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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Old House Stories and A Vintage Men's Shaving Stand

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Have you ever heard the old saying, "If these walls could talk..."?  Lately, I've been feeling that way about the walls here at the farmhouse. As we've been removing walls, we're discovering some of the stories of the house that we're making our home,  

I suppose that it's my love of old houses and their stories that drew me to this project in the first place because I grew up in an old house. It  had a wide front porch with a porch swing and a back door with a wooden screen door.  It had one bathroom with a cool slot in the back of the medicine cabinet where my dad put the used blades from his single blade razor (and I once did the same thing...with an entire package of brand new blades. Sorry, Dad.)

We had a milk man, and a lady who brought us home made bleach.  There was an apple tree and two pear trees in the back yard and a screened porch that looked out on them  where we read, played cards, and drank sweet tea and Koolaid on hot summer days before air conditioning.

It had plaster walls, a creaky staircase, and a linen closet at the end of the hall that was so large that we regularly hid inside of it while we played hide and seek. I still remember the smell of stacks of towels and sheets that had been dried on the clothes line in the back yard as I lay silently behind them waiting for my sister to find me. This was the house where my first memories were formed, where my ideas of home took shape.We lived there until I was sixteen. It was (and still is) my favorite house.


The first house that I rehabbed (as an adult in the 1980's) was a tiny, 80 year old, bungalow. It felt like the house that I grew up in even though it had been vacant for 18 months when I first saw it. It had plaster walls, windows with weights in the sashes, and an apple tree, and a clothes line in the back yard.

It had a tiny kitchen with a farmhouse sink that hung on the wall and barely enough room for the oven.   It had glass door knobs and a cast iron tub.  It was this house, the one that I rehabbed for a guy who was my landlord when the project started my husband eighteen months later when it ended that was my first grown up home.


The second house that I rehabbed was larger, but not by much. It was a 65 year old Cape Cod that also felt like home from the moment that I walked through the wooden screen door on the front porch. It had been a rental property for 12 years.  The windows and outlets were painted closed.

It also had a winding basement staircase and a mail slot next to the front door where the mail man pushed the letters into the slot and they fell onto the dining room floor every day around noon.

We gutted the house put an addition on the back of it. We made two bedrooms and a second bathroom. I planted flowers and built a play house and put in a pond. This is the home where my sons were born and where I learned about being a mom. We lived there for eight years after completing the rehab before we ran out of space and decided to build a new home. 


In December of 2002. I had the rare and amazing opportunity to build a home that I designed. It was only four blocks from our last house so that the boys didn't have to change schools (or friends).  It was incredible and it was hard work. It was the only new home I had ever lived in. It had tall ceilings and a huge kitchen. It had wood floors and windows that opened.

This was the house where my sons grew up. We entertained family and friends and we made memories that created the original story for the house at 127 but we knew when we built it that it wasn't our forever home. It was always the plan that when our youngest graduated high school, we'd move.
And that's exactly what happened. We moved.  Late in the summer of 2013,

                                                                  ...exactly three days after my youngest left for college.


Which brings me to this house. The ranch house that is becoming a farmhouse. A home came with stories....and problems....and a 3/4 acre corner lot at the top of a hill. Like many old houses, it came with plaster walls and windows that are painted closed. There's a hook on the back of the garage where the clothes line used to be.   The closets are papered with stock certificates from the 1940's and magazine pages from the 1970's.

There are rows of hooks original to the house in 1950's.  The basement is a hodge podge of old and new wiring that tells the story of a small business that was run out of the basement in the 1990's. This house has seen a lot of living in the last 65 years.

For the last 18 months, I've been planning and learning, and listening to the stories of this house that have come from neighbors, people walking past on a summer morning and the local historical society. I've also been collecting items with their own to fill it with that have stories of their own.  


Last Friday, I had the rare opportunity to spend the day finding with my life-long friend, Ann, from Nellie's Barn Sale. Our first stop was a charming shop in St. Charles, IL called Harvest Lane Vintage where  I "found" the  INCREDIBLE  vintage shaving stand and apothecary jar (from a company in Chicago, IL) shown in the photos above.  

This vintage shaving stand will have a spot on the vanity in the upstairs bathroom. I love it because my youngest son began shaving with a straight razor and a brush when he was eighteen and this piece is from a time when that was the norm more than the exception that it is today.  The upstairs bathroom is the one that he'll use for the next summer or two that he lives with us when he comes home from college to spend time at the farmhouse where we're continuing to write our story.

As Nate Berkus said,
                     "A HOME should tell your STORY. What we live with says something about us."
                                                                                                   

With that in mind, I'm not exactly sure what the photo above "says" about me but I'm hopeful that it's kind (and short lived).  It's a glimpse of  first half of the space that will be my new kitchen. The "back wall" (where the door is leaning) will be removed in the next week and I'll finally be able to see the size of the new space. The front door in the foreground will be moved four feet to the "left" and there will be a small coat closet where the door is now. 

Thanks for reading!