The listing read: “Located on a quiet cul de sac is where you will find this Federal Style Home. Exceptional finishing both inside and out. Impressive all brick exterior. Side loading garage. Private yard w/beautiful garden. Stunning entrance w/turned staircase. Formal & informal spaces. Prized kitchen w/commercial appliances. Fabulous 3 Seasons Rm w/1 of 6 fireplaces thru out. Cozy hearth Rm, Piano space, 1st Fl. Office, Grand Master Suite w/private patio. Finished LL for family fun. Garage can accommodate 3 cars.”
Piano space. Our homes have always had “piano space.” When I met Gary he owned a spinet, and there was space for it in his living room. This was the piano that we brought with us to Pinewild Court and the piano that both of our children used as they started piano lessons. As they grew both in size and competency, we decided that it was time to upgrade, and we purchased a Yamaha Studio Upright. This larger piano also found space in our home.
As the house was going up, I remember standing in the family room with Gary and our contractor discussing the progress. By this time we were wondering if the family room was too small, and so asked the question about the possibility of someday building out by blowing out the wall and adding the screen porch to the interior living space. Yes, was the answer. Followed by the statement that it would be about $150 now, or $1,000+ later. We decided to go ahead and add the additional header right away.
Ten years later it was time. We loved our screen porch but dreamt of a larger space. One that had a fireplace, a four-track window system to block out inclement weather and extend our use of the space, and room to spread out. Our children continued to play the piano, and we dreamt of upgrading our piano once again to a Yamaha C2 Grand. We discussed the design of the porch, and how we would transition the porch into an interior living space – a Music Room.
What I can relay in just a few sentences was actually the result of months of study, planning, visits to an architect, and talks with our contractor, now the son of our original builder.
We started our time in the house with the original screen porch nestled in the L of our family room and breakfast room and was roughly 10 x 15’, its sister porch, accessed from the master bedroom, was directly above. We accessed the lower porch through french doors through the breakfast room. These french doors would be re-purposed, matched with a second set, and used to access the new screen porch. The original window in the family room looking into the porch would be moved to the outside wall of the music room. The room would be entered from both sides through arched openings designed after the arch found at Carter’s Grove Plantation in Virginia.
Work began in October 2003, and it was a super cold day in January when they finally opened the house to the outside. I was stripping wallpaper in the kitchen wearing a heavy Irish fisherman sweater with the fireplace in the family room roaring. Working quickly, they soon had the window moved into place, and the doors set in their frame.
A few weeks later and the wall was ready for Gary and me to free-hand the arch opening. We were also busy removing carpet as we planned for hardwood to flow from the existing kitchen and breakfast room into the family room and music room.
This new space was a beautiful addition to our home. The music room was a cozy place to sit with a cup of coffee or evening snacks with a glass of wine. Listening to our daughter play the piano was an added bonus. For us, it was more than a piano space, it was our music room.
Today I will continue to explore the listing for our previous home at 15 Pinewild Court: “Located on a quiet cul de sac is where you will find this Federal Style Home. Exceptional finishing both inside and out. Impressive all brick exterior. Side loading garage. Private yard w/beautiful garden. Stunning entrance w/turned staircase. Formal & informal spaces. Prized kitchen w/commercial appliances. Fabulous 3 Seasons Rm w/1 of 6 fireplaces thru out. Cozy hearth Rm, Piano space, 1st Fl. Office, Grand Master Suite w/private patio. Finished LL for family fun. Garage can accommodate 3 cars.”
One family’s “1st Fl. Office” is another family’s Library.
As we designed the home in 1993, we took a close look at what we loved about our current 1938 character home. This home had a small office in the front of the house that also doubled as a den. This knotty-pine paneled room had one full wall that held a built-in desk with storage and shelves. We loved the coziness of this room with its large wing chairs and the desk space for bills and other paperwork. As we also ran a small business from the house, we had a computer, and when we had finished the basement we created a corner workspace to hold the monster computer monitors of the day, and a drawer that housed the large dot matrix printer and it’s huge box of paper. Those were certainly the days! And as for the business? The main office in my in-law’s home held the “main” computer, and I remember the early days when my brother-in-law would have a question about what he was working on. He would call me on the second line, he would tell my mother-in-law that we would be using the house line, and I would dial in using PCAnywhere to take a look at his question. HA! We thought we were so high-tech, little did we know the changes that would happen in just a few short years.
We also had books, well, I had books, boxes of books. Knowing that we would need a designated computer space, a desk for Gary, and a place to hold what was then seven-ish boxes of books, we knew we wanted a library. Floor to ceiling storage for books and office files, and a corner desk to accommodate the huge monitors of the day, and a spot to hide the dot matrix printer with its box of paper. As we thought about the room, we knew we also wanted a fireplace.
