Finding Tett House, Part 4 – Signposts & Billboards

I’m a real estate junkie. I love houses and I’m nosy about them, too – especially ones that I like. But I knew Tett House was gone and I had to find a new favourite, even though I knew I would  never see another house with that kind of charm and magnetism.

Just over a year ago (mid-January, 2017) I made a cup of tea and casually logged onto realtor.ca to stalk houses look at listings across southern Ontario. I had no way of knowing the GTA was just a few weeks away from an unexpected and precipitous boom in the market.

After entering and adjusting my search parameters, a group of random homes popped up and among them, I was astonished to see once more the listing for MY house… that beautiful but unfinished yellow house on the hill. The house I thought was lost and gone forever, sold to other people who would never, ever, ever love it the way that I already loved it.

Tett House had found me – again.

I still remember the significance of this… the thrill of realizing this was more than just a coincidence. The house was practically throwing itself at us. (If you haven’t already, please go back and read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 leading up to this point, so that you can understand the significance.) I had actual goosebumps. Our family was at a crossroads, and this was clearly a signpost. Moreover, additional work had been done on house, and, miraculously, the price had dropped. How many more times did I need to be hit over the head with this? Obviously, zero. But the question was, how many times did Trevor need to be hit over the head?

Turns out it was zero for him, too. After emailing him the latest listing, he suggested we make a trip out to see the house together… with our son, Oliver. This was getting serious. We contacted the realtor and made plans to drive out and see it that very weekend.


Oliver playing in the secret staircase.

All in all, I think we visited the place three times within a span of 6 weeks. The first time was to get Trevor and Oliver’s approval – check. The second time, we brought a contractor. The third time, an inspector. It was imperative to both Trevor and I that we fully understood the scope – and cost – of the renovations required, and any potential issues affecting a house over 130 years old. Our biggest hesitation hinged on having the budget to make the necessary repairs.

It was pretty much as we expected. The house needed to be completely re-wired. It needed insulation, plaster and drywall repair, and other cosmetic updates. There were no laundry facilities, so we’d need to plumb and convert one of the tiny upstairs bedrooms. And it needed all new appliances, as there were none currently in the home. The fieldstone basement had been my biggest concern, but the inspector declared the foundation solid and well-supported, although it needed to be better sealed against mice and other critters. The oil furnace wouldn’t need replacing for several years, and the oil tank was new. In fact, the bathroom and kitchen reno’s, the roof, the fence, the septic tank, the well and water filtration system were all new. We were nervous and intimidated by our own daring, but also vastly encouraged. This is how the house looked when we visited:

In between these visits, the stars in their courses were aligning and three very important things happened:

1)  Our realtor took a sample of water from the house and sent it off for testing. It came back as excellent in quality and very safe to drink. (Remember this.)

2)  I decided to contact Barry, the man who owns the Mill across the pond from Tett House. I reached out to him sort of impulsively, thinking he might have information about the property that we would find interesting. Remember this, too, because boy, was I ever right. Connecting with Barry ended up being an excellent argument in favour of following your gut instincts.

3)  Our realtor friend contacted us. Several months earlier (out of the blue) she had offered to conduct an appraisal of our current home. At the time, we had been very satisfied with the figure, and filed it happily under “Things That Are Good to Know.” Now she was calling to say that the assessment was no longer valid. Unusual changes were happening with property values in our neighbourhood; in only four months, our home’s selling price had increased by an additional $100,000.

So, what I had initially thought to be a polite little signpost was turning out to be a goddamned billboard with flood lights and flashing neon arrows saying, “THIS WAY, YOU STUPID *FUCKING* MORONS.”

The Universe had our attention. We were listening. We met with our bank manager. He said, “You’ve got this,” and took us to the cliff edge of our financial destiny.

We jumped.

Read Part 5

Finding Tett House, Part 3 – The Spirit of Adventure

It’s amazing how a holiday or change of scene can give you a new perspective. (This is probably why so many corporations are stingy about vacation time — too many of their employees would quit!)  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In spite of all the serendipity discovering the place (see Part 1 and Part 2) I’d made up my mind that Tett House could never be mine. Someone else would buy it and wreck it with bastardized “improvements,” or someone wouldn’t buy it, and it would crumble further and forgotten into obscurity. Neither fate exactly filled me with joy.

One day in the summer months of 2016, I searched for the real estate link, and it was gone. I assumed the house had been sold. I felt sad, and realized that I had still been holding on to some far-fetched dream that owning it might become a reality someday. But now, it seemed the home was irrevocably in the hands of others, so the best I could hope for was that they would treat it well.

In the meantime, Trevor & I were approaching our 10th wedding anniversary in the fall. We had been hoping to return to Scotland where we got married.

