Keeping cool in the northern islands


When Kate Hotchkiss bought a house on Isle au Haut off the coast of In 2001, she never dreamed that she would be two decades ahead of the telecommuting trend.

Ms. Hotchkiss, a global business consultant, bought her island as her base in America and soon moved into her home where she works full time.

“We were thinking of buying a place in Hong Kong instead of renting, but we realized that instead of buying an ugly concrete apartment, we could buy a mansion off the coast of Maine,” says Ms Hotchkiss, 60. Coming to Isle au Haut since the late 1960s, after my father discovered it when we were visiting his parents in China, Maine.”

Ms. Hotchkiss has brought her two sons to live full time on the island to escape Hong Kong’s polluted air and embrace a healthier outdoor lifestyle.

Ms. Hotchkiss, author On the Edge of Harbor 1912-1913, And her husband, Ellard Taylor, 79, owner of Great Blue Heron Island Builders, are among less than 100 full-time residents of Isle au Haut.

“Personally, I think fall through spring is the best time to be in Maine,” Ms. Hotchkiss says. “Winter is pure, calm and amazingly beautiful.” The islands off the coasts of Maine, British Columbia, and Washington share some traits that have become particularly attractive as the pandemic spreads around the world.

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It’s quiet and remote, accessible by ferry, boat, private plane, and sometimes seaplane from cities like Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland, Maine.

In addition, because they are surrounded by salt water, they usually have a slightly warmer microclimate than the nearby mainland and have less snow in the winter.

says Roberta Kent, a brokerage with Island Group Sotheby’s International Realty in Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands, Washington. “Once the pandemic made more people realize they could live and work anywhere, demand increased rapidly, and prices skyrocketed.”

Ms Kent says home prices for the relatively modest homes in the San Juan Islands, which are in the northwest of Evergreen, near the Canadian border, have soared quickly above $1 million, which was once enough for a waterfront home.

“The prices here are still much cheaper than in Marin County, so people from the Bay Area are buying homes here and traveling to Seattle to take the ferry,” she notes.

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Remote but modern San Juan Island

Laura Taylor Massoud, 57, and her husband, Elie Massoud, 60, learned what they wanted in a vacation home as they traveled around the world with their three children, to source products for their food import and distribution business.

“I realized that the places that I love the most are the ones that are hard to reach and are two hours from the main road,” says Ms. Masoud. “Places like Captiva Island [Florida] It is more preserved and isolated, with fewer people. The more difficult it is to reach them, the more beautiful they become.”

Ms. Massoud prefers to avoid flying if possible and likes to take her dogs when she travels, but she does not want to be in hurricane-prone locations such as the Gulf Coast or overcrowded areas of the East Coast.

“I kept driving on the Pacific coast until I stopped at San Juan Island, which looks far away but isn’t really far away,” says Ms. Massoud of the second largest of the San Juan Islands. “It has modern amenities, restaurants, and stores, but it also has natural beauty and wildlife.”

Dean Tyler / LandVest

“It’s magical seeing whales, seals and dolphins, but we’re also only a 10-minute drive from shops and restaurants.” Laura Taylor Massoud, homeowner in San Juan Island

Dean Tyler / LandVest


The Massoud family purchased a home in 2019, overlooking the water and across the San Juan Islands to Bellingham, on a 10-acre site with woodland. Their Friday Harbor home on San Juan Island was listed for $2.35 million because the couple decided they wanted a vacation home near their primary residence in Houston.

“My goal was to create a welcoming home for guests, so I converted an old fishing hut into a sauna and spa overlooking the water,” says Ms. Masoud.

While Ms. Kent acknowledges that some people who move to the San Juan Islands find them too quiet, about half of the homeowners stay year-round and the others spend from April through October there.

“You have to fly or take a ferry to get here, which can be a plus or a minus for people,” says Ms Kent. “Your trip usually starts to and from the islands or ends with a cruise, which is great.”

Ferry takes about an hour from Seattle, while flights and seaplanes take 30 minutes or less. Because the islands are surrounded by water, says Mrs. Kent, summer and winter are milder than on land.

“It’s great to see whales, seals and dolphins, but we’re also only a 10-minute drive from shops and restaurants,” says Ms. Masoud.

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Differences in the main islands

While Isle au Haut, where the Hotchkiss family lives, can be reached by ferry from Stonington, Maine, residents also rely on their own boats to move between the islands and to the mainland. The ferry journey takes approximately 45 minutes.

