When Sally Tonkin and her husband Casey Corr heard that retired judge Ralph Thompson and his wife Kim were selling their country home west of Ahtanum, they decided to take a tour. It was love at first sight.
After working in Seattle for many years and raising their two children, Evan and Michaela, in their Laurelhurst home, they were ready for a change. They decided to give Sally’s hometown a try and in 2012 the couple rented their Seattle house and moved across the mountains to Yakima. “My father, James Tonkin, was named publisher of the Yakima Herald in 1973,” Sally said. “That’s a powerful incentive to return.”
Once settled into a rental home, Casey, with an extensive background in journalism, public affairs and strategic communications, was hired as Managing Editor of “Good Fruit Grower” magazine, a popular publication for farmers and orchardists. Sally, an accomplished photojournalist with a master’s degree in fine arts, was hired to teach photography and art at Davis High School.
For several years the couple lived in Yakima. However, the news of the Thompsons’ country house and property going on the real estate market got their attention. The land’s original owner was pioneer John Herke, who homesteaded the property and used the land to raise cattle. After Sally and Casey visited the Thompson house, it didn’t take long for them to make an offer.
Today it takes about 20 minutes to drive out to the Tonkin/Corr home, and that includes missing the mailbox, realizing the mistake, and back-tracking to their driveway. When I finally arrived, I knew the drive was worth it. The exterior of the couple’s one story, 1,580 square-foot dwelling reminded me of a modern version of the Mid-Century style that was popular in the ‘60s.
When Thompson bought the property in 2005, he created a preliminary design for the house. Wisely, he brought in Fred Seals, a local contractor who also holds a degree in architecture from the University of Washington, to create the architectural plans and blueprints. While Seals handled the construction, Thompson contributed a great deal of sweat equity.
Once through the front door, guests step into a large room with high ceilings. Sally describes the style as “open concept contemporary.” An efficient kitchen runs along the east wall and offers a long eat-in counter, a bank of tall cupboards for storage and modern appliances with plenty of space to create delicious meals.
The couple enjoys entertaining, and a long dinner table runs along the south side of the room. While friends and family are enjoying a meal, they can relish the amazing view of the Yakima Valley’s beautiful shrub-steppe grassland through the large windows.
When it comes to the interior style, Sally has a knack for mixing contemporary furnishings with pieces from the past she’s inherited from her mother and grandmother. Sally’s family has deep roots in Yakima. “We tried to live with only things we really love,” she said. “Everything I have means a lot to me.”
Opposite the dining area, a comfortable, modern sofa has been paired with an exquisite, inherited antique chair facing the cozy gas fireplace. A beautiful portrait of a Spanish lady, another family heirloom, hangs above the mantel. Living way out west on the top of a ridge, winter nights can get cold and this lovely setting is the perfect place to relax, read a book and watch the snow fall.
What country home would be complete without a pet? Did I mention the most important member of their family is Frank, their black Labrador retriever, named for Casey’s uncle? The big pup loves playing outside, rain, snow or shine, then runs into the house — wet, tired and hungry.
Three bedrooms and two bathrooms are on the other side of the house. Walking down the long hallway off the great room, it became instantly apparent that the couple loves art. They’ve transformed a nondescript area into their own private art gallery. The artwork includes Sally’s amazing photographs and works by local artists like Bill Brennen and Rob Prout, to name but two. “Yakima has so many great artists,” Sally said.
At the end of a long hall lies the couple’s master bedroom suite. Sally especially loves the room’s large windows and admitted, “This is my favorite room. I sit on the bed and read — and looking outside is like a Western movie.”
Anyone who lives in the country knows that there are often confrontations with, as the Scottish say, “Wee Beasties.” Sally and Casey certainly have had their own encounters with a variety of these wilderness creatures. Probably the most surprising encounter happened not long after they moved in. When they arrived home one night, their garage door opened to a rather large pile of bull snakes smiling (if snakes can smile) back at them! This was the moment they realized they were a long way from Seattle. Since then they’ve crossed paths with wood rats, mice, hawks, eagles, vultures, marmots, coyotes and owls, to name a few.
Just off the kitchen lies a south-facing deck Ralph Thomas built, for which his wife Kim designed a windbreak made with wood frames that hold large sheets of strong glass. The barrier protects them from the Valley’s afternoon breezes without obstructing the gorgeous view.
When Casey and Sally moved to the property, they loved the outdoor deck, but longed for something more. The first spring they lived in the house, they took the plunge and had an outdoor pool installed just a few steps down from the deck. Since then, their backyard pool and deck have become a wonderful spot to entertain.
Sally and Casey have always been adventurous. They’ve worked in and traveled to countries all over the world. Although they’ve settled in Yakima and consider themselves retired, they still like to jump on a plane to some exotic place. Fortunately for them, they’ve discovered a lineup of Yakima house sitters competing for a chance to stay in this unique, wonderful house.