One year ago, on a sweltering and stormy Saturday afternoon, our movers loaded the last of our furniture into their truck, and we made the short trip from Chapel Hill to Hillsborough for the last time. After months of dreaming, negotiating, packing, and waiting, we could finally declare ourselves honest-to-God “Hillsburgers”.
It was a funny transition, moving from a tiny bungalow that I completely renovated, with a kick-ass kitchen and a brand-spankin’ new screened porch, to a leaning, un-airconditioned, pre-Revolutionary showpiece in desperate need of a paint job. As an architect, I spend my days identifying potential, and if there’s one thing this place has, it’s dump truck loads of potential.
Houses don’t make it to their 250th birthday if there’s not something intrinsically appealing about them. The Ordinary House is dead simple, and very American. It’s the house kids draw when you ask them to draw one – a gable roof, an end chimney, and a centered front door. It doesn’t wow with ornate decoration or extravagant size. Instead, its pleasing proportions and simple materials are assembled in a way that is timeless and appealing.
In some ways, it was a difficult year. Shortly after moving in, one of our dogs died and the other tore her ACL, waiting only a few months to tear the other one. Our boiler quit just before Thanksgiving, leaving us in the cold until we were able to install central heat in late February. Squirrels took up residence in our attic, chimney swifts in our chimneys, and deer in the yard. The electrical service blew itself apart. A toilet leaked, a sump pump died, and the home warranty company denied every claim we submitted to them. A storm blew a tree into our neighbor’s yard and the gutters sprung a leak.
But, lest you get the impression that it was an entirely miserable year, plenty of wonderful things happened too. We got a seriously nice paint job that received rave reviews and helped us win an exterior preservation award. I put in epic weekends clearing the yard of overgrowth, and it’s looking halfway presentable these days. We got a new puppy, Louis, who keeps us laughing even though (or because) he’s got a few screws loose. Meg’s ACLs have healed, and when the circumstances are just right, she’ll accelerate to a trot for a few yards. The new heat and air has made daily life more comfortable, and the energy bills are so low, I wonder if they’re reading the meter right. We’ve got three shiny new low-flow toilets and 200-amps of electricity surging through the breaker box. And we reduced our Triangle real estate empire from three properties down to one.
Best of all, we became full-time residents of one of the friendliest, most interesting towns in the state. We can walk to restaurants, bars, a hardware store, a bookstore and grocery store in a handful of minutes. Everyone we’ve met has been interesting, welcoming, and engaged in the community. I’ve had scores of over-the-fence conversations on topics as varied as the teenage parties that used to happen in our basement to the best brand of weed-whacker to buy. These impromptu interactions have been a steady source of encouragement and advice, and confirm that we live in a special place.
The upcoming year will provide plenty of blog fodder. We’re about the kick off a big kitchen renovation. While that’ll occupy the bulk of my hands-on house time, there is a smattering of other projects that we’ll tackle when time permits. I’m going to increase my involvement in town by joining some volunteer committees. And I’m sure there’ll be plenty more activity that I can’t predict.
I didn’t know if I’d stick with this blogging thing for long, but it’s proven a satisfying way to document and share our slow-motion renovation with everyone who’s reading. Please stay tuned and spread the word…the more, the merrier.
I hope that this is only the first of many more extraordinary years in the Ordinary House!