The not-so-perfect perfect home

November 26, 2013

blog_stephanie_wagnerThe Kitchen Sink. A blog by Stephanie Wagner.

We did it.  Last week, we moved.

Any of you who have followed my blog know that this has been an emotional process of ups and downs that began last February.  We made the decision in September to stay put, remodel our current space to meet our needs, and sleep soundly knowing that a move just wasn’t meant to be.

We agreed to “one last showing”, and started making plans for a garage addition.  Just about the time we were ready to apply for permits, we got an offer on the house.  At exactly the same time, the house that started this whole crazy roller coaster also got an offer.

I’m pretty philosophical.  I believe strongly that when things are meant to be, they will be – and when they aren’t, no amount of pushing, cajoling, or bargaining can make it be so.

No matter how hard this has been over the last year, I have remained steady.  I am not one for tears or self-pity.  Until the night we realized that we had effectively sold our house, and that plan B was sold as well.

We joked that like the old Chris Farley Saturday Night Live skit, we might all be living in a van….down by the river.  (We do actually own a parcel of river property, and a van isn’t too hard to come by… )  My parents offered their camper, I started looking for rentals, and then collapsed on the floor in a puddle of frustration.

Like most times when I am totally overwhelmed with the decisions in front of me, I decided to log on to the mindlessness of Facebook.

I scrolled through the usual parking lot stalker warnings, photos of homemade applesauce, and cute puppies available for adoption.  I had no idea where we were going to live, but at least I knew where I could get canned goods on sale.  And then, there it was.

A friend had posted a picture of a house for sale – along with her great memories of spending time there.  Then some other people chimed in with their own memories.  It was a house that we had driven by a million times, and had always wondered what lay behind its white porch, stained glass, and cloverleaf attic window.

I immediately texted our realtor, and we went to see it the next morning.  Something amazing happened when we walked into the house.  It was completely different than everything we thought we wanted, and met very few things on our “must have” list.  And it was 100% right.

There is no Master Suite, no soaking tub, no gourmet kitchen.  The bedrooms are all on the same floor, the bathrooms will be shared, and the TV doesn’t really have a good home.  It was definitely not built within the last 10 years, certainly not state of the art, and probably not move in ready.  Yet, not one of those things matters.

I felt the rich wood hug me as soon as I walked in.  The house is like warm bread with cinnamon, soft quilts, and a good book on a rainy day.  There is a deep calm in the space, and it stayed with me underneath the weight of negotiating, paperwork, and packing.

It is an old house, built in 1891, and only owned by two families since then.  The woodwork is mostly original, as is the floor plan.  The stove in the kitchen is dated 1917, the windows hold the imperfections of their original manufacturing process, and the house is said to be built from trees felled on the property.  It even has a name – but I am saving that for another blog!

The energy of the house seems to follow us everywhere we go.  When we tell people which house we bought, we are met with sighs, wistful smiles, and happy memories from anyone who has ever been inside.

Other “old house” owners freely give advice about how to care for the woodwork, the best way to patch plaster, and the nightmares of stripping wallpaper.  One woman even took us inside her home to show us her restoration projects and the surprise original brickwork she found behind crumbling wallboard.

We have been here just over a week, and the reality of owning an old house is beginning to set in.  We can’t flush the toilet if the shower is running, every piece of furniture leans just a little, and we still can’t quite figure out how to keep warm.  Everything that we have space for has been unpacked, and there are still boxes everywhere.

The to-do list seems overwhelming, as it always does at the start of a new project.  Do we work on the floors or the walls?  Is it more important to replace the furnace, the water heater, or the well?  How do we fit a 2013 family’s worth of furniture into spaces that were built for 1890s society?  Which outlet can I use to vacuum that will actually get me through the whole room before it trips the breaker, and does this require the intervention of an electrician?

And still, underneath it all, the house speaks to us.  For over 120 years, mothers have paced the wood floors, children’s laughter has bounced off the ceilings, and countless hands have smoothed the banister.  As impatient as I am to set out to make it our own, I have a deep respect for her history.  If she has stood this long without my intervention, she will be fine for another month or two.

She has clearly been loved by all who have lived with her, and we are both humbled and excited to add our family stories to her legacy.  We are incredibly grateful to those who came before us, and feel fortunate that they trusted us to take up the baton. In the meantime, our weekend dates center on trips to Lowe’s and friends who bring us take-out.  We are obsessed with other old house stories, and are learning a lot from those more experienced.

And every night, when we fall into bed aching and exhausted, we are happy that we are finally home.

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