Obbie and Connie Atkinson have spent the past seven years assigning their turn-of-the-century farmhouse in Eastern Oregon. From installing plumbing, tile and drywall to refinishing furniture, flooring and the base, this ascertained and thrifty couple have touched every surface of their property. Their enchanting space is a product of their joyous ingenuity, enthusiasm and happy partnership.
in a Glance
Who lives here: Obbie and Connie Atkinson plus a flock of readily excitable quail
Location: Richland, Oregon
Size: 2,500 square feet; 3 bedrooms, 1 bath
That’s intriguing: There are just five outbuildings on the property: a toolshed, a potting shed, a chicken coop, a storeroom and a barn.
Sarah Greenman: How did you find this home?
Connie Atkinson: We’re traveling through Montana, Idaho and Oregon Searching for a second home. At the time, we lived in California and knew we could not afford anything there. We thought it would be a vacation home.
We had an inventory: paved street, property (although not a lot), not in the hills but at a valley where we can look up in mountains, water near and an airport in hitting distance. We drove into Richland and saw an advertisement in the paper that read “Could once again be queen of this valley” Only considering it we were gobsmacked.
CA: This shed is the coolest thing. It was leaning way over on the side when we first moved in, and everyone said we ought to bulldoze it. However we loved it the way it was and could not imagine destroying it. We might have straightened it, but we didn’t. We have done a lot of work to restore it and maintain its sweet lean. Everybody who sees it’s shed envy. At this time it’s Obbie’s instrument shop. However, my hope is that in a couple of years it will be my studio.
SG: How did you realize that this home has been “the one”?
CA: I sat on the front porch and had this overwhelming feeling that it was home. I spent years at a state of chaos, moving from house to house, and in all the time I never felt as though I was at home anywhere. I just had a breakdown. I cried. I felt as though I was home for the very first time in my entire life.
SG: Where’s your favorite spot in the house?
CA: In summer time, it’s out. But in the colder months my favorite place is on the sofa with a cup of coffee overlooking the movie window.
The central living space is a cool, tranquil mix of white and sage green. The couple plans to rip out the ceilings, which have been dropped sometime in the ’60s to preserve energy and lower heating costs.
SG: What is the condition of the house when you moved in to it?
CA: Pretty sad. It smelled awful, and everything needed to be carried out. The carpet had to go, nasty built-in bookshelves needed to come out windows — everything. The men and women who had lived here were heavy smokers. The first time I came out here I stopped in town and had a refrigerator delivered. I showed up in the house with a refrigerator, a mattress and a bathtub of TSP (trisodium phosphate). I thought, “What the hell have I gotten myself into?”
SG: Tell me about the artwork in this room.
CA: We filled the walls with purposeful artwork. The painting over the sofa is obviously a household member’s home in Paso Robles, California. It was painted by my mother’s friend, Willa Sell. Obbie made the framed buff drawing to the right when he was just 12 years old as a nod to his own Native American origins.
Sofas: Z Gallerie; paint: Olive Sprig, Olympic Ultra; red corner blossom: yard sale
The dining area is opposite the living area and generally full of morning light. Connie discovered the huge antique German sideboard, which she painted white. She admits, “I stewed about painting it for three decades and then eventually took the plunge.”
SG: What inspires your personal aesthetic?
CA: Sadly, everything inspires me. I have a floundering sense of style. If I see a beach house, I want to come home and do the beach house seem. Same with log cabin, or Native American, or Southwest, or desert or Language B and B. I want to test it all. Since I am at a farmhouse, I sort of have to do a country fashion.
SG: What is or was your biggest design dilemma?
CA: There is hardly any all-natural light in the kitchen, which really bothers me. Soon we’ll bust out the wall that divides the kitchen and toilet to create a kitchen with views and space to accommodate a farm dining table.
Additionally, the existing toilet was once a space with a sink, bathroom, bathtub, water heater and washing system — all crunched to a hallway. Getting that tub cleared so we can use it was quite a chore. We want to abandon that tub because it’s on the face of the house with the best view.
Flooring: Antique Oak finish, Home Depot; cabinet paint: Shelter Green, Martha Stewart Living
As with many old farmhouses, the kitchen has a huge root cellar and a huge pantry for storing summer’s harvest. Connie’s brother built the rustic kitchen cabinet in the upcycled window and scrap timber.
