After an Odyssean search for home, my husband David and I have embarked on another old house restoration project…our third. Oh, here we are! We feel like us again.
For ten years we lived in a perfectly lovely subdivision home. It was large, sunny, well-planned, safe, comfortable, and pretty. But it just didn’t fit. Enjoying many of the conveniences afforded by modernity, we took a detour toward building a new/old house. Purchasing a picturesque, rolling property adjacent to fifty acres of woods, we set our plans into motion. Until…we moved into a rental house in our date-night destination town: Geneva, Illinois. Surprise! Turns out that we didn’t want more land, larger spaces, longer views, more privacy. The charm of living with abundant life right outside our windows, everything in walking distance, close proximity to fellow preservation enthusiasts, and the feeling of belonging to something vibrant…this is what we really wanted. One problem remained: we needed a house.
We had always said that our pie-in-the-sky-money-is-no-object dream was to own an authentic old home in Geneva’s charming Historic District. And so, we set our sights on that goal with little real belief that we would find something suitable and affordable. After looking at several options, we began to lose heart. While each home we entered rekindled and enflamed the old-house passion in our hearts, none had the unique combination of characteristics we had hoped to find. One was filled with potential…truly grand…but everything everything needed to be upgraded AND the price was a king’s ransom. Off the list. One was fairly well-finished but far out of our comfortable price range. Off the list. Another was more within our reach, but not when the necessary upgrades were accounted for. Off the list. But there was one we had not yet considered. We had looked at it frequently on-line, but rejected it as a possibility each time. Finally, after looking at yet another no-go just across the street, our realtor suggested we just go have a look. ”After all, we’re right here and the house is unoccupied.” Alright, we’ll look, but we really aren’t interested.
As soon as the key was turned and the door swung open, there it was. That inexplicable something that echoes across the years and whispers, “Welcome home. I’ve been waiting for you. I need you.” (If you are an old-house person, you know what I mean. If you’re not, well…you’re missing out.) Still, months would go by before we were to write an offer. The lot was very tiny. There was a lot of work. The listing price halted our enthusiasm. Had we imagined the whisper?
Four months later, we decided to go look one last time to rule it out. No, we had not imagined it. This was our house. Bonus: the price had dropped significantly. We frantically wrote an offer before someone else could snatch it up and began what would become a frustratingly long wait. In the intervening months, the home had gone into short sale. Waiting is not our strong suit, but God faithfully gives us opportunities to practice where we are weak. Turns out that short sales require the patience of Job—something we aren’t even close to having.
Five months later, the keys are finally in our hands and the transformation has begun. Paint has been stripped from exterior details. Blueprints with a period kitchen sit rolled up in the corner of our dining room. Salvage materials are being gathered for lighting and baths. A marring seventies addition has been removed. We spend our evenings dreaming together about how we can recover the elegance of the 1920′s style while insuring the home’s future well-being by bringing the mechanical systems and conveniences into the 21st century.
As we have learned on previous restoration projects, when a house is yours, it seems to cooperate with you in the process. As has happened in the past, as we get to know this house, we learn from it what needs to be done in each space. It never fails that when we begin to do demolition, we learn from the house that what we envisioned is exactly what was previously there in the first place. The most recent example is Nile Green paint. I just knew this kitchen needed a pop of that quintessential 1920′s green. I plan to put it on our island as a nod to the home’s vintage. Sure enough, the removal of the 40′s cabinets revealed walls covered in flaking Nile Green paint. I knew it! I love it when our house talks to us. I can’t wait for the next conversation we have.
As 402 has given David and me the opportunity once again to dream together, to engage in deeply satisfying work, to participate in the exercise of dominion, to redeem beauty together, I wonder: who’s really being restored here?