I remember when I first drove up this old driveway and saw the house that would become our home… do you know what my first thought was?
Back the truck up.
It was not for faint of heart. Honestly, I almost didn’t even get out of the car. But then I shook my head, turned the car off and opened the door. I have shared this story before and some of you may remember just how our home looked when we first bought it- and just how much work was in front of us to even make it livable.
Our Home Before
Something I have been seeing and hearing a lot about recently is about social media and perception. The back story to those shared about building that dream home or creating a product line or book looks much more like a whole lot of hours of work, grime and grit to get it done. And that doesn’t always come across when sharing a before and after rather than the whole picture. So I thought about it, and realized maybe I don’t share enough of the backstory too- just the pretty- because that picture perfect is what people want to see. But there is so much more to be shared in the stories. So, I am sharing a bit more of the back story today and kicking off a new Before & After series that delves into more of that.
It had been a long year since moving back to California and we had left a pretty idyllic piece of property and house. We had moved from a sweet old 1920’s farmhouse in Minnesota on 120 acres. It has a big old barn, a 3 season porch with all kinds of beautiful old wood windows and a steep squeaky staircase that leads to a second story that offers the most beautiful views out across the countryside. All for the price that costs less than a half of what my car costs.
We lived with my grandparents for the year- all five of our family- while my husband went to the law enforcement academy during the day and worked nights. It was such a gift to be able to spend so much time with my grandparents and our kids bonded with them strongly too. We had a dream of buying another home and wanted something with property and open spaces but we knew our budget didn’t go far in California. By the time my husband graduated from the academy and landed a law enforcement job – there were only 2 houses with property on the market that were in our price range. One with slanted walls that was a kit home from the 1960’s- and one that was an older 1940 house that was $30,000 more. After touring the 1960’s home, we knew it wasn’t the one.
The more expensive and more run down house was pretty much at the top of our scrape it together price range. It was a little 1940’s cottage on several acres & it had been vandalized and neglected for over 60 years. It had broken windows, missing or drooping ceilings that were not secured, no sink in one bathroom and half a dozen different tiles and a broken shower in another. There were holes in the walls and single light bulbs hanging from wires to light each room. Well other than the ceiling fan in the kitchen – that actually had a pull to turn it on – a beer bottle pull. You can see it below.
This house…suffice it to say- required a lot of looking past things.
To be able to look past the vandalism and gross factor that was left behind- one also needed a lot of youthful exuberance and energy & really needed to be naive enough to not think about just how much work it would be to even make it livable let alone pretty.
And I might add- one also needed a heavy dose of crazy to want to actually sign on the dotted line and pay a chunk of money to buy it.
And at the time- we had 3 young children. Our youngest was 3 and I was home-schooled my 2 oldest. My husband worked 12 hour shifts in law enforcement in another county a couple of hours away and he added as many overtime hours as he could to pay for renovations- which meant he stayed out of town for 4 days and nights each week. We knew that putting this house back together again wasn’t going to be quick or easy. We didn’t have a reserve remodeling budget- it took every penny and more just to get the loan- so we were going to have to work as we could with our budget and the heavy lifting on those days when my husband was home.
Give it a Chance
But back to that moment when I sat in my car in the driveway and looked at this broken house. The siding. The windows. The two doors that were kitty corner next to each other- one of which was rotting at the bottom and locked with a padlock. I sat there and after my first thought of turning the car around – my second thought was:
‘Just give it a chance and take a closer look’.
Remember that whole ‘crazy things? Yep. I definitely had that covered. But there was something… a feeling I had that first time I saw this house & the property and I had to take a closer look.
That Certain Something
The house was just sitting there in the middle of this area – honestly it looked so forlorn and sad.
As I stared at it, I felt almost like it was straightening it’s walls as much as it could- in the hope that some one would see past all that was broken – and see the worth it had to offer and give it a chance.
Much like people who are worn and weathered over the years- it needs someone to nurture it. To give it a renewed sense of purpose, polish up that diamond in the rough and fill the emptiness with a family and laughter. This property had a magical energy that I can’t explain but I felt it- and I just knew this place was so special.
So I got out of the car & walked up to those kitty corner 2 front doors and I leaned up against the window to peek in – and it moved. The window was held in place by just a couple of nails bent over the frame. But when I leaned in again and was able to look inside-I got a surge of excitement (back to that insanity thing haha) and I called our realtor and told him:
‘I want to see the inside of this house.’
A Diamond in the Rough
My husband took a whole lot of convincing -but my dad who is a contractor & real estate broker thought it was perfect. He is most likely the one I got the insanity from. ha ha. We had to do a lot of creative financing to buy it – no bank would lend on the full price after driving by the outside.
The Exterior – Before & After
I never imagined I would ever share the outside of the house with you all. I have always been so embarrassed at where we started – but like all good stories – they start at the beginning. So, this is where the house that inspired ‘French Country Cottage’ began.
When I look at these photos- and then I look at this house now- I realize how far it has come. Above is the view where we now have a small entry room with French doors. And in the next photo- there is that rotting door that had a padlock- it was opening into the kitchen and is next to the wobbly window that I first looked into. What you can’t see here is the second door kitty corner to this one – that led into the living room.
The front of the tall area of the house is below. Up top- is where the attic window is now, the old growth camellia tree, and the top of the original 1940 rock fireplace in the bottom of the photo. The siding was rotting and the eaves were all open to the inside of the house and attic. I have to be completely honest- I was so embarrassed by the state of the house that I didn’t want to take ANY photos of it all. I didn’t want to look back and remember where we were starting. But my grandmother insisted that I do it.
And I pretty much always listened to the Grammys – so I did. Which of course, now I am grateful for them.
We made do with the siding and windows until we could afford them. We concentrated on sealing the missing ceilings and insulating as much as we could so that we could move in. Thankfully, my dad had the vision and the skills to help us navigate and make it liveable.
Never would even have in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that the rooms of this house would be in books or magazines. Or that would be a place that would nurture and encourage me as much as it has while we fixed it up over the years. The place where our children would grow up and come back to for the holidays. this house. And all the quirks, issues and fixing up it needs even now became a Home. And when I look back, instead of being embarrassed, I am proud of where it all started.
Up next – a break down of each room and where we started and details along the way. Like when I decided to build detailed molding to go around the entire house while my husband was at work. why. Did I know what I was doing? Nope. There is that crazy coming out again.
And the story about my dad and that yellow jacket infestation and rogue wire (did I mention, the wiring was all knob and tube original when we moved in?) Along with more about the outside of the BACK of the house. Which- I haven’t shared yet and believe it or not- it looked completely different than the front did with a whole lot of I have no idea what in the world is going on. And then the cottage exterior… that was a doozy too.
You can see more of the story (and After) in my book French Country Cottages & also in my book Inspired Gatherings
I hope that if you have a similar fixer up home and are wondering ‘what have I done‘ just like I did many, many times tackling this project – that look back will give you some encouragement to know that You have got this and that’s it Will be worth the work, blood, sweat, tears and everything else that goes along with loving a broken house. Those old houses have a way of taking care of you and loving you back more than you realize.
Happy Thursday all.