When I first got the call from what would become my company, I told my Bride, "I'm going to take the interview. But just to be nice. I'm pretty sure that nobody actually lives in Maine, other than a few stray Canadians and uncountable moose."
I had one conversation. And that led to another. And a third. Soon, I was having conversations with them along the lines of, "Look. I like you. And I like the people I've met. And the role sounds cool. But I don't know anything about Maine other than this is where people go to get a good lobster roll. I mean, I read We Took To The Woods a couple of years ago and I enjoyed it. But I'm pretty sure that's not the book that'll convince my family."
"Come on up. Bring the family. We'll sort you out and you can check out some schools and neighborhoods."
We've done this before, a couple of times, the last time, moving from England to Massachusetts. This time, the kids were old enough to be aware & kept in the loop. We gave the realtor a couple of basic parameters.
- Don't show us anything less than 100 years old.
- We prefer something with 2 or more acres.
That's pretty much it. We started getting the listings. And running the searches ourselves. And prepping a list.
I found this one listing that I kept coming back to. It wasn't on the realtor's list. The pictures caught my eye, and the description was just... odd.
"1780's farmhouse. Greek Revival," it said. That part I liked.
"Greenhouse and mature, formal garden," it said. Also in the 'win' column.
"Period details, fireplaces & a lovely front room library," it said. Yes, yes and hell yes.
"11 bedrooms, plus apartment," it said. Well, I suppo-- wait. What?
I google-snooped it. Is that a parking lot?
That's a parking lot.
What the hell is this house? I had to see it. I began lobbying my Bride. She was unconvinced. I asked the realtor about it. "It's been on the market for more than a year, and I've never shown that house before, if that tells you anything."
But this was the lead photo. Seriously. I had to go see it.
I had my bets on what the house was. I figured bed-and-breakfast. The listing photos showed the house staged with plenty of antiques and custom pieces. This house ended up being the first one we saw in our tour of Portland-area properties.
It was gorgeous. My bride and I wandered around the 6+ acres, looking at sculpture and old outbuildings (there are 5), and kept speculating as to what the heck this house was.
"It used to be a fraternity house." We were just down the road from the University of Southern Maine.
"For the last 30 years, the couple that owns it has been renting out rooms to students. The couple works at the university's art department, and host gallery showings here." Hence the sculpture. And the fact that the home had been cut up into so many individual spaces. There was a 1 bedroom apartment on the second floor, and a number of individual rooms sharing another, separate mini-kitchen. And an in-law style apartment above the barn.
We didn't care. We turned the corner and saw the giant chestnut tree in full bloom. I've always wanted a chestnut tree. My Bride knows this about me. She knew the house had me. Then we walked to the back, of the house, down a ways from the cutting garden, a few steps past the three-season sun room, and saw the sunken, secret fern-lined garden in the foundations of the old barn. And I knew the house had my Bride. We ducked behind a stone gate (seriously, you guys. A stone gate!) and looked at each other, whispering urgently. "Holy shit. I love this house." And then we had to do that jinx-owe-you-a-coke because we said it at the same time.
We looked at several other houses, but we kept coming back to this one. It spoke to us. It said "buy us."
So we had it inspected. Because we're not complete idiots.
"It's not square." It's an old house. I expected that.
"The student apartments are sub-par." That's ok. In our heads, we've already ripped all that out and returned it to a single family home.
"There are old marks of fire on some of the rafters." Well, it was a frat house at one point, so I suppose that's sort of understandable...
"I don't think the chimneys have been cleaned in the last century. Many of them need to be rebuilt from scratch." Ouch.
The kitchen was built for a hobbit, with low ceilings and an oddly cut up layout. There is a hot tub in the bathroom on the first floor. A full-sized, honest-to-goodness 8 person hottub. INSIDE. And the house overall had not made it unscathed through the wallpaper-years. Oh, the wallpaper. It is plentiful and abundant in our new house. And none of it matches. Except for being mostly in the "Large and Flowery" category.
See that lamp in the middle of the kitchen counter? That's so you can see into the sink. Because it's that dark in the kitchen. And yet somehow? There are 4 different light switches in the kitchen, each of which operate a different set of lights. 5 if you count the under-the-cabinet fluorescent.
It was all character. The house had a name - it was owned and substantially renovated by Isaac Dyer, a prominent local attorney in the 1820's or so. It was his estate. The house has its own facebook page. It has a personality and a presence. A little 'quirkiness' is to be expected, I suppose.
All of this got fed into the negotiations. And we knocked the price down to something we could be comfortable with, knowing we were going to start a pretty hefty renovation & update.
We finally moved into the house about six weeks ago, and started exploring every detail. There were two rooms that we had never actually seen in person (they were student occupied when we walked through the first time). We had visited with the sellers a couple of times to share stories and sit on the front porch with a cup of coffee, but we had been negotiating through proxy, sending our inspectors back through, but never actually having walked the the whole house again. Does that sound insane? That's because it is. Did you see the part about the INSIDE giant hot tub that we had already chosen to overlook? Besides. The sellers had let me move my pigs in a week or more before the actual close date. We had a trust thing going.
We got moved in, and started separating the boxes we absolutely had to open (underwear) from those we didn't (paintings). We didn't really want to unpack anything that would be in the way of the renovation. Two of the rooms and one of the outbuildings became big storage lockers. And the answer to every question about where something is ends with "...it's in a box."
We started figuring out what needed to be fixed. There's a hallway light fixture that the sellers had asked to take with them. "Sure," I said. I can replace that, I figured. So a few days after we moved in, I ordered a light fixture I liked, switched off all the switches in the area, and pulled out a ladder to hook it up. (Unlike the kitchen, most of the house has high ceilings. What's up with the kitchen? I have no idea. I'll let you know when we rip apart the room to figure it out).
The light came on. That was good. But I had switched every switch to 'off' that I could find. I climbed down from the ladder and searched for another switch for an hour before giving up. I finally called the seller and asked him. "Oh. That's a live circuit. I had the light on a pull chain."
Oh good. That's a fun little surprise that I'm glad I managed to avoid finding out the hard way while I was installing the light.
Much of the renovation we're going to hire done. We've found a Maine-based contractor team that specializes in antique homes - they've already started on the barn/in-law apartment to give us a place to stay during the peak of the renovation crazy. But some of it we'll be taking on ourselves. The fun parts that we enjoy. Either way, I'm sure I'll end up with a few stories to tell.
We like Maine. We like the area, the company I've joined, the people we've met, the schools the kids are in. We like the pace & the interactions. We miss our friends in Massachusetts. But when I talk about having pigs in my backyard, Maine folk either nod as if that's totally normal, or shrug as if to say "Ay-yuh. Well. That's a thing some people do."
But mostly, I moved the whole family to Maine so I could finally justify buying a pair of overalls.