This was our wedding day at Dalhousie Castle in October, 2006. Look how cute we were!

Also, here is a completely gratuitous picture of my husband in a kilt. Because hot.

And one of me in my wedding dress, because I loved this dress, and yes, those are feathers.

Moving on…

Sadly, changes in finances had dashed our hopes and Scotland was now out of the question. We decided instead to visit the most beautiful old-world city in our own country – Vieux-Québec.

Aside from the odd weekend over the years to mostly local destinations, we had not been on a trip together since our honeymoon. Trevor had not even taken more than a day or two off in a row in almost 5 years. The strain was starting to show, and we both looked forward to our trip with excitement.

Our time in Old Quebec was beautiful and romantic. We were at liberty and leisure to explore the city on foot. We made no set plans, preferring instead to wander aimlessly, taking photographs, and making discoveries. There was no schedule. We ate when we got hungry, paused when we needed a rest, and shopped when we found something wonderful.

We weren’t just exploring the area, we were immersing ourselves in new sights and sounds, food and drink, art and beauty. Our boutique hotel had excellent service and delightful breakfasts. Outdoors, the leaves were changing, but the sun was warm. Delicious scents wafted out of the open doors and windows of restaurants and bakeries, inspiring us to a perpetual state of snackery. The clop-clop of horses gave me thrills of enchantment that were only satisfied when we took a carriage ride, and then promptly extinguished by the overpowering smell of manure (the horses poop in a bag!)

Our favourite day was spent on Île d’Orléans, picnicking on the shores of the St. Lawrence.

We were surrounded by art and architecture and nature and French culture, and we loved every second of it.

We let our imaginations and our senses run wild.

We didn’t fully realize it at the time, but by indulging our sense of adventure, our lives had crossed a new threshold. Once you rediscover your wings, you don’t fly back into the cage and allow somebody to clip them. We returned to our “regular” life and everything looked different. We realized how much we had been missing in the routine of our daily lives, how much we had turned away from what inspired us, in order to tackle the tedium of ever-increasing responsibilities and obligation.

Suddenly, we no longer felt compelled to maintain situations or relationships that had become imbalanced, burdensome, and stressful. Everything had changed. We didn’t know exactly what our next step was, but we were on the watch for it.

And then Tett House came back on the market.

(Read Part 4)

 

Finding Tett House – Part 2

2016 was a restless, restless winter. Change was in the air.

For years, our family had been living in a house and a neighbourhood we loved, in a city we didn’t. Although we talked about moving some day, we didn’t anticipate doing so for several years. Even then, we assumed we’d stay safe and secure in the GTA, where we’d been raised and lived our whole lives.

But the personal and professional dynamics in our lives were changing and could no longer be relied upon. At some point, our life/work balance had gone askew, leaving us increasingly frustrated and powerless. Trevor & I knew we needed to take back the direction of our future; I could feel the foundation of our lives shifting under our feet, but didn’t know yet where the momentum was going to take us. We talked a lot about how to build a life with more room for our passions and talents, as a better example for our son. We were redefining our goals as individuals and as a family.

Meanwhile, I had not forgotten the house I saw on-line, back in September. (See Part 1.)  It had come to represent a kind of touchstone for me. In February, I went back to the real estate listing and it was still active. I emailed it to Trevor again. I was already referring to it as “my” house.

After viewing the listing – again – Trevor wrote back to say he thought this house might be the same one that we saw on the hill back in November, across from the mill. I was taken aback at the suggestion. No way… it couldn’t be the same house. Could it?

A quick search (thank you, ye gods of Google) revealed that it was in fact the same house. It looked quite different from the front than it did from the back, especially at a distance.

What were the odds? Trevor & I had essentially both discovered the same property at the same time, but in completely different ways. I felt this was significant, but what did it all mean?

I decided I needed to visit the house, myself. I felt an attachment to it that I couldn’t explain. I thought if I could at least see it in person, one of two things might happen:

1)  The house would be so amazing, Trevor would immediately be persuaded to say, “Yes, my love, we must purchase this magnificent dwelling and move in forthwith,

or,

2)  I might gain satisfaction enough to let it go.

Not being a character in a Merchant-Ivory film, Trevor doesn’t use terms like, “magnificent dwelling,” or “forthwith,” so the second option was really the best that I could hope for.

I contacted the realtor, who agreed to take me through the house. She sent me information about the property:  it was called Tett House, it came with six acres, and together with Bedford Mills, was of local historic significance. Of course, this only made me love it more.

