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The Gingerbread House

My dream house: a large Victorian trimmed in ornate gingerbread and painted in a palette of earth tones. It would have too many nooks and crannies to count; sunshine would flood the turret windows brightening the rooms within its reach; and a wrap-around porch with trellises of ivy and climbing roses would have two wooden swings. The rambling rooms with flowery wallpaper, carved wood panels, and parquet floors would showcase horsehair sofas and chintz pillows. Lots of “stuff” would decorate the room: vases, pictures, gaudy trifles. Personal clutter which could make some people phobic is a thing of beauty to a borderline hoarder like me. The rightness of it all makes me feel like I was born in the wrong century.

When my husband and I began the search for our first DIY (cheap) home, my dream house faded to the back of my mind with a someday sign in the front yard instead of a for sale sign. I knew it wasn’t feasible. We didn’t have the time or money to take on such a large project, but I didn’t want a plain box structure, either. Fortunately, my husband was willing to try his hand at remodeling almost anything. Strong, fearless, and money challenged, we looked for potential. We couldn’t invest in a large, bottomless money pit, but we could work hard to create a unique space that we would be happy in. After a long, discouraging hunt, we found an older house rife with ugly, miss-mashed features and abandoned attempts at revision. The positive point was that it was redeemable – and we couldn’t make it any worse.

I was the “ideas” person. Terry would groan when he’d see me sketching out additions or built-ins on a piece of paper. Despite his protests, he was all in: one day there would be a wall between the kitchen and the dining room, and the next day it would be gone. We tore into the house like we were cleaning out an old refrigerator. The dumpster was always full, the floors continually covered with the grit of sawdust, and a growing mountain of yard sale cabinets, tiles, and errant pieces of two-by-fours filled the spare bedroom. There was a headiness to having that kind of control. Of course, there were times, my ideas were not good ones, and a wall would reappear or a door replaced. One day, we realized we had a small, sparkling gem. Home.

Six houses have passed through our hands since we first began our soulful search. Each house has been bigger and better and brought with it the opportunity to reshape our lives. None of our homes were easy to leave. There’s more than a little blood and sweat in the walls left behind. The ceremonial last walk around each of our creations left us shaking our heads, wondering how we could leave it behind.

Our current house, and probably our last, is far from the grand Victorian dream. The kids left the nest years ago. The window of time for that idyllic fantasy has passed. There’s no need for large rooms and hiding spaces. Our requirements for this home did not require creative potential or structural changes. Unfortunately, habits run deep; we couldn’t help ourselves from moving and adding a few walls. Our small Tudor cottage with green shutters and a stone façade suits us. Pink and blue hydrangeas frame the windows, and peonies bloom at the corners of the house. I want a new kitchen, but I don’t need one. I’m contemplating new wood floors, but I’m content to just think about it.

There’s an amazing Victorian about ten minutes from where we live. It’s a beautiful period house with its fancy gingerbread woodwork and a foundation of rusty-colored bricks. The owners have been working on it for years, and the restoration is far from finished. I think it might be a money pit. There’s a for sale sign in the front yard. Sometimes, I drive in its direction just to look at the little castle. When I get there, I slow down to a crawl and crane my head as far as I can before I pull a muscle. I’ve thought about stopping in to look around and tell the owners how beautiful the house is, but I don’t. The outside is exactly how I pictured my dream. I don’t want to fill my head with their vision of the inside.

The idea of my dream house still resides in my brain, along with the tall, skinny version of myself, and a best-selling book with my name on it at the bookstore. The dream gave me the motivation to take risks and make changes. It led us to our cottage on the lake that fills my heart – flaws and all.


  1. Well done. I like the way you circled back to the original dream but now with the wisdom of experience! (LOL) Also, I’m going to borrow your term ” borderline hoarder.” I never knew how to classify myself. I used to say my husband and I were like the hoarders on TV— only our stuff was a bit nicer. I could totally identify! It took us so long to build our dream house that two of our kids had already moved on to college. And now, it’s just us, two dogs, and an accumulation of let’s say “sentimental stuff.”
    I always enjoy your pieces.

  2. what a wonderful story coming full circle. The time and effort you both put into your homes is admirable.

  3. What a wonderful description of your “dream” home. It sounds absolutely perfect. But your lake home sounds like it is exactly where you want to be. Funny how with time and experience we eventually find our way.

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