The traditional blue and white master bedroom has a wide bay window that faces the front of the property. Connie chose bedding that matched her mother’s blue and white porcelain pottery.
SG: Where’s your favorite place to search for your property?
CA: Thrift stores and antique places. We’ve got an old place and I enjoy old things. And I really like a deal!
Blue seat: JD Mercantile at Richland; paint: Navigation, True Value; bedding: Tuesday Morning; throw pillow: Ikea
The upstairs guest room reflects the Western terrain and the colours of the surrounding high desert. A hat rack, woven rugs and a vintage Grand Canyon wall hanging help to create a backcountry ambience.
The couple calls for the upstairs bedroom the “AARP Dorm.” Several beds can be pushed together to create king-size sleeping arrangements, and there’s a ’70s-era accordion room divider.
Grandchildren regularly visit and enjoy sharing these cozy quarters, which Connie has equipped with matching twin beds, handmade dolls and a vintage children’s dining table.
CA: One of the main reasons we purchased this home was to ease family gatherings. We wanted a beautiful place where our children could unwind and bring their children.
Bedding: Goal; desk, seat: yard sale
Connie is always moving her home office from room to room to keep it clear of their newest home improvement project. Its present home is in the upstairs bedroom.
Desk, seat: El Paso Import
The couple converted a canning porch off the back of the house to a bath, complete with a vintage soaking bathtub and a walk-in shower. Connie found that the garage door at a local yard sale. To conserve space, Obbie mounted it as a sliding barn door.
SG: What are you currently working on next?
CA: Finishing the tub remodel. It was absolutely necessary and ended up being a splurge of time since we did all of the work ourselves. When it’s finished, we’ll eliminate the old tub. Just like most things, we are chewing this one bite at a time.
The foyer is a bright mix of natural light and wood details. The gallery wall on the staircase is full of watercolors, most of which have been painted by Connie’s mother.
SG: If these walls could speak, what could they say?
CA: I believe they’d say, “Thank God somebody came and saved us. We had tender loving care”
The Atkinsons purchased the home in 2005 from Dan Forsea, a third-generation rancher. Forsea made a wrought iron sculpture for a present for the Atkinsons, motivated by the hordes of quail that populate the property. It hangs on both sides of Connie’s potting shed alongside an enormous lilac bush.
CA: we’ve created the most amazing friends here in the valley. I feel like they’ve been here all along, just waiting for me to appear and join the gang.
A yellow vintage rocking bench adorns the east side of the wraparound porch. Connie sewed the throw pillows utilizing vintage tablecloths and handkerchiefs.
CA: We had not planned this to be our full-time home, but it grew on us big time. Each time I sit on the front porch, the house feels like it’s mine. This home is my sanctuary. Obbie and I can’t get enough of this peacefulness here. I sat out here for 20 minutes the other day and didn’t hear one man-made audio. You can do this.
SG: What do you love about gardening?
CA: I didn’t know I enjoyed gardening till I had space to garden. This place is named Richland for a reason. The dirt is wonderful. I started a little perennial garden, and I went crazy and started digging everywhere. I don’t understand anything about gardening, and I didn’t have a plan. I am learning as I go. When a plant does well then it has to stay. Next year, I will attempt more veggies.
There are just five outbuildings on the property, such as a toolshed, a potting shed, a chicken coop, a storeroom and a barn.
CA: I say, “My barn is like the ocean. I really like to look at it, but I do not really need to go in.” Obbie loves it , though. He’s in there all the time.
SG: What was your proudest homeowner moment?
CA: I have it all of the time. It occurs when somebody from the valley sees what we have done with this place. They can’t believe it. It feels really great to give this beautiful home the love and tenderness it deserves.
Obbie and Connie Atkinson enjoy glasses of wine in a popular nearby overlook.
SG: Any information for homeowners looking for a fixer-upper?
CA: If you’re trying to find a home, sit down and make a list of all of the things you want. And if you come close to the list, you’re doing really well. Once, when we had been frustrated and feeling tired of looking, we almost purchased a home that didn’t meet the listing. I am so glad we didn’t! You’ll manifest what you need if you stick with it.
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