In March, I made the 3-1/2 hour drive out to Bedford Mills. Seeing the home in person was like a dream. Some attractive but superficial renovations had been done to the interior (new kitchen, new bathroom) but it was relatively raw and untouched – neglected almost. The owners at that time didn’t live on the property, so there were no appliances and little furniture. It was a lonely old place. I could feel its sadness. But also its potential.

The shingles were flaking off the roof. The floors were strong, but in rough shape. The doors were beautiful, cinnamon-stained wood, with incredible antique hardware, but a century of changing seasons had left them warped and sticking in their frames.

The house was filled with original, 19th century carpentry:  jam cupboards, shelves, and there was a walk-in linen closet upstairs in the servant’s quarters. Servant’s quarters!!  A “secret staircase” led from the kitchen to the second floor. How much had I always wanted a secret staircase? (Answer:  a lot.)

The fireplaces had gorgeous mantles, but were rusty and non-functioning.

The basement was creepy…  it had a fieldstone foundation and a dirt-floor with a tired oil furnace.

The original windows featured waves of rippled glass; they opened reluctantly, a number of the panes were cracked, and they were full of flies. Some of the rooms had been papered with ugly wallpaper that had begun to peel from the plaster walls, and in the main hallway, there was actually a hole in the floor from an old stovepipe.

A quick examination of the ungrounded outlets revealed the electrical work needed a huge overhaul. And although it was early spring by this time, the place was as cold as a barn. The realtor confirmed that the house had probably never been insulated.

It was daunting. I mean, I was daunted.

But…

The house satisfied something vital in me. For one thing, it was like something out of an LM Montgomery novel, which in itself was enough to attract me. The windows were large and bright, and each one provided a view of the water. And trees… in a house like this, I could finally have my fill of trees. My favourite feature was the screened-in porch at the side of the house, from which I could instantly see myself reading books and gazing out at the mill, listening to birds and the rustling of leaves, and that amazing little waterfall. The house and its surroundings were truly one.

My spirits fell, however. I knew it wasn’t going to happen. Trevor & I are not DIY people, nor did we have an unlimited budget to take on so many renovations and repairs. The house still needed too much work; it was rough and isolated and so fucking beautiful, and it was positively crying out for someone (me!) to love it. I thought my heart would break right there. Before leaving the property, I rang the bell again and said good-bye forever.

I went home and told Trevor all about it, and prepared to let it go. The universe had other plans.

(Read Part 3)

 

Finding Tett House – Part 1

It was the mill that first caught our eye. Well… Trevor’s eye.

It was August of 2015. I was sleeping in the car when we first drove by the mill on our way down to Kingston, because sleeping in the car is what I do. But Trevor, who is super thoughtful in this way, made a note to remember it as a place worth exploring in the future, and maybe taking a few good photographs.

We had been visiting friends and really enjoyed Kingston and its surrounding villages. Even though we had no plans to move at that time, I started randomly looking at houses in the area, purely out of curiosity. In September, I sent Trevor a link to the listing of a home I thought was incredible. This was the listing photo.

He replied that it was “very cute.” I thought it was one of the most gorgeous homes I’d ever seen in my life. Unfinished, yes. But gorgeous. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

You can still view the video tour here.

About 10 days later, I emailed him the link again, just because I get obsessed that way.

A couple of months later, we were in the area once more and Trevor said, “I want to show you something.” He drove us out to see the old mill he had first noticed back in August. It was in a little pocket of South Frontenac called “Bedford Mills,” with a few cabins, a quaint church, and not much else that we could see. At the foot of a tumbling waterfall, this steadfast, stone mill stood guard over a quiet pond, like something out of a gothic novel. Even in the stark greyness of a November afternoon, it was beautiful.

As the road cuts right through the property, we did not immediately realize the mill was a private residence (whoops.) We rambled and exclaimed and took pictures until our son Oliver sighed with ennui. Finally, we noticed a “Private Sale” sign that indicated the property was on the market, and I jotted down the email address.

Then we looked up.

High on the hill, across the water, was an old yellow house with a big old verandah, peering down between windswept pines. It was the kind of house I’ve wanted to live in all my life. I’m pretty sure it winked at me.

“Look at that house,” I said, pointing. “Imagine living there.” And in a heartbeat, I did imagine it. I considered what it would be like to look out the windows through those trees at the mill, and to hear the rush of that waterfall every single day. It was an intoxicating idea.

On a whim, we drove up the steep driveway to the house, which actually sits atop a craggy limestone cliff of Canadian Shield. It was vacant and even more charming up close. It also had an old carriage house and a bell on the property that rang with a satisfyingly loud gong.

A bell!  I was smitten.

We took some more photos, then went back to the car, and drove onward.

I had no idea this was the same house to which I had sent Trevor the link just eight weeks before.

(Read Part 2)