Friday, July 11, 2014

The Other Thing I've Been Doing This Past Year

In addition to writing my Sebastian books, I've also spent the last year getting this house ready to sell.

This is the old Arts and Crafts-era cottage my mom bought when she moved back to New Orleans after my dad died. My elder daughter lived here while she went to medical school, and when she graduated last spring, we decided to fix it up before we put it on the market. It wasn't in that bad of shape, but it's situated in a part of the city that has become hugely sought after (it's actually SIX FEET above sea level). People buy these lovely old homes, rip off the cedar siding, throw all the lovely trim work and beautiful windows in a dumpster, then blow them up and out into hideous monstrosities. We didn't want that to happen, so we finished redoing the bathrooms, completely renovated the kitchen ("with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances," as the real estate ads all say), repainted it inside and out, had the floors refinished... You get the idea.

We thought it would take maybe three or four months. It's taken more than a year and just about killed us. But it was on the market less than twenty-four hours and sold to the first person who looked at it--and who loves it just as it is and says she doesn't want to change a thing. Mission accomplished.

And yet.... This house has been a part of my life for more than twenty years now, with lots of happy memories and laughter tied up in it. I suspect I'm going to shed a tear when the sale actually goes through in a few weeks.


Susan J said...

Your Mother's house looks lovely. It must be nice to know that the new owner will not change your tasteful restoration. We sold our 300 year old stone cottage, in which we had lived happily for 25 years two years ago and I was so upset to see how the new owners have spoilt it. (It's now up for sale again). We made the small walled garden into an old fashioned cottage garden and they've ripped the heart out of it. It made me so sad. Some people have no soul.

cs harris said...

Susan, my Aunt Henrietta (yes!) lived two doors down from my mom in a similar house, and what was done to it two years ago still makes me sick every time I see it. I'm sorry about what happened to your cottage. Maybe the new owners will understand and appreciate old houses.

Helena said...

I simply do not understand why people who don't like old houses with character and style buy them. They could buy something modern if that's what they want. I am so pleased that your ploy worked, and the house will stay as it is.

I do admire you for doing all this while you were looking after the cats too, and writing.

Lynne said...

A style near and dear to my heart and a lovely little house. I adore Arts and Crafts homes and this one looks to be a gem, Candy. You guys have done a beautiful job. Hope it sells well and fast.(And that some bozo doesn't decide to "remodel" it again and spoil your beautiful work.)

Barbara Butler McCoy said...

Oh, I am so glad this worked out for you. I am partial to the Arts and Crafts style myself - would have loved the Virginia Highlands area of Atlanta, but it was out of our price range and not as accessible to the trains - and your renovations are gorgeous. Around here, one by one, those classic brick ranch homes on an acre or so of land are sold, razed, and replaced with the mansions with 3-car garages. They cram five of those suckers on lots that once held two homes. Oh, and they are made with plywood! No thank you.

cs harris said...

Helena, yes, the kittens seriously complicated things, especially at first when we had to go home halfway through the day to feed them lunch.

Lynne, it is lovely. The backyard is like a secret garden, with rose-covered arches and a fountain.

Barbara, yes, it's a lovely style. I can't believe what people have done to some of the others like it on the block.

Charles Gramlich said...

Love that floor and the openness.

Susan J. said...

I was interested to hear that the Arts and Crafts movement was also big in America. I had no idea, I thought it was an English thing, with William Morris etc. I do love that style. What period was your mother's house built in?

paz said...

My parents sold two of their homes, and each time we were appalled at what became of them. In one, we had a gorgeous, 20+ year old rose bush with roses that were dark blood red. That bush was over 6 feet tall. It was chopped down the day after the new owners moved in. My mother was so furious she refused to drive by that street for years.

Suzanne said...

It is so beautiful and you have done a great job of renovating it. It is horrifying what is happening to other houses you mentioned. Old houses have so much character and should be treated as priceless reminders of the past.

We get a programme here on the ABC and for the life of me I can't remember the name of it, but Susan will probably know it. It is about people buying land in beautiful locations or old houses in suburbs in Britain and building these hideous monstrosities that stand out like a sore toe and completely ruin the whole street, or landscape. I am really surprised that they manage to get planning permission, they are so horrible. And they all seem to think that they are doing a community service by "forcing" their neighbours into the 21st century???!!! You can imagine the reactions of the neighbours. And what gets me is that the presenter seems to think they are so unreasonable for hating what is being done to their street.

Susan J. said...

Suzanne: I've not seen this programme but it sounds so depressing. I know we have to move with the times but not if it means throwing the baby out with the bath water, there should be a balance. I hate the way people here are buying old houses and ripping the insides out to be ultra modern inside, while preserving the outer appearance. What is the point? Why not just buy a modern house? I blame Ikea!

Suzanne said...

Susan, I hate the way people do that too. It is possible to renovate and modernise without making a place look like a dentist's surgery. I have finally remembered the name of the programme; Grand Designs. It is horrible and I don't actually watch it but as it is on before the news I always catch the last 5-10 minutes of it.

There is a really lovely programme, hosted by Caroline Quentin called Restoration Home, in which people buy old houses and restore them as they would have originally looked. It is marvellous to hear the talks from the craftsmen who do the things like making copies of Georgian windows, and decorative cornices. They also have an architect and a historian who find out the history of the building and the people who lived there. I never miss that one.

