I honestly can’t believe I’m actually writing this post. It’s been a year and a half of trying to buy this home for our family. Here’s how it all went down. Two summers ago (2019) we made the very emotional decision to move back to Oregon, to raise our kids near family and friends. For whatever reason LA has never felt like our forever home so we realized we should just stop putting it off. Why wait to start the next chapter in our life? The older your kids get the harder it is to move (we’ve heard and I moved when I was 16 and can personally attest to it being an absolute nightmare). So we started looking for properties online (well, we had looked for years, actually in both Portland and Bend) and within a few days found an unusual one that checked a lot of boxes.
HERE’S WHAT WE WERE LOOKING FOR:
- Space and nature – We want our kids to grow up in nature so we wanted at least an acre.
- Good public schools nearby – At least for elementary. After living in traffic for 12 years we really didn’t want a long commute to take our kids to second grade.
- Still near the action – To be honest, I could have gone deep country – an hour outside of Portland, but Brian didn’t want to for our sake as well as the kids. He’s right – eventually, we’ll want to “go out to dinner” or “see friends”. Also when theaters open up Brian will start acting at night again so being near the city is a good thing. So our ideal/fantasy property was a country home in a family-friendly neighborhood, not far from the city. OOf, that’s not easy.
- A compelling special property that would be a creative project for me, long-term – I know that is hard to identify with but to make us move up there we really needed something that excited us daily, to our core.
WE FOUND IT
So we found a property online that checked a lot of those boxes and we flew up the next day (just Brian and I, in August 2019). We drove into the long tree-lined property and immediately knew it would be ours. It was our EXACT match. We walked the property for THREE hours and made an offer the next day. The owner, Tom, didn’t feel motivated by our offer so we quickly just came up knowing that we wanted it that badly, long-term. He then realized that he wasn’t ready to sell it and while deeply apologizing, changed his mind. We were extremely disappointed but I KNEW that it was just a timing situation. The Universe had a different plan. Maybe we needed to stay in LA for one more year? Maybe it was a test to see if we really wanted it. Brian and Tom (the owner) texted for a full year about it, checking in every couple of months to see if we were still interested and us being completely transparent that YES we sure were.
THEN COVID HIT
People started coming at him to buy it mostly to develop it because now more than ever people want land. You see, it is a strangely secluded THREE ACRES in the middle of an incredible old suburb 15 minutes from Downtown Portland and 5 minutes from cute SW restaurants. It’s an incredible piece of land full of old-growth trees, groves (and more) and the location is SO good, making it extra desirable when people want more space. So Tom texted and asked us if we were still serious because he probably saw that the time was right for him to sell (this was August of last year, 2020) and we freaked out. YES. Even more than ever because at this point we were 80% sure that we were permanently leaving LA, and while we had since fallen in love with living in Lake Arrowhead year-round (we thought we would be bored before, but not at all) we still knew Oregon was where we wanted to eventually raise our kids. He raised the price in order for him to not put it back on the market (anything with land was going so far over asking) and we agreed to buying it as-is, but still worth it to us (mostly because of what I do).
So it’s taken from August til mid-December to finalize the sale. We went back up in October to make sure that this was the right move, not having been on the property for over a year – were we really sure???? We had been talking about it with the kids openly and we really wanted THEM to see it for themselves. The second we got to the farm it was that instant feeling again. It was OURS. ENOUGH WITH THE BACKSTORY LETS SEE THE PROPERTY!!!!!!
IT’S A MINI FARM Y’ALL WITH TWO VINTAGE HOUSES
It has two farmhouses – one from 1860 (a kit house that is dripping with charm – and totally falling down) and the main house from 1910 that hasn’t been updated too much but is in strong shape. It has a barn, multiple super cute sheds, and a massive carriage garage. It has a dilapidated sports court, a million apple and cherry trees, and even a super cute treehouse that is likely a death trap but just so cute. It has 2 paddocks and a pasture and the entire property is fully fenced – the kids and dogs can have free rein.
