I will post hair-raising 'BEFORE' photos of my house in future.
To take a tour of my now-restored home, please visit
I had wanted to, and dreamed of, living in an old house in New England for 20 years before I actually moved here, keeping photos of houses cut from the pages of Country Living magazine and the like plastered to my refrigerator in my little 1920's tudor home in Illinois for all that time.
For all those years all I wanted was to move to New England, a place I had not yet seen but always felt that I belonged.
I learned first and foremost that sometimes you cannot make things happen in life. Some things happen for a reason when the time is right, in their own time and season...
My furniture would not arrive for days yet, and that first chilly night I lit a small fire in the living room fireplace, bundled blankets and pillows I had brought in my ancient van onto the hard old pine floor close to the hearth, and slept curled up with my dog Phoebe.
All three of the original fireplaces were condemned, and soon I would begin the arduous job of chipping out 4000 bricks by hand, from the chimney to the rocks and dirt beneath the first floor of the house, so that they could be reconstructed and glow once again with light and warmth.
The house was a mess, and this was just one of the thousands of back-breaking tasks I would do over many years alone, to restore the old cape to the best of my ability back to it's 18th century beginnings.
Today seems a good day for these reminiscences---it is grey and chill and raining out, and I love it. Inside it is warm and cozy now---a far cry from those first days and weeks here alone in my 18th century house in New Hampshire.
Today, the original surfaces of 200 and 300 year old tables and chairs glow in the warm, low light of the candles I have lit. The mellow colors of worn old oriental rugs on tables and elderly textiles hanging here and there seem just right in their surroundings. The soft dull sheen of early iron and pewter shine from their places on hearth and shelf.
This is a small house. Not an inch is wasted. We live here in every room, and use everything. The original layout is tried and true; I have had over 20 guests here for parties and it has held everyone admirably, seeming to expand to accommodate all friends...the gracious charm of an old cape...
Never would I want a 'big' modern house with a huge kitchen, family room, and three baths.
I was alone here many years. I had an open antique shop in the little 'el' off the kitchen for almost 10 years, also doing antique shows, painting murals, doing my own wall-aging process for clients, serving paid historical meals in my home, as well as presenting historical programs to support myself and my dog.
It was a life of hard work 7 days a week, for in addition to that I alone had to re-hab as well as maintain the house and property.
I love antiques and have since I was a young teenager---just fascinated with the diverse old things my grandpa had stashed in the basement of their home in Chicago, and at 2 farms he owned in Wisconsin. (My grandmother had no love for his "Maxwell street junk").
I started to deal in antiques in the early 90's, starting the business with no money---only things I took out of my own house, and then going to flea markets at 4 AM flashlight in hand, in rain or shine looking for "merch" I could fix up and sell...
When tragic circumstances left me a widow of 'straightened circumstances', I decided that since I really had nothing to lose, I would pursue the lifelong dream I had of moving to a "house as old as Dick's hatband" in New England.
For many years, the best antiques I found had to go to other people. I had to survive, and I could do nothing but watch my friends and fellow antique dealers fill their own homes with pricey treasures of times gone by. I observed that for some, their collecting was more of a competition---(she who dies with the most, the most prestigious, and the most expensive stuff---wins.)
Some others needed to have 'more and better' than their friends and acquaintances, and an aura of superiority and smugness surrounded them---their houses must be older and bigger, their antiques seeming more signs of their financial capabilities than objects of love and affection.
My house holds a place in my heart that some people do not, and never will understand. I do not need or want the big 'status' house.
My house was my salvation and my teacher, my comfort and my stability---indeed, my nest when my world fell apart. Alone, I picked up the pieces of a shattered life and built a new one---one small step at a time over years, fashioning a 'coat of many colors', beautiful, mellow, and welcoming.
I know some people who have 'decorated' their homes with antiques for show, and live in their basements, or in one 'modern' room! That will never be my philosophy or my life. I have even been looked down on for having a sofa----"they didn't have them then"---(well, uh, yeah, they did).
I feel proud of the period home I have created over many years. Every antique I have collected meant a sacrifice, and none were impulse buys to fill up a space or to create a "look".
Ah, the dreaded "look"...
Sadly, the majority of homes I see with 'country antiques' all have the same "look", and you can't tell one house from another.
This is my only life; I want to fill this home to brimming with memories and friends, with my stories and with love---and some precious and meaningful things that tell tales of past times too.
I wanted my little cape to be a refuge not only for me, but a warm, welcoming, comfortable place for dear friends as well. I look back fondly on friends dressed in 18thc. finery, raising an elbow with a mug of homemade rum shrub in our taproom---'Spencer's Ordinary'---it's sign lovingly painted by my husband on 250 year old wood, as a gift to me.
I know one person who measures with a ruler on the floor to make sure her antique tables and chairs are in the exact spot at all times. I once mentioned that guests must love having dinner in her 250 year old dining room, with it's old wood and lovely antiques. She looked at me aghast, and said they never had company! She didn't want anything "messed up".
I prefer my home to be uncluttered, and simple. I do not have 'collections'. I have bought the things that have found me, rather than the other way around.
I taught a class on antiques in a community college once. My best advice was "save up and buy the best you can afford, even it it is only one piece in a year. Buy what you love, and don't buy to fill up a bare spot in your home or to compete with anyone, or to create a 'look'".
I may not have much compared to many dealers or collectors out there, but that was never my focus or my goal. The things I have represent a lifetime of sacrifice. Everything I have came serendipitously into my life, and has a story to tell. I am proud that I had to look for, and that I found bargains, rather than just gone out and written a check for anything I thought would fit into the "look" or was considered by some to be the prevailing "must have" fad antique of the moment---scads of 'treen', stone fruit, etc.
It is very nice on this rainy day, to sit here in my snug house, with over 230 years of stories hidden within it's walls---some shared with me and some still waiting to be told, and to look at the little album of 'before' photos that I have, and to remember...
Yes, this was and is the "big adventure of my life". It had meaning and purpose. I remember new friends, and the kindness of strangers along the way. I remember Adam coming to that Christmas Open House, and then coming again the next year because he was so drawn to the warmth and ambiance of this house, and yes, to "that lady smiling and dancing in costume in her dining room, showing old dance steps to the guests"!
This house has meant so many things to me, and has healed me, and so HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO ME!
I celebrate 14 years here in the old cape that taught me patience and perseverance; that brought me love, and friendship, and riches beyond anything monetary or tangible.
|What I wrote on the wall in my entry years ago remains there today~|
|To friendship, love, and a grand old house!|