a key and it swivels the chicken, cooking it in about an hour, Santos said.

The 2012 kitchen is a dream itself, adhering to history but decked out with state-of-the art appliances. Not a splinter of plywood can be found in the home. Since kitchens didn’t have upper cupboards in the 1800s, a long shelf runs along the wall, holding blue and white Transferware, decorated dishes made circa 1800. Santos’ collection of rolling pins — including a patterned one for making pasta — reside on honed soapstone countertops above the French stove. A French-inspired pot rack sorts pots by size in an elongated triangular rack. A farm sink and candlelight chandelier complete the scene.

At first glance, a refrigerator and freezer don’t appear present in the kitchen. But that’s Santos’ favorite part of the kitchen. The refrigerator and freezer are located in four under-counter, wood-fronted drawers, retaining the integrity of the period.

“I love to cook. I designed it to be functional as well as decorative,” said Santos, who owns 90 cookbooks and is a huge fan of Julia Child. She volunteers to cook fancy salmon dinners as auction items for the Boys and Girls and Soroptimist clubs.

Windows — complete with old, wavy glass — look out on Penn Cove. It’s a perfect vacation spot, and Santos rents rooms out through the website Airbnb. The home is rented out nearly every weekend. The location was also chosen by NBC for filming.

In Santos’ home, Kitchen Tour visitors won’t be able to contain themselves to just the kitchen. The maple floors were put down by hand and the log walls were chinked by hand using the original recipe of horsehair, sand, cement and lime. Santos and Todd Heppner did the majority of the work themselves.

An antique grandfather clock stands beside the windows, a relic similar to the many treasures a sea captain of the 1800s would have owned. Outside, a 100-year-old tobacco barn adorned with wagon wheel hub lights sits beside a vegetable garden, fruit trees and chicken coop with a water view.

“So you could survive here,” Santos said. And that’s just how she likes it because that’s how it was for Capt. James Henry Swift, who passed the home to his daughter, Maude Fullington, who later passed it to her daughter, Mary Fullington.

Santos loves the history. She tried to imagine coming to the island on a ship with no grocery stores or amenities.

“You took your chicken and you cooked it on your fireplace,” Santos laughed.

“I like to think that someday, someone else will live here long after I’m gone and wonder how I lived,” Santos said.

Santos has restored 24 houses total.

“I like everything old. I like antiques, always have,” Santos said, adding that most of her belongings are period to the house and she even decorates her Christmas tree with antique Victorian ornaments. “I love the history of it and I love the fact that someone lived here before me and the history of that.”

Santos’ love of restoration grew from learning she could fix just about anything. Her first job was for a “tyrant” dentist and one day, he demanded she fix the raising and lowering mechanism on the patient chair, Santos said. Without a clue of what to do, Santos rummaged around until it worked.

“It taught me somehow I could do anything and everything,” Santos said.

By asking questions and watching others, she learned how to do her own plumbing and more.

“I could do anything. I could lay tile, I could finish floors,” Santos said.

Now, her hard work has paid off with wonderful reviews from visitors and guests, and opportunities to give back to her community. Santos said she enjoys loaning her house to any charitable group with a good cause and AAUW is that.

“And it’s a great bunch of women as well,” Santos said.

Whidbey AAUW is a branch of the national group of women focusing on enabling young women to reach their potential as thoughtful, educated and caring contributors to society. For more information, visit


Dream kitchens open to visitors

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25.

Where: Six Central Whidbey homes.

Why: To benefit AAUW educational projects and scholarships for Whidbey’s young women.

Cost: Tickets cost $15 and can be purchased in advance from Angelo’s Caffe, Oak Harbor; Linds Pharmacy, Coupeville; Sound Business Center, Freeland; Star Store, Langley; Green Eye Shade and What’s Cookin’, Port Townsend.

Tickets can be purchased the day of the tour at the United Methodist Church, Coupeville.

More information:


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