The fireplace took a bit of figuring as the wall for the fireplace was the wall common with the family room, and that wall already was designated for the family room fireplace. Do we do side-by-side fireboxes? That placed one or the other in an awkward, not centered, sort of way. We settled on a two-sided extra large fireplace to accommodate both rooms.
The design complete, we knew we wanted this to be a cozy room for our family to gather. The living room sofa had been purchased for perfect scale in our current home, and was also the perfect size to fit in the living room, it just needed to be reupholstered. And we chose a deep dark green for the walls and carpet to give it the warm feeling we were going for.
This room so lived up to our expectations! We spent hours and hours in the winter in the library with snacks or hors d’oeuvre dinners in front of the fire. The corner desk turned into a sleeper great design choice as the kids started to use the computer, then the internet for school projects. I could be cooking in the kitchen and see the monitor from there to answer questions, or just to make sure they were making safe choices. The biggest change we made in the room was to move Gary’s large desk that sat nestled in the bay window upstairs to our bedroom and place his grandparent’s library table in its place. Other than that, it was just making adjustments to our growing book collection.
When we moved it was a huge task to sort through what books were going with us, and what books needed to be donated, or sold to Half Price Books. Now that we are here in Rhode Island we are designing our next library. The maid’s quarters on the 3rd floor offer us the opportunity to create a wall of bookshelves in the eaves of one of the rooms. This transition is on the list for this winter, as the summer is the time for outside projects such as restoring windows and getting the house painted. I do so miss the ability to just walk into the room for a book that I know we own and I know has the answer to a question that is being asked. Hopefully, we will soon be able to unpack the many boxes that fill the closet in that room. For now, I have many memories of having once owned a home that housed a library.
I write a lot about house histories, and I love to speak about how much fun they are to research and to write about. What is not to like? Learning the origin story of a house that you live in, or lived in, and love? Nothing. Until it becomes painful to write about. If you had asked me a few months ago if I thought this feeling would be possible, I would have said no. That is until we discovered that almost exactly to the day, two years after we left, 15 Pinewild Court was back on the market, and had sold.
We chose to leave a house that we designed, improved, maintained and loved, because we felt it was the right time. Time to retire, time to downsize, and time to move closer to our children. We also decided it would be a great opportunity to purchase a fixer-upper and bring another home back to life. But the story of our current home has not yet been fully written, time will tell how this house will speak to my heart and soul. But I have learned that not a day goes by that I don’t miss, and yes, sometimes mourn having left our old house behind.
The house that holds my heart entered our lives as Lot 68 in the Evergreen Meadows subdivision of Appleton, Outagamie, Wisconsin. Located at the top of Pinewild Court, we learned that it would be number 15. If I were to sit down to write its full story, it could be novel length, rather than blog post length. With that in mind, I have decided to approach our homes story through the eyes of its latest real estate listing.
“Located on a quiet cul de sac is where you will find this Federal Style Home. Exceptional finishing both inside and out. Impressive all brick exterior. Side loading garage. Private yard w/beautiful garden. Stunning entrance w/turned staircase. Formal & informal spaces. Prized kitchen w/commercial appliances. Fabulous 3 Seasons Rm w/1 of 6 fireplaces thru out. Cozy hearth Rm, Piano space, 1st Fl. Office, Grand Master Suite w/private patio. Finished LL for family fun. Garage can accommodate 3 cars.”
How do I unpack the above description, as there is so much going through my mind. I stop on one sentence then another. Let’s start with “Prized kitchen w/commercial appliances.”
In 1993 when we were in the design process for our new home, we were very hands on with opinions on may of the design details. But as I recall, the kitchen was not one of those details we spent a lot of time with. We saw it as a workable space, and we chose finishes that fit our budget at that time. Corian was not in the budget, so we chose a neutral, but pleasant formica top (this was many years before granite and stainless steel appliances became the desired design finish), we chose what we thought would be long lasting appliances – heck, they were in all the magazines that year, and moved on to other decisions.
Fast forward through many family night dinners, holidays with 20+ people, the hosting on non-profit holiday parties of 50+, and Mac & Cheese dinners when dad had to work late, and the appliances were starting to fail. The worst offender were the double ovens. In order for them to turn on, you had to first hit the control panel, then say a quick prayer. I wanted these double ovens, and loved them for most of their lives, but at this moment in 2012, I began to wonder if I should not have taken the appliance company up on their offer way back in 1993. We had ordered Jenn Air ovens, and they arrived with a Kitchen Aid double oven combo, that was an oven on the bottom, and a microwave on the top. They tried to convince me to keep them. I said no. I wanted the obscene luxury of two ovens. But Easter of 2012 when I opened the lower oven to find what looked like metal honeycomb nestled in the potatoes, we knew it was time to do something.
