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Making the most out of a lot by creating easy fit homes

By on April 22, 2019 in Featured Homes with 0 Comments
The sitting area, with its west windows and tall ceilings, feels as comfy, or as spacious, as it ever needs to be. Garn has culled his art and artifacts so he can live small with his favorites around him.

Story by Susan Lagsdin

Photos by Donna Cassidy

Garn Christensen likes to say, “I’m just an educated redneck.” 

The educated part we know about — he’s a Washington State University professor and has been superintendent of Eastmont Schools for 12 years, aiming for another three-year contract.

The redneck part comes from growing up fundamentalist/hippy/cowboy in the West. His youth was spent working a long string of seriously blue-collar outdoor jobs and rodeoing for pleasure, with a saddle bronc injury to boot. 

He also packs a long and continuing pedigree in the building trades. His great-grandfather built bridges; his grandfather was a mason, and his father, said Garn, “built over a hundred houses when I was growing up. I did a lot of menial work for him on the sites, and so construction comes easily to me…”

The L-shaped kitchen has modern must-have maple and granite, and the more traditional table (not an “island”) in the center does triple duty for projects, prep and perhaps a rare dinner party.

The legacy continues: his eldest son maintains 200 apartments on Capitol Hill in Seattle, his younger son is a composite materials engineer designing light aircraft, and his daughter manages construction projects for the Spokane Public Schools.

It’s not all DNA. When they were kids, he said, “I sunk four strong corner posts in the back yard, put a huge pile of old tools and scrap material in the center, and over the years they built all kinds of forts.”

Garn’s current house represents that engrained love of building, but also a bit of serendipity and a whole lot of optimistic vision.

The dormer adds texture, sunlight and a touch of tradition. And about the front door’s side position? “People find me,” Garn said. His “hippie hot tub” is tucked away at the right, facing the west hills.

Six years ago, he was renting a house in East Wenatchee, and “every time I walked by this property on the way to Loop Trail, I noticed what a great view it had, and its big lawn and garden out back.”

When the .39-acre lot and its unassuming mobile home came up in an estate sale, Garn quickly secured it. “I renovated (mobile home) inside and out,” he said, pointing to new siding, windows and patio. He knew the improved home would soon serve a long-term renter. 

A cement patio surrounds the perimeter of the house and heavy-duty roof joists instead of posts hold the 10-foot patio overhang.

His real reason for purchasing the street-front house was to be able to build an ADU (ancillary dwelling unit) to the south of it, with just enough room for himself, his favorite shop projects and a rentable studio apartment upstairs.

Garn did his research, learned the county’s zoning rules — setbacks, heights, septic, square footage, etc… — and stayed within them. 

His initial goals were clear. He explained, “I wanted the house to be durable, functional and cost effective, and I didn’t want to cut corners on anything important.”

He originally wanted to handle the carpentry himself and hire out the tricky parts, but carpenter Joe Fischer of Go Fisch Construction diplomatically disagreed. Garn recalled, “Joe said, ‘Now, I understand you’re pretty good at what you do, but I’m really good at what I do. You be the general contractor; just let me build the thing.”

The partnership blossomed with the inclusion of several of Joe’s hand-picked subs who did concrete, trusses, painting, HVAC, plumbing work and the like. 

Garn remembers that he loved the casual handshake-only negotiations that year. 

“I was in the middle of a massive $75 million-dollar school construction project, with monster legal documents, and it was nice to come home to deals made and kept simply, maybe with a sketch on the side of a box. There was a lot of personal trust,” he said. 

Garn is pleased with his choice of rain deflector. The copper fountain-style, so much nicer than a gutter, makes a pleasant sound when it’s working, and winter weather creates an ice sculpture.

Built in just eight months, the house was ready to occupy by January 2016. Garn said. “I learned from my past that you never move into a house until it’s completely finished; that makes you kind of hustle at the end.”

His original designs were used, but he was also open to expert advice and is pleased to have the sunny upstairs dormers, a cement patio surrounding the perimeter and heavy-duty roof joists instead of posts to hold the 10-foot patio overhang.

That dominating feature itself came from an exotic source. Garn was in Malawi, Africa in 2015 on a disaster relief mission and became aware that most of the houses that survived a devastating flood had extended roofs with deep eaves.

On his return, he re-drew his blueprints. The big space protects the foundation but also offers him a long carport, a covered patio and a racetrack. “You should see the grand kids zooming past here on trikes — they can make it all the way around the house on a smooth surface,” he said.

Garn chose the same quality materials in both living spaces. Though his 740 square feet personal area is designed for a bachelor, it has what he called “a two-butt kitchen” with maple cabinetry and granite counter tops. The solid oak flooring and window wall extend to a compact sitting area facing the west hills.

The same quality materials throughout make the slightly smaller studio apartment a pleasure to live in, and short-term renters such as nurses and consultants keep it rented almost full time.
The apartment’s bed base is two twin-bed-size drawer sets that Garn had built for his kids. It’s another good use of space, mandatory in a 450 square-foot rental unit (“Not a ‘tiny’ home,” he said, “Just small.”)

The always-rented upstairs studio apartment is 450 square feet. Both have high custom-built beds with storage drawers as a base, which he hauled from the large home he raised his kids in. The renter has a private entrance, and they share a laundry area.

The horse-trough hot-tub at the south end of the house, cleverly plumbed and used daily, is all Garn’s — a small  and pleasant reminder of his family roots.

The shop that fronts the structure is 676 square feet, with high enough ceilings for a hoist, ringed with shelves of tools and materials. Garn was a guide on both the Salmon and the Colorado rivers by the age of 18 and still keeps his oar in, so to speak — his avocation is building, and using, aluminum-tube expedition boats.

He’s also a fan of Geocaching and bird watching. An EHS grad at Central Washington University is creating a song bird-attractive, low-water, fire-safe yard for him as her senior project. Already, he said, turkeys, owls and geese seem perfectly comfortable on his property.

There’s more construction coming up on this well-used lot. 

When the long-term renter in the 1,200 square-foot mobile home moves on (no rush), Garn plans to build another primary residence in its spot — its color, materials and style congruent with this current three-part ancillary structure.

He said, “I’ll make some changes — a hipped roof with three big overhangs, but I’ll keep the dormers, the overhang, and build a shop into it.”

So — that means he’ll be able to rent his first small living space, its upstairs  apartment, and another upstairs apartment… a total of three rentable spaces? 

“Or four,” he said, “I could rent out all four if I wanted to travel or live away some day. Hey, East Wenatchee’s growing; we need the housing.”Of course, he might set his sights on yet another lot with good garden space and a lovely mountain and river view that could, with smart design, offer compact quality housing to a few more residents. 

Not a bad legacy at all for an ex-cowboy, ex-hippy, world-traveling, nature-loving educator and builder.

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