Richlie and her husband are house flippers and DIYers and have some of the most unique and interesting ideas for repurposing I’ve ever seen! Their family has lived in Coloma, Michigan for 7 generations, so they flip homes because they love it (and it’s a great business for them), but also because they feel a sense of connection to the past as they bring these old homes back to life. Welcome, Richlie!
My grandma fell in love with my grandpa the second they first met; this was my favorite childhood fairy tale. Wouldn’t you know the same thing happened to me when I met my husband? He was dating my older sisters’ best friend when I first met him — but I just knew, heart and soul, he was the one. About four years later we met again, this time through my best friend, and the rest is history.
During the day, I work as an office manager full time, and as a financial secretary part time, but at night I dream of interior designing, staging, and remodeling. I think it’s the right side of my brain that controls my head and heart while my left side currently controls my career. My husband manages our rental properties and moonlights as a construction foreman for a real estate investment company.
Our son Cole was five when it was gently suggested we have him tested for autism. What we thought was rambunctiousness and the lack of attentiveness of being an only child, placed him off the charts in all the areas on the spectrum. Every part of his behavior, from the demands of repetitious rituals, to the distractive activities, became our new norm.
Although he’s dreamt of being a police officer his whole life, we wanted to plan for a future that would support him if his challenges with learning disabilities could not.
My husband and I decided to tap into our equity, with the plan of buying a rental house, rehabbing it, then purchasing more by flipping a house a year. The homes became an extension of us, our other children that vied for much needed attention — so much so that we’ve found it hard to part with them.
Now that Cole has gotten older, we know his life is going to take him in unimaginable directions, and that his compass won’t always point towards home. We have decided to shift from contracted rentals and focus on the short-term rental side of things. Next year we will be adding a handful of individually unique, custom-themed “Farmhouses by Fikes” Airbnb homes.
We live in Coloma, Michigan, where Lake Michigan is less than five miles away. Tucked away in our little southwest corner of the mitten, there is a Jack Nicholas golf course, wineries, antique shops, and two public accesses to the Lake.
While we aren’t within walking distance to town, we were fortunate enough to buy 4.5 wooded acres to the north and east of us that we’ve left untouched. There is an abundance of wildlife that call the acres home with chipmunks, deer, and birds that travel through. One of our favorite things is listening for the whistle of the freight trains, watching the Crayola colored cars rolling through the trees in the distance, and the accompanying clackity clack of the wheels on the track.
This house was falling apart at the seams when we bought it for $25,000. The well pump was missing which meant the plumbing hadn’t worked in ages, the interior was frayed, and the train had given the foundation stress cracks.
What time hadn’t destroyed, we did. It took several hands to tear out lathe and plaster, mountains of insulation fell, and previous supporting walls were removed. I took a sketch pad, a deep breath, a lot of credit cards, and designed every inch.
Maybe it was the flowers that grow in the neighbor’s gardens that influenced my design — or that the house started out so deliciously low and so horribly dirty that I couldn’t stop channeling Eliza Doolittle. I brought in snippets of her life, from the flower cart turned vanity, the cobbled streets turned brick floors, the encyclopedias for her elocution lessons (which are stacked, and mis numbered to our house number), and the horses from the Ascot I’ve tucked here and there.
Our son Cole is seventh generation in our hometown, and the houses that we are saving is part of a continuation of our family’s legacy. My husband’s great, great, great grandfather ran a side wheel steamboat that journeyed along the St. Joseph River and another relation ran an International Harvester dealership that managed to stay in business before, during, and after the great depression.
We have that spirit still — that hard grit and determination to succeed, to push through what others think can’t be pulled off. It’s my husband’s sweat, tears, and willpower that take the challenge of a neglected home on, and I get handed the reigns back after he’s done.
Sometimes it’s a battle of wills, like at this house when he flat out refused to use the Elgin bike as a vanity and wire in the swing set seat shelves. Or when I asked him tear down half a wall of the red barn siding when he’d gone horizontal instead of vertical. Other times it’s easy, like at another house when I told him exactly how I wanted the kitchen to look and he was right there with me the whole way.
I walk into homes, close my eyes, and open my ears — and I listen to the stories of what they’ve been through and everything they hope to be. Designing gives chapters to those stories, whether it be through patterns or shapes, colors or hues.
It’s finding a storyline — discovering the balance between the perfectly imperfect pieces, tying together random decor, and getting down to the nucleus of that core concept. It’s creating the conversations, getting the rooms to speak to each other cohesively. You develop the main characters (your fixtures, cabinets, and flooring). then shape your plot around your furnishings.
Sometimes there is drama, a little angst, and always a twist or two, as each day of the project turns a page. My husband and I play the hero and heroine — the house plays the damsel in distress — and as far as the future goes, it’s always a happy ending.