Lynne said...

Susan (and everyone else), the revival of Arts and Crafts homes, as well as all things Craftsman style, is very big in the US. New Orleans isn't the only place with these wonderful homes. There are pockets of them in most cities, mine included. They are filled with wonderful details, lots of woodwork and lots of character. I have friends who live in one that's just about 100 yrs. old and it's a gem. Thankfully no one came along and messed with it before they bought it. I know what you mean about the heartbreak of seeing an old house "modernized to ruin". Let's all hope no one does that to Candy's moms' house. As Helena said: Why buy an old house and try to make it new? People are odd...

cs harris said...

Charles, the floor did come out really nice. I wish my mom could have seen it; she always talked about having it refinished.

Susan, it was very popular here, esp. in California. I think her house was built in the 20s.

Paz, that's awful! I think I'm going to avoid going past this house when it's all over.

Suzanne, that sounds awful. I'll never understand it.

Susan, one does wonder why they do it. Do they secretly hate history or something?!

Suzanne, the Restoration program sounds like something I'd love.

Lynne, whenever I see one done right, I think, "Thank God."

Anonymous said...

C-wow - i would move into that house in a NY minute. that looks beautiful. your hard work was obviously worth it and i'm really glad you got someone to buy who appreciates it the way you do. that's so important. for 50 years my family has owned small "camps" on a lake in the Adirondacks. after 9/11 people came up and started building McMansions on the lake that are just horrific. thank God someone put a stop to it before it got too bad. the unspoiled nature of that area is what makes it so amazing. at least now you know the house will be treated respectfully. well done.
best, ali

Susan J. said...

Suzanne: Yes I have seen Grand Designs and I hate most of the properties on it also. Like you, I usually used see the last ten minutes of it, waiting for 'The Good Wife' to come on. Your description of the interiors as "dentist's waiting rooms" just about sums them up!
Candy and Lynne: I shall be interested to look up the history of Arts and Crafts in America. It sounds as if it was a bit later in period than here.

Lynne said...

Susan, The Arts and Crafts period in the US followed close on the heels of the British movement. Ours started in the late 1800's and really hit its' stride in the early 1900's. It took on the label Craftsman Style and you would love the homes - lots of wide front porches, low-pitched eaves and as I said before, lots of woodwork. Candy's moms' house looks more like the southern version which featured slightly different exterior details. But they all had those wonderful wood floors and beautiful built-ins as well. Do read up on it if you can... it's just a fascinating design period in both the US and the UK.

Suzanne said...

We have lots of similar styled houses here in Melbourne too, built mostly during the 20s. I haven't heard the term Arts And Crafts before. We call them California Bungalows. In the outer eastern suburbs where I live they are everywhere because for the past 30 years or so buying and doing up old houses has become something of a national pastime. A lot of old houses are classified by Heritage Victoria and you can be fined some very serious money for stuffing them up, as well as being made to put them back the way they were at your own cost.

My Great-Aunt Nettie had one that looked a lot like Candy's mother's house and it is still there. The new owners have changed the plants in the garden but the house still looks the same.

Suzanne said...

Candy, now that I think about it, it makes sense. You mentioned that there are a lot of Arts And Crafts houses in California. That would explain where we got the name California Bungalow from.

Susan J. said...

Lynne: I went to stay with my New Jersey based American penfriend about twenty years ago and she took us to a beautiful seaside town called Cape May, which had lots of lovely houses which she described as 'Victorian'. I actually purchased a lovely hand crafted tiny model of one and I still have it on my window sill. I'm wondering now if they were actually American Arts and Crafts? I loved them, they were wooden and all painted lovely pastel colours and it worked somehow.

Lynne said...

No, Susan, The Cape May houses really were Victorians. There are many seaside homes in the east that cropped up in the mid to late 1800's called Victorians. They were much more ornamental than the Arts and Crafts designs, with lots of design features we call "gingerbread". Some of the best examples survive in San Francisco and New York City. We have few here in Spokane, Washington, built in the 1880's when our city was just beginning to grow. Craftsman bungalows, also California bungalows and even Prairie Style homes came later. I hope you can find some books on the period...are you near a library? Or you can just Google these periods and find a lot of good web sites. I know I'm running on (Candy, look what you started...), but I love architecture and Arts and Crafts, and all that followed, has been my favorite design period for years.

cs harris said...

Ali, so glad to hear your family's lake wasn't totally spoiled by the McMansion crowd. I'll never understand that trend, either.

Susan, one of the catalogues actually had entire houses you could buy, disassembled. They were shipped by rail and then put together on site. I think that helped keep the style around longer.

Lynne, yes, the outside is rather unusual. I've often thought something was done at some point to the roofline of the porch.

Suzanne, that's wonderful to hear. I wish they had those regulations here. Once these houses are gone or stuffed up, they're gone. I'll have to take a picture of the horror that is my Aunt Henrietta's old house today.

Sussan J. said...

Lynne: I suppose the Cape May houses are a bit 'gingerbreadish' but they were so different from anything that we have here that I couldn't help liking them.
Candy: How fascinating that people purchased entire houses in bits! I've heard of Americans shipping old houses from here to America brick by brick but did not realise you could buy houses from a catalogue at that time!

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