Labor-Of-Love Home Project Goes On And On

The sequel to “The Money Pit” has opened in Moscow, Idaho, but this version stars Lauren and James Fryett.

Here’s a summary: The Fryetts, a clean-cut family of six who left Seattle for Moscow in 1994, buy a rambling historic house that’s gone to seed and try, with little experience, to renovate it.

Call it performance art because it’s ongoing at 403 N. Polk in Moscow’s historic Fort Russell neighborhood.

“We’ve done painting before but nothing major,” says Lauren, with a glance at a glaring patch of missing floor. “But we weren’t in a position to have someone do the work for us.”

The Charles Butterfield home wasn’t even advertised for sale when James and his teenage daughter knocked on the door. The faded box-shaped home built for Butterfield in 1903 had four imposing white columns topped with Greek leaf carvings on its front porch. They had to ask about it.

The owner wanted to sell, but James wouldn’t buy until Lauren saw it.

“It was really dark inside. There were few windows and the staircase was enclosed,” she says. “I was pretty overwhelmed by the work it would need.”

James wasn’t. When he was in junior high, his parents bought a dilapidated brick house with smoke-blackened walls. His father saw a hidden jewel and worked at it until it shone.

“When I saw this, I said, ‘I’ve been here before,”’ James says. “When I tore off the Sheetrock, I knew just how Dad had felt.”

The Fryetts researched the house at the historical society, the library, even in the original owner’s hometown in Wisconsin. They quizzed neighbors whose parents had lived in it and anyone who might know how the inside originally looked.

No one could help with the 4,000-square-foot interior. Over the years, it had been chopped into apartments. Private stairways, kitchens and bathrooms had been added. Floors and ceilings had been covered with layers of linoleum, wood and acoustic tiles. Every room represented a different decade.

James and Lauren began peeling off the layers, knocking down walls and building new ones. They found wood beam ceilings and holes where staircases and doors once stood.

“It’s like being a detective,” James says, studying the family room he believes was once the dining room.

They renovated the dining room and living room, adding the original columns from the back porch as fireplace sentinels. They transformed kitchens into bedrooms and attic crawl spaces into playrooms.

They move at a pace that fits their budget and energy, but admit that sometimes the work seems never-ending.

“As soon as I finish one thing, I look at the next instead of enjoying what I’ve done,” James says with a sigh. “I had to finish that fireplace, then I had to rip out the herb garden. Now that avocado bathtub really bugs me.”

About a third of the inside is finished and none of the outside. So the Fryetts were surprised when Mary Reed, director of the Latah Historical Society, asked to include their house on the society’s annual house and garden tour Aug. 18.

“I thought Mary was dreaming about what the inside looked like,” James says, laughing. “But she looked and said it was just great.”

It is.

The Butterfield House is one of six houses and gardens on the tour. For tickets, call 882-1004.

Fine art

Artists don’t have to struggle for appreciation in Coeur d’Alene, where a mayor’s committee is waiting for your nominations for outstanding artists, supporters of the arts and arts educators. These people had to do something great - elevated art to a new high, made something new possible, found a new niche for arts in schools.

Don’t dally. The nominations are due Sept. 9. Call 667-0625 for details.

What awards would you like to start in North Idaho? Propose them to Cynthia Taggart, “Close to Home,” 608 Northwest Blvd., Suite 200, Coeur d’Alene 83814; fax to 765-7149; or call 765-7128.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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