“The islands are mostly a vacation market for people who stay from June to October,” says Jamie O’Keefe, a real estate agent at LandVest, a subsidiary of Christie’s International Real Estate in Northeast Harbor, Maine. “Purchasing pool is smaller for some islands due to the need to go off the island to buy a larger grocery store, but some have private airports.”

Mr. O’Keefe says the pandemic has made the Maine Islands even more appealing. “In the past, most buyers would have had contact with an island, such as a previous visit or friends and family here, but now we get calls from all over the world,” he says. “We have a few buyers from Boston and New York, but most of the rest are from all over the United States, not just New England.”

Keeper’s House on Isle au Haut, an off-grid solar-powered oceanfront property that includes a lighthouse, main house, guesthouse, and sleeping cabins.

Joe Kenny / Landvest

The fantasy of remote living is likely to draw some people to Keeper’s House on Isle au Haut, an oceanfront solar-powered off-grid property that includes a lighthouse, main house, guesthouse and sleeping cabins, listed at $1,975. million.

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“The Keeper’s House is an essential property in Maine, but it’s not insulated or heated enough for year-round use,” says Mr. O’Keefe. “But other islands are more accessible, like Mount Desert, which is the largest island off the coast of Maine and where more people live year-round.”

Much of Mount Desert Island is covered by Acadia National Park, which also covers about half of the Isle or Hout, but the island is also home to Bar Harbor. Buyers looking for more access but still wanting a more remote lifestyle may be attracted to places like Whistle Pig Farm, a 12-acre equestrian property on Mount Desert Island, listed at $7.995 million.

“During the pandemic, the first priority for buyers was the view, followed by high-speed internet so they could work remotely,” O’Keefe says.

Ms. Hotchkiss finds the dimension of Isle au Haut attractive in winter.

“Sometimes we don’t see people for months, but calm is great for creativity,” she says. “Plus, we feel connected to the Internet and work with people from all over the world.” Raising two sons on Isle au Haut, which Ms. Hotchkiss says includes an excellent one-room school, has brought the family closer to nature.

“Maine allows children under the age of 8 to have a student lobster license, so it was a pleasure to work with my son as a policeman on the lobster boat when he was nine,” Ms. Hotchkiss says. “Not many people can say that.”

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Wes Adholm Photography

This Friday Harbor, San Juan, home, recently listed for $2.35 million, includes a guest cabin in the woods and a spa building with a sauna overlooking the water. The main house overlooks the water and across the islands to Bellingham, Wash.

Wes Adholm Photography

Live where the ferry stops at 9pm

Salt Spring Island in British Columbia’s Gulf Islands offers a lifestyle equally saturated with nature, with homes surrounded by beaches and woodland, says Erin Williams, real estate agent with Pemberton Holmes in Salt Spring Island.

“It’s a very secluded place, especially since the ferry stops running at 9pm,” says Ms. Williams. “You can also get here by private boat and some people fly seaplane.”

Wildlife painter Robert Bateman and the famous Kellogg family maintain homes on Salt Spring Island, which Ms. Williams says provides a vibrant community of artists and musicians along with a local food movement.

“We’ve seen interest in our island explode during the pandemic, when buyers decided they wanted a home office with a view and garden, so the pace of sales and prices skyrocketed,” says Ms. Williams. “Most people live here year-round, although there are some second home buyers as well.”

She adds that when the pandemic started, customers from all over Canada and even Europe were buying homes without seeing them in person.

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“There are three ferry terminals in Salt Spring, and it takes about 90 minutes to get to Vancouver by ferry and about 20 minutes by seaplane,” says Ms. Williams.

Prices for luxury homes on the island range from $4 million to $7 million, but there are also two properties worth $14 million on the market, at 165 acres and 232 acres respectively. One waterfront property listed for $6.95 million includes 20 acres, a separate guesthouse, a pier, and ocean views across Vancouver, Canada.

“People who buy here want privacy, view, and often build a custom home,” says Ms. Williams. “They like that Mediterranean climate a little bit more that you get because of the salt water than on the mainland or even Victoria Island.”

While privacy and a sense of remoteness are two things, Ms. Williams notes, Salt Spring has restaurants, shops, a farmers market, and plenty of community activities, as well as lakes, beaches, and woodlands. “It’s a really different lifestyle here,” says Ms. Williams. “People on the East Coast tend to focus on work and achievement, but there’s a more laid-back vibe and everyone seems to want that balance between work and play.”

The islands off the coast of Washington have also seen a rise in popularity over the past two years. Pictured is Lome Island, part of the San Juan Islands, located in the Salish Sea region of the northwest Pacific Ocean.

Edmund Lowe Photography / Getty Images

This article first appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of Mansion Global Experience Luxury.

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