We could have just made the decision to replace the appliances, upgrade the countertop, sink, faucets and call it a day. It could have been a nice looking kitchen. But, we learned when the long awaited double ovens were finally installed and working that the cabinet maker had used an experimental paint on our job. A defective finish. The panel that enclosed the ovens, and was the first thing you saw as you came down the stairs blistered from the heat of the ovens. It looked horrible. This was a factor, but the real push to create a new kitchen was that we were in the remodel business, and looked forward to the challenge of designing a kitchen for ourselves.
We had already made a few changes to the original design as we settled into life at Pinewild Court. We like to cook together, so in 1997 a small sink had been installed on the “C Island” for Gary to do his prep work. He had his own set of knives in the drawer on the island, and the odds and ends tools for cleaning the fruits and vegetables that he was prepping.
All that we loved, wishes for changes, and the question of “Does this work for us?” were considered as we tweaked the layout for the new kitchen. We knew that we would stay within in the original footprint, but with a few changes. A 30” Wolf range would be installed were the cooktop had been, on the oven wall, we created a wall of Wolf ovens, at the top was a convection microwave, below that a wall oven, and below that a warming drawer. A Sub Zero refrigerator replaced the old side by side Kitchen Aid, and we swapped the dishwasher from the right side of the sink to the left. We are not fans of granite, but we loved the Cambria quartz that we chose for the countertops.
When we were through, we knew we had something special. As members of NARI (National Association of the Remodel Industry) we put together a project binder and entered the COtY Award process, (COtY is Contractor of the Year) at the National Level. The first step is to win at the Regional level, and those winners are placed into competition at the National level. We won at the Regional level. So this kitchen is not just prized, but prize winning!
I will let my binder tell the story of our new kitchen.
DESCRIPTION OF PROJECT
The time had come for the homeowners to remodel their 19-year-old kitchen. They had been babying the failing appliances for over two years as they discussed the pros and cons of their original kitchen design, determining what worked for them and what didn’t. What was working for them was the basic floor plan and the white cabinetry which was in keeping with their Federal style home. What wasn’t working for them was a much longer list.
What was not working:
The appliances. It was hit or miss as to whether the ovens would even turn on, or stay on for the duration of the cooking time required.
The location of the dishwasher. Although located next to the sink, it was not easy for one person to empty the dishwasher while another was cooking.
The location of the garbage pullout was not conveniently accessed from all angles.
The existing prep sink was too small.
Although conveniently located the planning desk was never used as the homeowner felt as though she was sitting in a dark hole.
The Butler’s Pantry upper cabinet had been installed at 16″ which was too low for effectively using the space. More height was needed.
The open space between the cabinets and the ceiling. It was just a catch-all for dirt and was clearly visible when walking down the stairs to the kitchen.
Designing the kitchen to exactly fit the existing floor plan of the cabinets.
The homeowner wished to retain the existing oak hardwood flooring.
The homeowners wished to keep the existing wallpaper. All cabinets needed to fit within the existing lines, and the custom crown molding needed to be saved and re-used.
Create easier access to the prep sink plumbing.
Change from an interior wall, down draft vent, to an updraft range hood.
Center the range within the visual space and actual space.
To follow through with the Federal architectural detail found elsewhere in the home, and create a space that blends into the existing open floor plan without screaming “New!”
The Homeowners Desires:
Professional grade appliances. The homeowners are avid cooks, and they desired professional grade appliances to enhance the enjoyment of preparing meals for family and friends.
A quartz countertop
More lighting, both recessed and under cabinet lighting.
A new hot water dispenser, with filtered water drinking option.
A kitchen that really fit the style of the home.
The homeowner was a fan of Pinterest so we took advantage of this and she created a Board just for pinning ideas she had for the kitchen. By linking to this board, we were able to see exactly what she was interested in, and to read her thoughts about how and where she envisioned using the idea. From sinks to knobs and drawer pulls, to tile, the homeowner shared all of her ideas with us through Pinterest.
I love house histories. I love to teach people how to research them, I love to tell my own family stories through the history of our homes. There is so much to learn when looking at a place that shelters and protects your ancestors.
Today, we are sheltering in our homes due to the COVID19 virus. We are grateful that our home will assist us in protecting our family from this deadly virus, now turning into a pandemic as everything closes around us. Our lives changing and morphing into something new and unknown.
