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

On the eve of destruction, couple stepped in to restore a former beauty in a pear orchard

By on May 28, 2019 in Featured Homes with 0 Comments
Before: Proud owners of a big old farmhouse, Terry and Nancy pose in 2002 on the porch of their new acquisition. They wanted a fix-up project in a rural setting.
After: Their work over 16 years in the house shows in the glowing paint, cedar shingles, welcoming porch and new windows. Two massive trees were uprooted, opening the house to sunlight.

Story by Susan Lagsdin

Photos by Donna Cassidy

Every old house holds memories — historic, sentimental, comical and commonplace. You can experience the lives, past and present, of six of them on the self-guided Cashmere Historic Home Tour on Saturday, June 1. (Nancy Fike, the owner of this featured home, is on the organizing committee for the museum fundraiser.)

West of Cashmere’s downtown, uncrowded roads, mostly paved, loop past orchards where hundreds of rows of trees are visual delight in all seasons. The area has become a magnet for local bikers and walkers.

Many times on their jaunts around the area, Terry and Nancy Fike had gazed at a decrepit old house, deeply shaded behind overgrown trees. In the autumn of 2000, she said, “One day we noticed that the renters were gone — maybe it was for sale.” It was.

They approached the-then owners, Dick and Judy Milner, who said yes to their offer, and the adventure began. The Fikes had been searching for 1) an old house 2) on a small lot 3) in the country 4) for a reasonable price — not a combo that’s easy to find. 

They couldn’t have predicted that it would take over 18 months of back and forth paperwork to even legalize the new lot division to the county’s satisfaction. They did learn, however, that the empty home, built in 1910, had been imminently slated as a practice burn for the Cashmere fire department. 

LIVING ROOM/DINING ROOM: An eight-foot extension to the west and a handier back door added usable space to the compact living room. Original flooring and trim was kept throughout, complemented by new vintage-look wainscoting and wallpaper.

What else they learned about the property, about the people they love and about themselves has been part of an enlightening 18-year journey. 

They knew they’d need financing; but old homes often mean high interest. Nancy said, “We had to take out a really bad loan until we made improvements.” 

Terry, a master builder, had confidence in the house. They knew the place was solid and right-angled, with lots of salvageable features, most notably the window trim, doors and fir floors. But they learned that years of deferred maintenance and remodeling with varying degrees of taste and money meant they would need to dig down to those good bones. 

They proceeded, working long hours for a few years — while Terry worked long hours away from home — to make the place even habitable for their family of six. “You could say I’m a stripper if you like,” suggested Nancy. “I scraped every bit of old wall paint and flooring off this place, the entire stairwell…” In some places there were 10 layers of paint.

After: Airy, sunny and spacious, the remodeled kitchen with its carefully-selected farmhouse features makes a good gathering place.

They gave special attention to walls. The exterior ones were gutted for new insulation, with sheetrock over all of them. Just the stairwell was kept in original lathe and plaster, with a peek of its layers showing for history’s sake. Terry hand-textured paint on all the resulting surfaces. 

They knew they were surrounded by a working orchard; they learned the insidious spray that coats the new blooms seeps into everything, goes everywhere. “The exterior color choice is deliberate,” Nancy said, mostly serious, “I call it ‘Pear Clay Spray.’” 

Major rehab items were the plumbing and electrical systems, all new. “We put in electric wall heaters; there’s no need for air conditioning.” (They are content with breeze through screened windows.) A friend in California made all the kitchen cabinetry. 

But old treasures, they realized, were close at hand. Nancy said, “The packing shed attic was filled with 100-year-old stuff like the original screen door and light fixtures.” Demolition of the Cashmere Fruit Exchange yielded all the bricks; deck and pergola wood came from the Cashmere Middle School tear-down.

The first years on Hinman Road, first in the speedily cleaned-up adjacent fruit packing shed and then in the uncompleted big house, were a lesson in communal living. Nancy is delighted that at least three of their four children, who’ve now established homes and families of their own, would seriously consider restoring an old house. 

CHIMNEY: Terry, a master builder, created not only a pizza oven and a traditional living room fireplace but this accompanying chimney, which he chose to make a quirky and very functional work of art. “We’re known as the home with the chimney,” said Nancy.

The children were 18, 16, 13 and 10 when they started bunking in the upstairs bedroom and survived the total restoration quite well. Nancy thinks that she and Terry did the right thing. “We were careful not to slave-drive them — they helped a lot on some projects, but we never pushed them. It was our dream to live here, not theirs.” 

Part of the appeal of being in an old farmhouse out of town was the privacy it afforded. But when their friends Brian and Dana Lowe needed temporary digs for a while as they sought a home to buy, the Fikes invited them to stay in the shed, which the two couples soon fixed up into an even more livable apartment.

That was years ago — the Lowes settled in, in love with their little house, and the two families remain not only close neighbors (across the drive) but even closer friends. “It’s been really great. We usually have dinner together,” Nancy said. “Or we’ll at least trade leftovers if we don’t.” 

The peaceful neighborhood, with its orchard tradition and its quiet roads, makes a perfect haven for friends to grow old together.

Will there ever be a respite from home-improvement? 

Maybe not, but the Fikes seem to have a love of labor. The period-tiled upstairs bathroom was just recently added. Nancy’s already looking at refinishing the kitchen cabinets, and she’d like to hand-texture the walls of one small room that was sprayed. 

There’s more work to be done on the garage as it transitions into Terry’s workshop and Nancy’s potting shed. Oh, and the yard needs landscaping…

Nancy said, after she happily listed the future projects, “You know, we love working on the house, but you really have to have a passion for this kind of thing.”

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