"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Graceful house rose from an awkward lot

By on October 25, 2017 in Featured Homes with 0 Comments

Flint enjoys a view from the deck south to the foothills. The home’s three-story design was modified somewhat to fit the odd-shaped lot, but the big sunny windows were always part of the picture.

Story by Susan Lagsdin

Photos by Donna Cassidy

Flint and Jamie Hartwig knew they wanted to build a house for themselves in 2007, and their drives around the Wenatchee area finally yielded the perfect, imperfect property.

The more-or-less half-acre triangle of steep dirt they bought up a dead-end street on the way to Burch Mountain basically offered friendly long-time neighbors, a few mature birch and fir trees and a very reasonable price.

Well, there were a few more perks: the existing water, sewer and electric service would give them a travel-trailer site while they built the house. And the view across farmland all the way to the distant foothills south of Wenatchee was a pleasure.

Flint was already established as a builder. He had friends and his dad available to work, as well as access to house plans he’d admired that would fit the odd lot.

Months of trailer living on the site, albeit with a cute newly-built “his and her” building nearby for shop and laundry, was losing its charm. All he had to do was take time off from paying clients’ demands and construct their 1,850 square foot house as soon as possible.

The house took shape over nine months. Space constraints meant three vertical stories: the street level floor is a spacious garage with a long, closed staircase up to the main living area with its two bedrooms and a bathroom. An open staircase curves up to the loft level with office space, laundry and the master suite with its roomy closet and bath.

Flint built houses, but he also owned earth-moving machines for excavating and bulldozing, moving tons of earth to prepare other properties. This site was a little trickier than most.

 Jamie remembers that early steep yard of theirs. “Every day we had to sweep dirt off the porch that blew down the hill — we couldn’t keep the east windows open because of the dust. Flint said, “I’d come home every once in while with a load of rocks we got from an orchard in Orondo and just dump them at the top of the hill.”

For three years after they moved into the house, the deeply-pitched property behind and to the side of them lay fallow, with swallows nesting in the sand cliffs. Then, in a burst of resolve (and given a window of opportunity while Jamie was vacationing) Flint went to work with the accumulated rock and 150 truckloads of fill dirt.

He strategically placed defining terraces and intricate layers of walkway, pools and stream, garden beds and retaining walls that form the basis of their current private oasis. They did their own yard work; trees and shrubs were placed carefully — shade, privacy and bird song followed in due time.

Now, after a decade of comfortable living, and that much time spent building other people’s houses all over the valley, Flint and Jamie realize their home has everything they need and very little that they don’t.

The big kitchen was enlarged in the building process, for which Jamie is grateful, and opens to dining and seating areas in full sun from the cathedral windows. They’re glad they placed the laundry room up on the loft level, instead of the traditional space in the basement. Their choice of engineered Armstrong flooring in the high traffic areas still pleases them. (“Amazing stuff! It never loses its shine and wears like crazy….” said Flint).

Flint’s dad helped build and install the elegant curved and cantilevered wrought iron handrail — one so painstakingly placed that Flint imagines it will react like a giant spring if it came out if its moorings. The joist and beams for the high living room ceiling and the complex roofline were a collaborative engineering feat, but the labor yielded just the grandeur and openness they wanted.

From spring to fall, their yard gives them peace and comfort. They enjoy the pergola, the ponds and the hot tub, and there’s room for the dogs to frolic. Just a few steps outside the sliding doors, cushioned chairs and low tables around a propane campfire make a hard-to-leave outdoor relaxing space.

The Hartwigs are young enough to postpone thinking about disability access, and they have no “downsize when the kids are gone” calendar. So — why are they even thinking of another house? “Well, I’m always looking at new houses, building some huge, beautiful places,” Flint explained, “And I’ve got to admit, sometimes it’s hard not to wonder what it would be like….”

 …To have a high-tech “smart” house. To have a dressing room not accessed through the bath. A coat closet, a warm shop. Not to walk up two flights of stairs to the bedroom. To have a level lawn. To have views of city lights, sunset and the Cascade Mountains.

Jamie’s not as specific in her yearnings. She said, “I love this place, but this is the longest we’ve lived anywhere! It just feels weird to be in the same house for 10 years. It seems like we should want to move.”

She’s aware that any big change could, of course, be disappointing. That even if Flint and his partners (he formed Eider Construction with Mark and Andy Miller in 2014) take time away from their major projects all over the region to design and build the new house, it might never feel like home.

Like any good structure, Flint’s success in the industry started from the ground up, with years of dawn-to-dark building work, six days a week.

Wise investors who value incremental income over the big turnover, Flint and Jamie also own Bella Bistro and have acquired a few lots and rentals, so they have means to build again, but the push-pull factor isn’t in play. They are not being pushed from their present home, they are not being pulled by another. The status quo is a subtle but powerful force.

It’s easy to see why this home holds their hearts.

On a warm October day, with their feet up, a glass of good wine, music piped to the porch and the dogs resting, dappled sun through the leaves, lush yard in full autumn color, they are not inclined to start over again. Life is very good in this tall house on its crooked little lot.

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