Oddly, I was in this same place of limbo a year ago today as I left my home of 26 years for a new home, where I knew my life would change forever and would morph into something new and unknown.
We closed on our home in Appleton, Outagamie, Wisconsin on 15 Mar 2019. We started the two-day drive to Rhode Island the next day, and a year ago today we arrived here, and settled in with our son for the night. We closed on our new home on the 18th, and quickly headed to the house to meet the moving van.
The home we left behind was the fulfillment of a dream that started five years before the building process began. We designed every inch of the house, and we have a 20+ page list of design direction to prove it. Our son was nine months old when the weather finally allowed us to break ground. Our daughter had just celebrated her fourth birthday. I have not yet put to paper the story of this house, but I have the photographic journey well documented. The decision to downsize was a hard one to make, but there were many personal reasons more important than the love of a house to push us to make the move. We will always have our memories.
As we drove through upstate New York, down into Massachusetts and finally into Rhode Island, the sense of being in limbo was weighing heavily on my heart.
A year later, the sense of limbo is again weighing heavily on my heart, but like the move, I have confidence that our country, and our world will get through this, and we can again have Hope and move Forward.
House Histories. The purpose of this post. When we purchased this house on a double corner lot in Rumford, Providence, Rhode Island, it had what the neighborhood called: The Wood Room. It seems it was a bit infamous, and it definitely was ugly. It certainly didn’t deter us from purchasing this home, but it did present a challenge. The couple from whom we purchased the home had lived here for 25 years, raising their three daughters, and by their own admission, not doing much to the home. The Wood Room was created by the previous owner, Dr. Frederic Ripley and his wife Miriam and their three children who purchased the home in about 1959.
When the home was designed in 1935, the garage was built about 17 feet from the house. This space later hosted a patio, and also a screen porch (according to neighborhood information). Sometime in the late 1960s Dr. Ripley came up with the idea to create a true addition to the house, connecting the house to the garage. He had access to 200-year-old barn wood from an old barn in Massachusetts, and English hand-made brick, also 100s of years old. He would panel the walls with the barn wood, and build a fireplace using the brick.
Because the home would be losing the service door into the garage, a window in the powder room, the kitchen window over the sink, and access to the outside from the kitchen, as the exterior doorway became an interior doorway, the Ripley’s installed a large, double sliding door on one end of the room, providing access to the back yard. An entryway with closet was designed for the opposite side of the room to provide access to the driveway, and garage.
The footings were laid, and clear pine was used as flooring material. The paneling was hung first, then the ceiling was boarded and plastered. The paneling was left rough, and much as it must have been when it was salvaged. The Ripley’s dream for a fireplace became a large, rounded, raised hearth fireplace. The room was heated with its own steam heat system, utilizing large, floor mounted radiators placed all around the room.
The Ripley’s lived in the home until 1993. Miriam Ripley passing away in January, and Frederic in June. The house was sold the following May. Fast forward to 2018, and the current owners wish to move on. The room looked much as it did when the Ripley’s had a dream, albeit now a bit dusty and covered with cat hair.
Today in 2020, the room has a new life. We, as the new owners also had a dream for the room. Twelve years spent as remodelers in Appleton as Distinctive Renovations helped us to hone our own vision, and work to make it a reality.
The fireplace was rebuilt by a very talented mason who knew just what to do to transform it into a Rumford fireplace. Yes, I live in the community named for Count Rumford who was the inventor of this efficient fireplace design. The demolition produced 8 mice nests that needed to be removed, evidence that fire had been licking its way through cracks in the original mortar, and could possibly have created a house fire, along with a very strange way of building a fireplace.
The brick was salvaged, and some of it was used to create a beautiful hearth. We next hired another talented man to custom build a wall of shelves and a mantel to grace our new soapstone surround fireplace. Work still needs to be done as we need to install the finish molding, but that will come in time.
What about the barn board you may ask? Well, we demoed it ourselves, pulled all of the nails, stacked, measured, and then sold it. We did keep one piece that measures 16 ½ W X 60 ½ L X 1” thick. That was not the longest, nor the widest board, but it was one of the best looking. What we will do with it, time will tell.
This house, a colonial revival built in 1935 is getting a fresh look on life. Our fixer-upper is starting to come back to life. Just as the spring crocus outside my window, it is looking forward to the hope of a new spring…and not being stuck in limbo any longer. Just as I wish and pray for a new spring for our country, that the virus will soon be contained, and we will all be out enjoying the freshness of a new life.