It feels like you are in the middle of the country but IT PRACTICALLY BACKS UP TO THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. You can see it from the back fence, just a public park away. Essentially the kids can walk on ONE sidewalk without having to cross the street to get to school and I can watch them from the back fence and wave – never having to leave my little farm (I’ve become QUITE the homebody). It is such a sweet neighborhood, so quiet, barely any through traffic, but not ostentatious. We walked the neighborhood multiple times when we were there a year ago and there were so many families with young kids riding bikes, and playing in the park and the general review of the neighborhood and school was AMAZING. It’s just where we want to raise our kids and live until they are grown (barring unforeseeable life changes, of course).
Ok, that’s all the good news. And there really isn’t any bad news because of what I do – document projects… but not just anyone would have been up for this project…
HOW DOES A 100-YEAR-OLD HOUSE (AND ALMOST 200-YEAR-OLD HOUSE) INSPECT?
Well, listen, we knew what we were getting ourselves into – the biggest project of our lives, possibly a 5-year project. The inspector was there for 6 hours and at the end pulled us aside to give us the news. He genuinely raved about the property for 10 minutes (as a historic home enthusiast himself he couldn’t believe it still existed) using the word ‘magical’ over and over (we agreed) and then he broke it down…
Ahem. The main house would essentially need a new foundation, all new plumbing, all new electrical, sewer line, it has mold, water damage, asbestos, every window needs repair or replacing, a new chimney… and it just went on and on. But he said all those things with a ‘of course you know this’ vibe as if it wasn’t bad news. He was still so enthusiastic about the home and property. I nervously asked, ‘so what is good about it then?’ and he basically said what we knew, too – that it actually had great bones, it’s solid and since it hasn’t really been renovated in 100 years you know what you are getting. We had already agreed to buy as-is so, strangely we weren’t phased. We knew we were going to renovate and once you open the walls, we knew we wouldn’t find perfection. You have to walk across the upstairs bedrooms to turn on the only light source – the single pull chain sconce, for example. There weren’t light switches, no ceiling fixtures. We didn’t care. We loved it. It’s spacious and charming and really does feel solid and loved.
THE VICTORIAN HOUSE (1850)
The ‘kit house’ from 1850 is SO CUTE, so charming and yes falling apart, literally 1/2 of it only has a dirt floor that slopes down into at like a 30 degree angle. It doesn’t have plumbing tied in (has the cutest shower stall, though) and barely has electrical (these cute knob and tube wires pinned to the ceiling installed in 1920’s). But again, we already knew this. None of this bummed us out, nothing surprised us and we were still HYPED for this house. It’s SO cute and charming and once restored will be the cutest guest house/office ever. It wouldn’t be everyone’s dream property, but as a designer and someone who loves to and yes, gets to go to work every day documenting my own projects it is our dream job and, more importantly, it will be our dream home.
The main farmhouse is where our family will live. It is 3500 square feet, with 3 bedrooms upstairs and a shared hall bath. They are all corner rooms so they have great light and are a good size (which is surprising for being built 110 years ago).
Downstairs includes a huge living room, kitchen and sunroom. And then in what seems to be a ’60s addition, there’s a family room, two small offices, a laundry room, and a bathroom. I’ll get into the layout more next week with lots of photos and show you floor plans galore, but essentially we want to turn that whole wing into a family room and our primary suite. The only thing we are struggling to figure out is how to add a family room and make the house flow long-term for our family. So yes, some walls will shift around. Right now it has a massive living room but no family/tv room and since this is our forever home we really want to have two separate hangout areas (having a separate living and family/tv room here has been something we’ve greatly appreciated).
AM I NERVOUS??
YES… This hasn’t been without a decent dose of nervousness and before we hired Anne and Arciform I would wake up frequently being like, ‘wait, why are we leaving??? Am I just adding years of stress doing this highly expensive and very stressful renovation????’ We love living in Lake Arrowhead, in this beautifully DONE house, A LOT. Like a lot, a lot. It’s sunny 300 days a year and I bike around a lake most mornings. But long term, and when the world opens up, I know that we want to be closer to family, culture, neighbors that aren’t empty airbnbs and even restaurants and vintage shopping. I don’t think I would have moved up for just any house though, I want to live in the country, away from the hustle and bustle, and Brian wants to live near the city – And somehow SOMEHOW we found it.
