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2018 Home Tour: Family finds all the comforts between the river and the railroad

By on August 28, 2018 in Featured Homes with 0 Comments

At any time of day, the family gets the best of water and foothills views with a living space designed with view windows on both long walls. Repurposed beams and ceiling boards were chosen by the builder.

Story by Susan Lagsdin

Photos by Donna Cassidy

Mike Mills was beaming, standing there in the light-filled living area. “Hey — just like we said. The 10:03 Amtrak just went by, and nobody heard it!”

He’s not a train spotter by nature, but he and wife Becky built their home on six acres graced with twin views of Malaga’s Cathedral Rock and the Columbia River — and abutting a single line railroad track on the far side — so sound matters to them. (Traffic, they said, is innocuous; their son Ryder said once he heard “Jingle Bells” played on a train’s horn when it clattered past.)

Light, air, views, water, space, privacy — there is a lot to love in this just-built home in a very familiar location.

Becky was raised way up the hill to the west on her family’s orchard property. She and Mike, who graduated from Wenatchee High School as acquaintances in 1987 and married each other just seven years ago, rented her aunt’s home on the same land before making this big but not too distant move to the river’s edge.

“Malaga has always been a kind of hidden gem,” Becky said, commenting on the joys of mountain and river access as well as a history of ho-hum interest in development. “But it’s picked up over the years,” she added, gesturing up to the suburban style streets near the golf course and houses high up on the hills.

The kitchen’s big center island is a slab of hard-to-find granite and makes a perfect prep/serving/eating area — with appliances strategically placed on walls the space is available for multiple uses.

The Mills, discouraged by their valley-wide home search, finally looked for raw land with an easy commute to their teaching jobs in Wenatchee and Quincy and with enough room for “the critters”: Ryder’s 4H sheep, goats and dogs and Becky’s horse. That serendipitously led them right back to Malaga to purchase this hospitable riverfront property.

A friend recommended designer Abe Lopez; Abe recommended builder Randy Wessman, and the rest of that year, May 2017 to May 2018, was all about home building.

Because of the lot’s slight slope, the house envisioned as one-level early on became a two-level with a walk-out basement, plus it gained a little foundation height, a reaction to Volkswagen-sized river rocks unearthed in excavation. Hardscaping with those rocks and others will create a pond-less, recycling waterfall and stream alongside the deck.

Mike is especially grateful that the increased elevation gave them a few feet more of river view, as well as a garage with 10-foot doors that’s tall enough to store his boat. He appreciates luxury digs for those vehicles that had lived outdoors in the weather for years.

Becky wanted the place to look like a family farmhouse. The white siding and porch details contribute to the exterior’s traditional look, as do the texture-adding dormers, which function inside not as second-story windows but as dramatic clerestory light wells. More of the home’s light, contemporary ambience comes untypically from two parallel walls of windows in the open living area — one on the east, one on the west.

Becky and Mike kept the materials simple and clean. Engineered wood floors, with slate in the bathrooms, concrete downstairs, carpet where it counts; solid white walls, white cabinetry, simple black fixtures, gray-toned granite and tilework.

The luxury of a tub and the convenience of a roomy walk-in shower may not be in the farmhouse tradition but are standard in contemporary homes. Granite countertops here echo those in the kitchen.

“I really like nice things,” said Becky, which shows in the overall look of the home. It also meant driving to Seattle twice last winter in snowstorms to find just the right granite countertop. But she also learned a lot about economical choices. She and Randy quibbled a while about $10 a foot shower tile vs. $4 a foot tile (his choice). The good math won out — and it looks great, she admitted.

She wanted to completely unwire the over-the-fireplace TV receptor (an expensive change) but instead masked it with a dried flower wreath. She envisioned three-fold glass French doors, but Randy suggested elegant telescoping sliders that expand the living area seamlessly.

“Building your own place is difficult, with all the decisions,” said Becky. “It really helped that Randy does not beat around the bush — he comes right straight out with his opinion, and it’s usually right.”

Despite their busy work schedules that year, the couple was always in touch with the process. “We could use binoculars and see right down the hill every day,” Becky said. “It was great; ‘Randy — what are you doing now?’” Randy frankly said, ‘I take liberties with any architectural drawings — with the owners’ permission of course — and Becky didn’t let me stray too far.”

The original room size, traffic flow, the 2,800 square-foot shape (1,800 up, 1,000 down) was virtually unchanged, but Randy showed where he brought disparate window and door heights (now all eight feet) into harmony and lowered and raised ceilings proportionate to the rooms.

Randy has a good eye for design. “I studied architecture for a while, but I realized I didn’t want to just sit at a computer,” he said.

Decades of a good home-building reputation here give him leeway with decor choices, which often means recycling and re-purposing materials.

In the Mills house, he used re-formed telephone poles for beams, and beetle-killed pine for the ceilings, to which he applied a Japanese burnt wood treatment and his “special-recipe” stain (steel wool dissolved in apple-cider vinegar). As the home reached completion, Randy also initiated the hearth-side seating, hand-crafted barn doors, metal stair railings and a future loft getaway spot.

The Mills family settled into their house this spring and have only two major home projects left to do: livestock fencing and cosmetic landscaping (to softscape the hardscape).

School starts soon for all three, and there is company coming, a few family weddings, a vacation trip, the county fair — and of course the Wenatchee Home Tour.

But when life gets really busy, it’s nice to come home to peace and quiet, back to where home has always been.

Already maximizing river views with its long lateral shape, the house got a boost from an unexpected need for elevation. The roof line, dormers, porch and mixed siding lend a distinct farmhouse feel.

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