It is late summer, the tall grasses of our front lawn have settled into pale green and buff swirls on the ground, Jerusalem artichokes have swathed the south side of the ell and asters peek from among the skirts of gone-by day lilies against the front of the house. My house-side garden has been brought down by masses of bindweed that cast nets about the flowers and cause them to sag. Each year I do battle with that pretty little monster, it has a bloom like a morning glory and a personality like a snarled patch of hair.
Beyond the “barn monkey” stalks, apples are ripening to a rosy red in the tree beside the back shed. Soon we will gather a bunch and make pie! Chad has breathed life back into the beast, his 1986 truck that is used for bringing the wood out that heats our home. The old thing sits in front of our falling down barn, ready to go, registered, insured, but without a sticker…
We have other vehicles in our yard, too, lined up behind the house- one is an old jeep with a plow for snow removal, another is Chad’s 1959 pontiac, and yet another belongs to my son. This business of trucks/cars in the yard is pretty common around here, although 5 years ago I’d never have pictured my yard this way! The wooden swing set and my cut flower garden are relatively orderly, and the farm stand is downright charming.
Ah, our house needs work, but we love it. A past perfectionist, the exteriors and grounds of my former homes were usually beautiful, certainly neat and minus broken down barns! Now, we don’t have time or energy for mowing vast lawns or details such as garden architecturals or spectacular pots bursting with flowers. We haven’t even finished painting our house- we were in the midst of that job when I was diagnosed, to this day our home remains half red/half old yellow.
I’ve learned to notice what I love- the form of the maple at the head of our drive, the ring of rugosa roses around it; the weathervane surrounded by masses of Jerusalem artichoke, the apple tree, the tall ash trees that line the road, the three season view of the river and the falls, the church steeple over the hill. Some day the house will be painted; the barn will be removed, but for now we use part of it and don’t have the cash to knock it down. Chad mows the section of the lawn where the swing and stand are and a wide path around the entire house, it takes over an hour just to do that. He uses what little spare time he has for tasks such as working on the wood (that heats our home) and winterizing the place.
Illness really cuts into what we accomplish, we have learned to prioritize our work load and take pleasure in the tasks we can complete. As a decorator, I love a beautiful home and it has been a heavy duty adjustment to accept my limitations and the condition of our home. However, the interior of our place is a good surprise- it is well on its way to achieving the look of a cool old farmhouse that functions well and reflects the happy life within it!
The house was built sometime before 1830 as a center chimney cape. There was a large barn, now gone, and much pasture. It is on a hill at the north end of the village. I like to think it fits into the side of the hill like a contented cat, the front facing the sun. When we bought it, it had been unoccupied for a couple of years. The story was sad- the family who previously lived here inherited it; the place needed lots of work even then. The wife was beloved in the town. When she died at a young age of cancer the house crumbled into even greater disrepair. Trash was thrown in heaping layers into the basement, all the rooms were jammed with stuff- boxes, bags, all muddled together. A narrow path allowed passage from room to room. There was no kitchen to speak of, the plumbing was shot, there was no furnace, and the electric was archiac. To keep out the cold, blankets had been hung in the basement where the foundation was missing.
After striking a deal with the owner, 3 giant industrial containers of trash were removed from the property. First, we tackled the holes in the foundation and replaced/repaired the systems. After, every room needed attention- there were broken windows, holes in walls, torn wallpaper, deeply soiled linoleum floors and the stench of animal waste permeated the place. We spent a year rehabbing when we could, we were both working at the time. I was diagnosed two months before we moved in and it was really tough. We’d been living in an apartment, the time was up on that arrangement so we moved in with running water in the bathroom but no kitchen.
Our bedrooms were done, the living room and the bathroom, and those were the spaces the 3 of us lived in for several months. My brothers pitched in and funded the materials and labor for the kitchen and ell. The ell has two rooms, the family room and a dining room. Beginning with the kitchen, we got all spaces to a usable condition and I decorated as I could. However, changes were in store. Chad lost his job due to downsizing and I was no longer able to work. We used up our savings within a couple of months; my family and friends were amazingly generous and a community fundraiser got us through the worst of it.
To raise money I sold many of my antiques. I replaced them with less expensive, interesting pieces which we are still happily using today. Chad got a new job working at a boatyard and I began receiving Disability benefits, our finances stabilized. I continued to decorate at a snail’s pace! …with a very small budget. Currently, we have lived in this home for two years, I’ve put together some rooms more than once, all are works in progress.
My rooms are my canvas, the art of styling is to create an attractive and creative environment that supports the way we live. This is great fun for me; my passion is transforming old houses, exploring them and bringing them into new life. I enjoy working with early features and quirks unique to a home, I like knowing a bit about who lived there and phases of its existence. This is my last home and it seems fitting that extra time and care should go into it.
Initially, I tore into a space believing like always I’d have it finished in a week or two. Not so! A room will now take me at least 2 months to complete, if not 3. I like to begin with a good plan that involves everyone’s ideas. I start with one or two inspiration pieces (or an idea) and go from there. I use the California historic paints line, occasionally mixing my own colors. At this point, I have small jobs remaining in the family room, the dining room, the kitchen, bath and hall. The living room and bedrooms have yet to be started on their final stylings, but plans are in place.
Currently, I am painting checks on the bathroom floor. Red checks over an off white background, on plywood. I am using floor paints, and will apply two coats of polyurethane over the finished area. More later!