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One man's fairytale village in the woods of Skagit County

SunRay Kelley dedicated his life to building in nature. #k5evening

SEDRO-WOOLLEY, Wash. — Deep in the forest of Skagit County, strange structures seem to sprout from the soil like magic.

And living here among them was the magician. With his long white beard and pointed knit cap, SunRay Kelley was an eccentric architect who built whimsical and fantastical structures. 

Credit: KING-TV
SunRay Kelley.

"The land chose me to do what I do here," Kelley said, "And the inspiration comes from the land. That way I can be humble and not take too much credit for it."

Kelley lived on these nine acres his whole life. And he built his creations here just as long, starting out with treehouses as a young boy.

"Make things that blend in with nature," he said.

Credit: KING-TV
Many of the homes at SunRay Shire are topped with living green roofs.

His partner, Bonnie Howard, joined him at SunRay Shire two decades ago.

"We played in the mud and fell madly in love in the mud," Howard said.

The unconventional architect always began with a detailed plan, then threw it away.

Howard said, "He'll start with an idea in his mind, but then if the right material comes along, the right curve for the ridge beam, then that design is going to modify to play with those materials."

"We go to a lot of work to not make things straight," Kelley added.

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Mother Earth is always a partner in the process.

"No way can I do it as well as nature, but I could try," Kelley said.

Howard replied, "You impersonate her very well."

"I try hard to because I'm just always awestruck at the beauty and everything around me," Kelley explained.

Credit: KING-TV
One of the shire's many cats takes a rest atop the 40-foot treehouse.

Sometimes living trees helped form the structures, and fields of green taking root up above.

"Every roof wants to grow a garden," Howard said.

"We actually create more ecosystem (with the roof) than the footprint of the house," Kelley added.

One cabin by a pond was built atop an ancient stump.

Kelley said, "That tree was cut down 100 years ago and that stump's still there. I figure that's a pretty good foundation."

Credit: KING-TV
The Garden House.

SunRay Kelley designed and constructed dozens of whimsical buildings all across the continent. But he always returned to this fertile ground where his imagination took root and creativity grew.

"If I can somehow bring back this connectedness with nature through my work and life," he said, "then it's been worthwhile."

Kelley died on July 16 in Sedro-Woolley, he was 71.

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