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


By on March 27, 2021 in Featured Homes with 0 Comments

Contractor who stumbled during housing crash, now has an eye for taking the old 

and making it fresh

In the course of his career as a home builder and remodeler, Hugh Carr has been diligent in mastering most construction trades, in addition to creating architectural plans like the elevations seen here. 

Story by Susan Lagsdin

Photos by Mike Irwin

In this healthy building boom, it may be hard to remember how quickly and precipitously fortunes were ruined in the housing crash of 2006. Hugh Carr remembers.

He had just acquired what he calls his dream home in Minnesota, and two years later he couldn’t sell it. Bankruptcy followed. Hugh said, “I decided that was never going to happen to me again.”

Trained by his dad to be a competent handyman, he was also a journeyman pipefitter skilled in installing heating, cooling and water systems. And, when he was younger and married with kids, he had expanded a small mid-century box house into a five-bedroom family home.

But he wanted more career skills. Hugh decided right then after the loss of his much-beloved home to sweeten the odds, to become indispensable. 

Classes and certification in an array of the construction arts followed. “I made sure I had every trade I ever need to have, so I could use my skills whatever the economy,” Hugh said. 

When Hugh first saw the old house in 2015, it was a compact three-story home with a small footprint; its sturdiness and the hillside location with great views convinced him to buy it.
High up at the end of Springwater Street, this century-old farmhouse is expanding to suit modern needs. It still gives the owner plenty of privacy in the midst of growth and even more grand views to the south and east.

That forethought served him well. In 2009 he was able to buy himself an old house, completely remodel it doing almost all the labor, and sell it for almost five times the price. 

Breathing easier, Hugh established himself as a contractor and then bought, lived in, improved and sold other houses in the Midwest.

This time, at 53, Hugh might be ready to settle, and he thinks he’s found just the place.

This area was familiar to him because he’d made a few trips to Leavenworth to help his brother Dan, a Leavenworth restaurateur, with some new construction. So, while visiting family in Las Vegas in March of 2015, he was casually perusing Wenatchee real estate on his computer when he saw a good-looking, affordable old house on a hillside at the end of Springwater Street that grabbed his attention.

With his teenage daughter in tow, Hugh said, “I drove straight through, 16 hours, to Wenatchee. That was March. I saw the house and made an offer. We closed in June.”

Hugh’s home improvements will continue well into the summer; meanwhile he’s created a cozy work/dine/relax area. The sturdy wood-look flooring has served him well through all the re-construction. 

The orchard home, built in 1921, had a simple floor plan. It totaled 2,200 square feet over three floors, the lower one a rock-sided cellar with 12-inch by 12-inch beams. 

Hugh surmises from his experience with vintage construction that the main house was probably remodeled but could have started life as a Sears kit home popular that decade, with its kitchen, living, dining and bath on the main level and sleeping quarters up.

 “The house was square and straight. That’s the most important thing,” Hugh said. “And I knew what it could become the moment I saw it.”

The house was livable, occupied until a few months prior to the sale, so he didn’t begin the renovation immediately. He was busy building a tract house in Entiat and improving and selling one in East Wenatchee. When he did start work on his own home, it was full speed ahead.

Well, maybe not full speed. 

The former orchard land below the house lot is being intensively developed, so a period of (resolved) issues with boundary adjustments, road access and utility lines ensued. Fortunately, Hugh says, he’s a fastidious follower of protocol. His architectural drawings are his own, and he knows his way around city and county permitting.

The original kitchen probably filled this same space, but with a dividing wall. Hugh chose functional modern elements like flooring, lighting, chairs and cabinetry to evoke the feel of the old farmhouse.

The biggest decision was to lower the sloping ground level on the south side and add a full garage and upstairs bedrooms. That new two-level addition connects to the main living area in the old house with three interior steps. 

A walk through the house, still in progress, reveals choices that add not only space but function. The new wing has two bedrooms and two full baths, one en suite, one for guests, with good-size closets and a convenient laundry room.

The upstairs (in the original structure with its attic roof line) will become one large master suite. Hugh may also restore the old cellar-level habitation — a small room and bath — giving the house plenty of room for family and guests, or a caretaker/renter.

He’s refurbished the kitchen with a center island and white cabinetry, dark stone counter tops and stainless-steel appliances, 2021 farmhouse style hinting at 100-year-old origins. 

Two items he’s particularly pleased with: he re-purposed a three-sided, slide-in dining booth into a spacious pantry with barn door closure, and he kept a non-functioning but evocative red brick chimney stack that helps bridge the kitchen and living area.

Besides his ability to do every job a house needs, as Carr & Company Hugh had accumulated a shop full of tools, heavy equipment for grading and filling, and good connections with vendors like Western Materials at Baker Flats.

With occasional help from family and friends on the muscle jobs like the foundation, framing and roof, he was happy to handle all the rest: flooring, windows, sheetrock, paint, trim, plumbing, electrical…

 “There’s really nothing I don’t know how to fix,” he said. “ I like working by myself, for myself. I can work at my own pace whatever time of day I want to,” he said. “…and I don’t have to clean up afterward.”

 Hugh said he considers this his home — with great views, easy access to town and a good solid house to roam in, he intends to settle in and relax a while.

But anyone who’s started tinkering with or full-on transforming their own home realizes it’s tough to know when to stop. Hugh’s eye for detail and reserves of energy may keep him at this project longer than most.

One last question for this multi-talented builder: “Is there anything you’re not good at that you’d like to be good at?” Hugh thought a moment, smiled, and said simply: “Contentment.”

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