The Land Trust didn’ t want it, and the skeptical friends I took to
see it couldn’ t fathom why I did. The boarded-up house stood
scarily close to the highway, and inside there was a hodge-podge
of paneling, creaky floors, and small, close rooms obviously
fashioned from materials at hand. I never saw the bathroom: It
was deep in the bowels of a place made dark by hovering pines and
darker still by covered windows. But something about the house
called to me. I was compelled to save it.
I could sense it deserved some peace and quiet after the incessant
whooshing of trucks whizzing up and down the connector to
Commerce that ran just beside it. I could see the resourcefulness
of the use-every-scrap mentality of the person who had put the
place together. But the pride and humility of the 1940s had fallen
to the fifties love of the streamlined, the sixties weakness for sleek.
I have no idea what decade it was when the house was finally
abandoned to the past, but I was stubbornly determined to give
it a shot at a future. My partner James Askins, whom I’ d seen
turn “ nothing places” into absolutely amazing “ something spaces,”
gave me the go ahead: He said it could be done.
The man who owned the house was all too happy to sell it to me
for a dollar. The house had to go. It was too close to the road, and
zoning laws precluded its remaining on the property if anything
was ever to be done with a smaller, sturdier structure that still sits
on the site. I saved the owner the considerable costs of demolition
and removal, and I saved a house – for me, the ultimate expression
of my commitment to reuse and recycling.
I thought we’ d move the place to our wooded lot in Winterville.
But James’ design ideas – a broad front porch, a dormered second
story – cried out for an expansive view. We were fortunate to have
another parcel across from our neighbor’ s lovely horse pasture, so
we ignored my original instinct, and sent the house to its rightful
setting on a gentle rise overlooking grazing Clydesdales.
Admittedly, the house has its quirks: A new foundation left the
wide-plank walls of the dining room slightly askew. The stairs
to the new pine-paneled upstairs are narrow and steep. A weird
seam in the living-room wall became a built-in bookcase. But
the dark narrow kitchen and shabby porch that held trash and old
appliances were combined into a bright breezy space with small-
paned windows on three sides. James dragged a set of 1940s metal
counter-height cabinets from a friend’ s abandoned house in the
woods, and the absence of any overhead cabinetry gave me a good
excuse to go antiquing to search out pieces for storage.
I love what we made of that house. A Dutch door from the kitchen
swings open to pine boughs in the foreground, a dirt road lined
with cedars, and the horses just beyond. The sun now reaches into
the heart of the house. There’ s a small, screened porch out back to
stow away on; the wide one in front is perfect for passing the time
and waving to the occasional neighbor passing by.
And after years of rotating tenants, all of whom have settled in
for just a while, the house now has two creative caretakers. They
blessedly tell me that in this sweet and crooked farmhouse, they
finally feel that they’ ve found home.