A year ago at this time we were reviewing and accepting an offer on our home of 25 years. A home that we dreamt about for five years, designed, and built in 1993. It was time to downsize. It was also the time that we made the decision to move from Wisconsin to Rhode Island to be closer to our children.
With the move no longer at some point in the distance, but with a definite date of 15 March 2019, on January 27th Gary and our daughter Kate left for Rhode Island to start the search for a home. I stayed in Wisconsin and started the long goodbye of sorting and packing for a home that would most likely be 1/2 the size of our current one.
They left me at the coldest point of the month. I have a screen shot of my weather app for January 30th at 6:33 a.m. At that time of the day, it was -24 degrees, feeling like -59. The high that day was expected to be -9, the low -22. I kept packing, my puppy at my side.
I packed for almost two months, seven days a week, from morning to evening. Kate stopped counting after ten trips to St. Vincent De Paul, Goodwill and the ReStore. While I had been fairly diligent about keeping on top of weeding out things we no longer needed over the years, there were many places in our home for small things to hide. Too many places. Too much stuff.
After we closed on our new home in Rhode Island, Gary and I headed back to Wisconsin to finish up some loose ends. Finishing a kitchen remodel project for him, and for me, the planning committee for the Wisconsin State Genealogical Societies Gene-A-Rama. Amy Johnson Crow was our main speaker, and I was also slated to speak. Then back to Appleton to start working through things at my mother’s home as she was going to join us in Rhode Island. While her home was smaller than ours had been, she had lived there for 39 years, and she had a basement full of memories.
Fast forward to a couple of months ago which found me sobbing in my basement, surrounded by boxes of “stuff” that I had brought with me. Looking for “stuff” that I seemed to have gotten rid of.
Ironically I was also catching up on Amy Johnson Crow’s podcast dated 17 Oct 2019: “3 Unexpected Things I Learned in Downsizing.” https://www.amyjohnsoncrow.com/3-unexpected-things-i-learned-in-downsizing/. In the podcast, and on the transcript she states: “It was mentally exhausting. Decision fatigue is a real thing. There comes a point where you simply cannot make any more coherent decisions. For my mom, my sisters, and I, that point usually came around the two-hour mark.”
I call this two-hour mark the “F#(*U@K it” mark. It was the point for me where I could no longer care if an item gave me “joy” ala Marie Kondo, I could only think that I could not fathom adding it to a box that I would have to then unpack miles from where I was at that moment. It was the point where I thought, “I don’t need this, I won’t miss this. YEAH! I don’t have to pack it.” Let’s just say that I made lots of mistakes. I DO miss some of the things I donated. I just did not have the luxury of time to take a break, and come back to the problem. You may ask why I did not start packing sooner. Well, it is hard to sell a home full of boxes. And I wanted my home to be viewed in its best light.
The reality is that I got rid of a lot of things I now regret, and I brought with me a lot of things I will now be donating.
Time is the enemy here. Once a house is sold the clock starts ticking. Every second brings you nearer to that moment when you will shut the door for the last time. While you may have gotten rid of too many physical things, you will always have the memories of time spent with family and friends in the house that you are leaving. You need to look forward to the opportunity of making new memories, and let’s face it, the fun of adding a few new tchotchkes purchased specifically for your new home.
Family lore states that when the Cooks left Stockbridge, Calumet, Wisconsin in the late 1870s they took clippings of the peonies that were growing on the property. We know that they did like peonies, as they can be seen in later Cook photos taken in Unity, Marathon, Wisconsin.
As far back as my memory goes, my paternal grandmother lived in one side of a duplex that she owned in Neenah, Winnebago, Wisconsin. As with most homes where the driveway marches closely to the house leading to a detached garage, there was a strip garden next to the house. Included in this small garden was an enormous red peony plant. Again, family lore tells the tale that this was an actual clipping of the peony that grew on the Cook property in Stockbridge. While I cannot speak to that, as we would have to analyze what variety of peony grew in Wisconsin during that time period, and was this that variety of peony, I can state that when my mother and I left the duplex for the last time that May day in 1986 following my grandmother’s death, we made the decision to dig up the peony, the Cook Peony.
I may never know if this peony can be dated back to the 1800s, but I can attest to the fact that this peony, which was included in every garden during my grandparents years in Wausau, Marathon, Wisconsin during the 1930s, moved with them to Nicolet Blvd. in Menasha, Winnebago, Wisconsin, and then on to my grandmother’s 1960s duplex, has now lived in a garden at my parents home since 1986. And in addition, a transplant has been happily multiplying here in my own garden since the late 1990s. That is still an old peony.