Fred & Irene

This is the fifth in a series of interviews with homeowners in the (East) Lansing area. The purpose of this series is to learn more about our neighbors and create a sense of community that can exist both online and out in the world!

Tell me about yourself, where you live in East Lansing, and who you live with.

Fred and Irene Baker live in the Glencairn neighborhood, on Roxburgh Avenue. Fred is an attorney who does not seem to be able to retire, despite a couple of half-hearted attempts, and Irene as a nurse-practitioner in women’s health who seems to have succeeded quite nicely in doing so. Our Aussie, Scout, lives with us.

What brought you to East Lansing?

Originally, in 1986, the schools, for our daughters, but we actually returned to East Lansing in 2016 after living on ten acres in Williamstown Township for 16 years. The work and expense involved in maintaining a huge yard (we mowed about four acres) and flower and vegetable gardens, the 25-minute commute, the remoteness of our neighbors (it turns out that some people live on large tracts in the country because they prefer to be isolated and remote from their neighbors), the lack of nearby places to walk (walking on the road, especially with dogs, was too often dangerous, even though Barton Road is only two miles long and goes nowhere), and the completely automobile-dependent lifestyle finally decided us that it was time to return to the neighborhood where we had raised our daughters, Jessica and Jordan, who both attended East Lansing schools. So we watched for places in Glencairn and finally bought a house only four blocks from our former East Lansing home on the corner of Oakwood and Wildwood. We knew we loved this neighborhood and already had many friends and acquaintances here, so no adjustment was required. Suddenly we could walk downtown, and get wherever we wanted to be in only a few minutes.    

How long have you lived in your home? 

Since July 2016.

What drew you to this house – did you have the feeling of “this is the one” when you were house hunting?

We wanted a house that was not as big as the ones we had in the Township and in our first East Lansing home, but that could still accommodate our children and their growing families when they come home. It also had to have a sizable fenced yard, because we are dog people, and Scout was giving up an invisibly-fenced domain that allowed him a lot of scope, so it was only fair that he at least have the run of a yard. We also wanted to avoid “upsizing” the amount invested in our home, because East Lansing’s home prices and property taxes are high, and we knew we would be retiring at some point. We chose this house because it was in our price/tax range, even though it meant sucking it up and investing substantially initially in plumbing, electrical, and remodeling, decorating, and landscaping upgrades. We knew it would be a bit of a money pit in the beginning, because the former owner had let it run to seed a bit, but in only a few years we have got it in a condition to our liking. We could see that the house had good bones, level floors, plumb doorways, and nice wood floors, and we like the huge windows in front and the window wall in the dining room looking into the screened porch that we have come to love. It has both good light and the privacy afforded by a high fenced-mature backyard and some elevation above street level. 

What’s one project you thought you would do before you moved in? Have you done it – why or why not?

Before and immediately after moving in we did extensive plumbing and electrical upgrades, a complete kitchen remodel, re-carpeted the two finished basement rooms, remodeled the laundry room, and corrected moisture problems in the basement. We also replaced all window treatments and most lighting fixtures, and, within the first year, redecorated both upstairs baths (the largest bath was like something out of a bordello).

Since then, we have redecorated all but two of the upstairs rooms, which were quite usable as they are, but which we also plan to repaint and make some changes to.  We have also made extensive changes to the landscaping, gradually reconfiguring the back yard, especially, and erecting about a hundred feet of six-foot privacy fencing. In the process, we discovered by survey that our yard was considerably larger than we supposed – it was a bit of a wilderness when we moved in. New storm windows, a hefty dose of attic insulation, and a new gas fireplace in the basement recreation room have all made the house more comfortable and efficient.

What has been your favorite project (or purchase) so far?

I think Irene and I both enjoy the kitchen remodel most of all. The kitchen was a bit of a horror show when we moved in, but it is now quite up to date. Irene does almost all of the cooking and I do the cleanup – that is our division of labor after 50 years of marriage – so we both enjoy the kitchen, for different reasons. We have never had a kitchen with so much cupboard space, even on Oakwood, where our house had a pantry and was about 4,000 square feet. Irene even has a sliding glass door cupboard in which to display the bone china teacups she has collected since she was a girl, which seems like an extravagant use of space. We still have some unused cupboard space.   

How has “Stay Safe at Home” affected your daily routines? Now that we have been home for over half a year, is there anything you wish you could change about your home?

We have a cozy den where we can watch television together and that is probably the biggest change in our lives since the COVID epidemic began – we were both active outside of the house with activities that are now impossible. I especially miss the MAC – keeping fit is much more difficult now — on some days Scout runs away when I ask him if he wants a walk.

What are some of your EL favorites?

We miss El Az, the Aquatic Center, and the Hannah Community Center – what a jewel of an asset. I think the MAC is an amazing amenity, and cannot wait until it is safe to exercise with a building full of cheerful people sweating and grunting their way to better fitness. The Community book, culminating in meeting the author in the Hannah auditorium (though sometimes at Wharton, as with Ta-Nehisi Coates) is really enjoyable. One of the most moving moments was listening to John Lewis at Hannah – I am so glad I got to see him. The Wharton Season. Just living in a college town full of diversity and eternally young people, and hearing the roar of the stadium and the sound of the band practicing while outside in our yard. And most of all, having neighbors once again, nice people to meet when out for a stroll in our neighborhood, who remind you why it is called a neighborhood

How do you spend an ideal Saturday at home?

Owning a home is like owning the Mackinac Bridge:  You start at one end, work to the other end, and then start over at the beginning. There are always chores to do. But it is nice to begin with coffee on the porch, watching the critters in the yard – some days it looks like Bambi out there with all the rabbits, birds, and at least four types of squirrels. 

Which would you say you are: handy, crafty, hostess, or cook?

I am pretty handy, but Irene makes quilts and can cook. We both like to have friends in our home and look forward to when we can do so again. We have had a few nice parties in this house and it seems to be one that people feel comfortable in when it is full of noise and light and babble.

Lightning Round:

  1. Can you fold a fitted sheet?  I think so, but Irene disagrees.
  2. Favorite simple treat?  Irene makes a “crazy pancake,” and I make “the best pancakes in the universe,” popcorn with butter, and rice krispie treats with a special recipe that are always gone soon.  
  3. Best organizing hack? Remember to push in the ends of the Saran Wrap carton before using it.
  4. When I say hygge, you say…. I have no response to this.
  5. Your question.  Who has it better than us?

Thank you, Fred and Irene, for sharing your beautiful home with us! If you would like to be featured on the Real Houses of East Lansing, please send an email to the editor, Carrie Sampson, at mrscarrsamp (at) gmail (dot) com with “Real Houses of EL” in the subject line. Thx for reading!

Published by eastlansinghome

Carrie Sampson is a longtime resident of East Lansing, Michigan. She has worked in nonprofit communications for over 20 years and in the last decade has become increasingly interested in interior design and issues related to the built environment. Carrie has served as a commissioner on the East Lansing Historic District Commission since 2018. She has written the Eye Candy and Eye for Design columns in the Lansing City Pulse since 2019. To learn more or to work with her, send an email to mrscarrsamp AT gmail DOT com.

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