Story by Susan Lagsdin
Photos by Donna Cassidy
Tom and Jean Lehecka know how to live small.
Numerous Air Force postings together in their long marriage — and Jean herself has moved 29 times — taught them to discard the unnecessary and then pare down the essentials.
So, it might seem out of character that they filled their little rental house’s garage with cobbled together, scrounged and sought-after goodies a few years ago, while they awaited the sale of one home and the completion of another.
But the items they gathered were the start of a dream, partially captured in an idea notebook of carefully archived photos, of a new home that embodied their sensible earth-friendly ethic of re-use, re-cycle, re-purpose.
Retired from the service, they came to Wenatchee 10 years ago with post-retirement degrees — she’s a pediatric nurse, he’s a surgical technician — and found the perfect job situation at the hospital. “It was a package deal,” Jean explained. “Both of us, or neither of us. And it’s worked out great” — despite their two opposing shifts: day and night.
Work was engrossing, and they loved the area’s four-season mountain/river attractions after a long sojourn in Florida. However, living in a hastily-purchased, contractor-designed house in town with too much space and too little personality had stiffened their resolve to do exactly what they wanted in their next home.
They found and purchased a 12-acre high-up site in No. 1 Canyon, then interviewed and even started plans with a few builders. The first hope was to reuse 8-foot by 20-foot shipping containers, but codes and zoning made that too complicated, which in homebuilding generally means “too expensive.”
Moving forward with their unconventional house only came into reality when they found the right builder at the right time.
In 2014, Dave Simmons looked at the shape and interior flow in the sketches of the modules, saw that he could easily translate them into a stick-built house, and basically said, “Sure.”
Jean said, “We told Dave right off that we wanted top-quality construction and excellent insulation and light, and we wanted to be hands-on owners.” And that they needed to communicate consistently. And that he had to incorporate the used materials they’d gathered.
Those included three deconstructed bowling lanes, three large sliding barn doors, two old farm-style wash sinks, one antique China hutch, industrial piping, sewing machine bases and a very old medicine cabinet. (No partridge, no pear tree.)
Some came from antique stores or Second Use, a Seattle restoration retailer and, “an amazing place!” said Jean. Some beloved pieces were inherited from Tom’s grandfather and part of their career-long stuff-hauling experience.
They call their 1,920 square-foot home “Industrial Vintage” style. It’s a fluent melding of disparate design styles.
Ornate older pieces like three decommissioned family dining chairs crafted into a bench, old (and old-look) armoires and hutches, braided rag rugs, and crewel work cozy up very nicely with spartan but chic materials like shiny white shiplap and steel walls in the kitchen, gray sealed concrete and corrugated metal exterior siding.
The home is pale throughout — even with a hill to the south, most months the morning and evening light pours in through 8-foot glass doors.
Jean said the white wall paint could change. “After so many years of moves, we just wanted the simplest look and the simplest move-in possible.” They’ve only been in the house since this last October and decided to live in it a while longer to see if they want to add some color.
Two major acquisitions that were stored in town during construction are more than just accessories; they’re star players in the core of the house. Tom fashioned the three bowling alley lanes into a 10-foot kitchen island, an 8-foot dining table and an 8-foot TV stand. (The tarred underside of one section, destined to be re-discarded, cleaned up so nicely that it got used.)
The three glass sliding barn doors also serve them every day. One opens into Jean’s home office and sewing/quilting room off the living area. The other two are upstairs and lead from the guest room and the master bedroom, respectively, into a go-between room. That space has room for a full laundry and storage; a kind of modified “Jack ‘n Jill” floorplan.
Jean said, “Dave had so many good ideas. I was going to squeeze the laundry in downstairs and he said, ‘Why not just put it up with the bedrooms?’ Easy!”
Another design decision they like is keeping the open kitchen devoid of cabinetry or hanging lights over the counter, the last a typical amenity.
“We didn’t want any obstruction — now the rooms just flow together,” said Jean.
A special luxury is radiant heating on the ground level. Jean said, “We love the warm floors! I can go barefoot down here in the winter and it feels great.” Poured concrete was burnished with a torch to a variegated gray tone and a surface that’s super-easy to sweep or mop.
They also are glad they made the temperature-controlled garage big enough for Tom’s tools and worktable and a treadmill — plus a few vehicles. It’s almost the same square footage as the whole downstairs and refreshingly free of stacked and packed cardboard boxes.
Tom made a semi-serious rule that at least every six years they have to move — keeps the belongings down to a minimum, clears out the domestic cobwebs.
That’s a rule that’s about to be broken. The Leheckas love their new place and are confident this will be a long-lasting house, the one they’ve been heading toward for years.