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

A dream house for 3, designed to last a lifetime

By on February 26, 2019 in Featured Homes with 0 Comments
The optical illusion — made by a fabric panel — of French Quarter doors helps create a pool room out of an otherwise conventional dining area. New Orleans is a favorite city, and the family wanted a little more of it right at home.

Story by Susan Lagsdin

Photos by Donna Cassidy

Mark and Tami Jo Nerby and her sister Tracy Harrington, all clustered healthily around their late 50s, devised a solution to a big problem that hasn’t even arisen yet. 

They’d each witnessed the dilemma of people who stayed a few crucial years (or even a few falls) too many in a treasured but hard-to-manage family home, and they vowed to live their later years a little smarter.

Hence, the move from bustling Bothell to relatively slow-paced Wenatchee and the creation of a two-family household designed specifically to ease a foreseeable transition into elderhood. 

They’ve lived in the house together since last July, and so far they love that it’s working out just as they planned.

In the carefully-measured kitchen three cooks can work compatibly if need be, with no hip bumping, behind this six-foot by eight-foot quartz island. The induction stovetop (no surface heat until a pan hits it) is a safety feature.

Their one-level, 2,700 square-foot house boasts two complete master suites, wide barrier-free doorways, walk-in showers, low-maintenance materials, a plethora of storage and the built-in assurance of companionship. The Nerbys live on one side; Tracy lives on the other, and they meet in the middle for communal meals and socializing — with themselves and often with a houseful of company.

“We wanted a place where we could eventually take care of each other,” Tami Jo said of the grand plan. “All three of us wanted to be in Wenatchee, and it just made good sense.” She added, “I think lots of people in our situation are starting to make choices like this, alternatives that allow them to stay in their own homes much longer.” 

This home was not a cookie-cutter, ADA-compliant floor plan picked from a catalogue. It’s an original. Meticulously designed from the start by the owners and built collaboratively with One Way Construction, it won a 2018 Tour of Homes People’s Choice award last fall.

Distinctive antique-look wood, mitered, each piece hand-placed for variation in color and texture, wraps around the TV/fireplace area and is repeated on the pool room columns. Ceilings, only eight feet high, lend a comfy human scale.

It also, Tami Jo said, proved itself before the tour in a related preview event. “We hosted a Chef’s Tour, and the open space and kitchen worked really well. This is definitely a party house!”

The Nerbys and Harrington were happy to find a level one-acre residential lot close to the Loop Trail with easy access to town and great views. “I went back to look at it one day and there was a BMW parked there, a guy looking down on the house site,” Tami Jo said. They put in their offer immediately and still smile at their good fortune. 

Tami Jo came into the project with an arsenal of ideas. And she had the know-how to implement them, gleaned from an engineering degree and half a career designing testing equipment followed by an interior design degree and half a career designing facilities for Puget Sound Energy. Over two years, while renting up #2 Canyon, she perfected the plans for this house. 

All she needed was a local builder willing to cooperate on the project, and Brandon Littrell of One Way was both intrigued by the concept and unintimidated by the owner’s expertise. Tami Jo was the on-site owner while husband Mark commuted to his engineering position on the coast, and sister Tracy, already renting in Wenatchee, was her interior choices partner. 

The spacious ranch house style is familiar, the innovative long-term plan less so. Even the driveway backup and turnaround spaces are carefully planned for multiple cars. Rocks and native plants are in the spring landscape vision.

This house, a traditional ranch, doesn’t shout out its style from a distance, and its comfort doesn’t come from cutting edge innovation. 

What’s notable isn’t so much on the surface but on the preplanning and the close attention to detail — the trio took time to analyze what features they needed and were fearless about revising when something wasn’t quite right.

Because the floors are all slab-on-grade, with no crawl space, electricity and plumbing took extra forethought.

Tami Jo points out a complex conduit system that enables the kitchen’s big quartz center island to have handy baseboard toe lights. She said, “There are 57 LED can lights in this house, all on dimmers.” Not many owners would have that number handy.

The home’s calming colors (variations of gray) and easy-care floors (porcelain wood-look tile) continue into both living suites. This master bath’s simple lines and contrasts show Tami Jo’s background in interior design.

A full-house surround sound system can be modulated in each room (“Best money I ever spent,” said Tami Jo) and the electronics were pre-wired by the vendor, a big time and stress-saver.

All floors throughout are wood-grained porcelain tile; imbedded underneath are the heating pipes that warm each room. The default setting was 78 degrees, a toasty treat on the freezing, snowy day of our walkabout in February.

Ceilings throughout max out at eight feet — no hard-to-heat cathedral peaks here. Human scale and energy efficiency look and feel good.

The layout of rooms is sensible and symmetrical, with five pocket doors contributing to good use of footage. 

Near Tracy’s spacious bed/sitting room with its bath and closet are the laundry room and Tami-Jo’s craft room, with her quilting machine along one wall. At the other end of the house is the master suite — the same shape, slightly larger, and Mark’s office.

Both living spaces open on to the patio, and they share colors, soft variations of gray, and style (what Tami Jo called Industrial Rustic) with some individual differences. In the bathrooms, she said, “Our tiles are different. One’s horizontal, the other vertical, and the glass on her pony wall is clear; ours is clouded. And — I wish I’d thought of this too — Tracy wanted, and got, a window in her shower.” Just a little bit of difference makes all the difference when you’re co-designing.

Because they entertain often and Tami Jo is an avid baker, a fully-equipped butler’s pantry and prep area with a sink and a beverage refrigerator is tucked around the corner from the kitchen. Mark is the designated chef, though weekend dinners are his specialty this year.

Mark and Tami Jo Nerby, most recently from Bothell, are home at last and plan to be here a long time. With her sister Tracy Harrington they share a cooperative living arrangement that offers the best of the new house to all of them.
Ohme Gardens and the mountains compete for attention in the views from the one-acre East Wenatchee lot, which is high above but close by the river. One of the draws for the Nerbys and Harrington was easy access to area highways.

The most distinctive space abuts the entrance. It would be a dining room on floor plans, but here, with its top-grade pool table it’s transformed (with the help of tin ceiling, faux distressed walls and a wall-size fabric street scene) into a bar in New Orleans’s French Quarter.

Mark is just now starting to work from home instead of commuting and is looking at a smooth transition into retirement. 

A major feature he especially enjoys is the 1,000-square-foot garage, built to hold three cars and with plenty of dedicated storage (“Not boxes just randomly lined up on the walls”) and a fully-equipped woodshop for him. He’s already collecting furniture project ideas, eager to try out an expanded life of leisure. 

Tracy, who’s worked in retail for most of her career, is now a dispatcher for Alpine Aire, and Tami Jo, who does interior design locally, anticipates working with One Way Construction as a client representative.

This experiment in communal living, though it’s a life-changer for the three residents, didn’t create any architectural oddities. 

The two-sided design allows flexibility: the second suite, now a sister’s domain, could also be used by a professional caretaker, a parent, a grandchild, perhaps another roommate. 

Or — whether owners are aging in place or simply living well in their prime, it could very well start out as spacious and gracious quarters for overnight guests.

Though Tami Jo designed this specific easy-living floor plan for her own family, it’s a concept that’s easily replicated, and she expects that more homeowners will begin to consider ways to include others in their household so that the “dream house” can live on as reality for a long, long time.

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