A few years ago, we took on a carriage house that was well over a hundred years old, and after getting down to the nuts and bolts (or floor joists and trusses), I sat and had a little chat with it. Turns out the house didn’t want to spend its days standing stoically over the street like the rest of the homes. No, truth be known, it had always held a flair for the dramatic, hiding a petticoat of red barn wood under its shingled layers.
So, we gave the house a new dress of batten board siding, added galvanized tin in the gables, and perched an antique weathervane on top. We crafted chicken crates into pendant lights, added a chicken roost in the kitchen for wine storage, turned porcelain red rimmed wash pans into vessel sinks, brought in a replica claw foot shower pan, and paired it with an antique claw foot tub.
I’ve made light fixtures from a variety of things: a fire truck hose reel, a paint brush storage box, and minnow buckets. Hall tables, sofa tables, dressers, buckets, and even a bike have become vanities. I’ve used tin as wainscoting and siding. Antique barn roofing has covered ceilings along with both interior and exterior walls.
Found things have a habit of going topsy-turvy; shelves are turned upside down, and doors become tables. There are times I can’t make the scale work, or my found thing is too literal to use in the abstract. I’ve spent countless minutes walking around, contemplating, and sometimes abandoning found things, which is usually a blessing for my husband.
It’s as if a Fairy Godmother waved her DIY wand around, recited a little Martha Stewart Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo, and a vintage Marx tin doll house came to life. At midnight, the magic doesn’t fade away; it’s there in the faces of everyone who knows our home’s rag to riches story.
My husband, who’s ancestry has been traced back to generations of Princes in Marmaduke, Arkansas, thinks it’s all about the old country farmhouse feel, but I think it’s something more enchanting. Someone asked me “What is this called?” I said “Farmhouse.” They said “No, this is Richlie. You have created something uniquely you.” I guess I’d have to agree with that.
There is no superpower, no cape to take off at the end of the day; I wasn’t born with some innate power to see through walls, climb tall buildings, or run faster than humanly possible. Perhaps keeping everything together — the relationship between my husband, my child, my family and friends, the house, laundry, bills, schedules, work, the lists that keep getting longer when days keep getting shorter — is a type of power. But I wouldn’t agree on super.
Every one of us, whether we are homemakers, artists, or creators, have a responsibility to our family that isn’t based on a comic book fantasy — it’s real, it’s tangible, it’s intrinsic to the person we want our children to become. As I parent, I watch my child grow, make mistakes, fall, and pick himself up knowing if he needs a hand, I’m going to be right there dusting him off, encouraging him to try.
I hope my son remembers backyard dinners, crashing out in the living room to Netflix, and long walks through the woods. Hopefully he gets over his aversion to any type of home improvement store, flea market, garage sale, antique mall, and knick knack shop without a therapist dredging up memories of me dragging him along.
The best part for my son is the free food, free electricity, and free WIFI, and that he gets to live with us. Best part for us? The “I love yous” whenever we want them. As he gets older, I miss the younger versions, the parts of him I don’t get to see when I am away from home.
I miss the smell of his baby blankets, the way the sun would make his curls shine before they got cut off, the way he would laugh when he’d squish cupcakes in his mouth. I miss scrapped knees, toy car races, and endless pleads for bike rides in the hot setting summer sun.
I miss helping with homework, searching for answers to impossible math questions, and begging him to take off his policeman Halloween costume when it’s outgrown him by a year or two. I miss his soft footsteps, then the steady ones, and then the ones that ran instead of walked in the house.
I will miss the self-assured ones telling me there’s a teenager roaming the house at 2:00 A.M. when the rest of the world is sleeping, and someday, I will miss those steps when they cross over our threshold and onto his own. In that accompanying silence, I will miss it all.
Don’t let fear hold you back. Run like Phoebe through Central Park. Be true to yourself. Zig instead of zag. Be bold. Fight the good fight. Keep the faith. Always be you.
Thank you, Richlie! I love the idea of remodeling and renovating old homes as a way to connect to the past. I think we’ve all seen that neighborhood where the old homes that seemed to make sense there, were torn down and replaced with McMansions that seem so out of place. Giving those old homes new life seems like such a great way to update things without changing the character of a community.
And there are so many creative ideas in this house on how to reuse found objects. If I need a new light fixture, I know my first instinct is to see what I can find at an online shop. I would never think of repurposing something else into a new fixture. It’s truly so creative and interesting.
Are you a good DIYer/ repurposer of found objects? Or are you on a first name basis with the cashiers at Target? What’s your go to when you are looking for a new piece for your home?
Cast Iron Shower Stand
Woven Twigs Placemat
Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at [email protected]