WHAT IS THE TIMING? WHEN IS THIS HAPPENING?
We closed right before the holidays and hired Arciform to be our design/build team (read this post on how we are doing this project differently and why we hired this amazing company). We’ll get as-builts first – drawings of how it is right now, and then we’ll go to town with reconfiguring it to make it work long term for our family. I’ve already come up with a pretty solid design vision and elements that are a ‘non-negotiable’ – beautiful windows and doors, many fireplaces to keep it cozy all winter (yes, we are scared about leaving California for the rain), lots of locally made fixtures, tile, etc. We hope to start demo in early spring and hoping to be in a portion of it when school opens up in the fall.
WHAT CAN YOU GUYS EXPECT?
Well, tackling this project will be full of one million challenges and lessons and we will share all of them with you. I’m not promising any sort of ‘I Design, You Decide’ engagement strategy. Instead, we’ll tell a story of how to do this right, once and long term – truly the most sustainable way to renovate. Of course the team, Arciform, that we’ve hired has done so many historic homes, not to mention old churches, lighthouses, and covered bridges so I’m in GREAT hands.
We are going to tackle the main house first, investing in it to work long-term for our family. I’ve learned a lot of how I like to live in my house and what I need to stay sane, so even though it’s a vintage style house full of charm it will have a more minimal approach. The older home (from 1850) that will serve eventually as our office/guest house will be way different. We’ll make it safe (foundation, electrical, plumbing, and temperature control) but then it will be far more budget, thrifted and eclectic – I have to have somewhere to put all my beautiful things!! It will be where I have fun, take more risks in styling and decorating as we’ll leave all the walls and general layout as-is, and just get weird with decor. I’m hoping that there will be something here for everyone – those of you you want inspiring new and solid design ideas for your renovations, and those who love the ‘work with what you got and thrift a lot’ way of life. I love them both so much THUS THE EXTREME EXCITEMENT.
And I haven’t even mentioned the exterior yet!!! The property feels totally rural and the kids can get totally lost (and it’s flat, fenced and full of trees and so many native edibles). We’ll likely landscape some parts of it, get some goats in to clean up so many blackberry bushes (I’m pro blackberry bushes because I grew up picking them, but Brian says there are too many). We also want to put in some garden beds, but keep it fairly unruly and rural so it doesn’t turn into a big landscaped McMansion yard. Right now because of the trees it feels endless, like you could roam for hours before you get to the perimeter and I think if we open it up too much we’ll lose that sense of wonder. We’ll likely do the hardscape areas when we renovate but tackle more of the exterior in phase 2 (or 3 or 4) as landscaping is far more expensive than I would have ever thought 5 years ago.
Again, we are doing this once, so we are going to do it RIGHT for the long term, which means a lot of planning, fixing really boring/non-sexy expensive things and requiring a lot of experts. I want to renovate this house so it literally never has to be fixed or renovated again. Sure I might switch out furniture, but let’s give her another solid 120 years of quality design and craftsmanship, with kids chasing chickens and building forts the whole time.
The real challenge is how to design a 120-year-old farmhouse to be timeless, authentic, modern yet INTERESTING. I’m certainly not the first person to design a ‘modern farmhouse’ right now, HAHAHAHA, so how do I design it (and inspire you all) to be really special without bending into a trend I’ll regret or going too far in one direction. How do you stand out without trying too hard? How do you create warmth in simplicity?? Interest without busy-ness???
Y’all. I have a vision, I do. And I’m SO excited to share that vision, and the entire process with you. 2021 will be a BIG YEAR and while I’m nervous to go from no projects to two massive projects (and finishing the book), I’m also really ready to be creative again and dive into these projects. I’ve found myself pinning for hours on the weekend, working overtime because it feels like so much fun. I have missed that this year.
Thanks for coming along thus far in my life. The proverbial doors will always be open to you, my kind, supportive readers and for that I’ll give you all the honesty, transparency and design info, resources and lessons possible. Let’s do this together.