Fifteen years ago, one of my massage clients who had a little historic home in Downtown Apex was renovating a big house up the street to move her family of eight in to. At the time, Bryan and I were the caretakers of a beautiful historic plantation house on 3000 acres of game land in Chatham County. As much as we wanted to buy something, we knew our budget could never afford us what we had in our epic living situation. One day my client said, "I wish you could buy our little house," but I didn't think we could afford to. We went to see it and fell in love with this tiny (less than 1500 square foot) bungalow built in 1901 that was busting at the seams with her six homeschooled children. It had beautiful moldings, high ceilings, double mantles and fireplaces, a wide front porch, a great location- walking distance to the adorable little turn of the century railroad town's main street, and it had soul. It was the only place since moving to North Carolina that appealed to me anywhere near my budget. A week later, we sat at the dining room table and wrote out a contract while her kids entertained my toddler.
Since the day we moved in, we have been planning our renovation. The kitchen addition was poorly built many years ago and my tall husband had to duck to get through the back door everyday. The layout was completely dysfunctional. I would get invited to Pampered Chef parties and think, "Where in the Hell would I put that handy device?" I had one drawer for all of my kitchen utensils. The roof started leaking soon after we moved in, so we patched it (over and over and over) because we didn't want to spend money on a new one since we were going to rip off the back of the house and put on a new addition anyway. Then there were the termites... I remember standing on the back stoop with a parent who had come to pick up a kid from a play date at our house many years ago waving these flying things away saying, "What are all these flying bugs?" Um, those would be termites and they're eating your house from under your feet.
Have you ever noticed how with kids and work and daily responsibilities, life just kind of gets away from you? First you're too broke to do anything, then you might move back to Baltimore, then another baby comes along, then there are the elderly dogs, and then 2008 happens so you certainly aren't thinking about taking on more debt, then there's the puppy that needs extensive vet care, and so on. Suddenly, you've been in this house for 14 years and guess what? It's totally fine! You have a roof over your head, beautiful architecture, a great lot, comfort and warmth (mostly), and you are raising happy kids there. And may I remind you that Margaret did it with six kids? Whenever I felt like I was drowning in arms and legs (I live with tall people), I would picture all eight of the Allens crowded into this tiny, happy house and that was the dose of reality I needed to realize that really, we were just fine.
We watch too much HGTV. We want perfection, and of course an open floor plan and an en-suite. The fact is I have holes in my dining room floor. Several. But you know what? I pull into my driveway everyday and feel happy and proud of my quirky little house.
One day my Australian, Bec, was over and we were sitting on the back porch. She noticed that the giant water oak who's canopy covers the entire roof of my house is full of mistletoe balls and in her wonderfully enthusiastic manner and Australian accent cried out, "Is that MISTLETOE??? Blessed House of Love!!!" I felt so special. Why it is of course a silly custom to kiss under it, I thought it so appropriate that we are raising our family in a home literally sheltered by mistletoe.
Sadly, that tree came down this week. We are finally doing this addition and remodel that we've wanted to do since day one in the house. To make room for our new family room, we had to remove the tree. We were going to try to save it, but the root system was too damaged by the excavation for the new foundation, Plus, it's a messy, messy tree without a lot of life left in it that towers over both our home and our neighbor's. Gladly, I have found someone to mill it and we will be using it in the future home somehow- maybe as floors, maybe as countertops, or maybe just a piece of furniture.
Some of my very favorite memories come from that tree. Sam wanted a tire swing for his 10th birthday, so that was the tree that we put one on. I've heard countless hours of delighted squeals and laughter as the kids and their friends swung wildly from the lowest limb. My best friend, Andi, would come visit every December and after a couple of Bloody Mary's we would go mistletoe hunting which usually culminated in tipsy mothers on the low roof laughing hysterically throwing rope lassos at the mistletoe while our children called from below, "Mommy, be careful!"
It's the end of an era, but the start of something very exciting. Never did we plan to do the extensive renovation that we have just gotten underway. Originally it was going to be a slightly bigger kitchen, a master bedroom and bath, a bigger mudroom, and some storage. We are now doubling the size of our house. It is no longer going to be tiny and funky and weird- it's going to be a showcase home, completely devoid of bouncy floors and short doorways. In some ways I feel like I'm selling out to the lifestyle I lived for so long, but in other ways, I feel like we put our time in and we really deserve this!
We bought a historic home in the picturesque downtown area of a town that would become Money Magazine's number one place to live in America long before so many people wanted to live here. By the time we replaced our worn out floors, our leaking roof, and repaired our termite damage we would be in for quite a bit of money to keep the same tiny, dysfunctional house. We decided we love our house, we love our lot, we love our neighbors, and we love our town, so let's just make it what we want. Because of all the equity we've built and the rise in home values in our neighborhood, our new mortgage is equivalent to what they are selling vinyl sided townhouses for just down the street. We'd be crazy not to do this. But I will miss my little blessed house of love. It's treated us well.