Tett House – Post-Chaos Clean-Up

As much as we wanted to move in after most of the big repairs had been completed, our new life at Tett House could only begin after a massive clean up had taken place. For the better part of two months, we bounced around between a truly awful AirBnB rental, and both our parents’ homes. We tried to stay upbeat.

Several years of vacancy and neglect are not kind to a home that is 130+ years old, and the necessary but invasive upgrades had left Tett House in pretty rough shape.

The vandalized well problem had pushed our renovation timeline back by nearly eight weeks. We had to move out of our old place long before everything was completed, which meant all of our stuff was in the house while the messiest work was being conducted. Not only was every surface coated in drywall dust, and splatters of insulation and patching compound, but so was every bin, every box, every piece of exposed furniture.

For example… this is what the front hall looked like when we bought the house: a little worn, a little dusty, but what old house can’t use a little polishing?

This is what the front hall looked like after plumbing and electrical upgrades, insulating, drywalling, painting, and about a dozen tradespeople working in and out of the house at any given time… plus random storage of our belongings, because we couldn’t move in on time.

It was a daunting task, but so much of our journey up to this point had been daunting that all we could do was roll up our sleeves and get at it. This was us on Day 1.

Every available space was piled high with boxes and furniture. All had initially been organized neatly according to room, but necessity required our contractors to push them out of the way or relocate them based on wherever they were working at the time.

Living Room:

Dining Room:

Upstairs Hall and Landing:

I think it’s safe to say we were exhausted before we even began. The warm and stately house we’d fallen in love with was unrecognizable in all the chaos.

We worked room by room, reorganizing our belongings and then cleaning the floors, the baseboards, the walls, the fixtures. Anyone who’s done any renovation work knows that drywall dust (the worst!) gets into EVERY nook and cranny… and old houses have A LOT of nooks and crannies. Just when you think you’ve gotten it all, it continues to fall gently but imperceptibly like invisible snow for weeks afterwards, settling back onto your furniture, and leaving behind a fine white powder that turns frustratingly to paste when met with a too-damp cloth.

Every box, had to be wiped down and vacuumed before opening. I wore holes in my cleaning rags, earned bruises and backaches. While some rooms needed to be cleaned, others had to be prepped for paint and primer and THEN cleaned. I scrubbed the floorboards on my hands and knees.

As clean-up gained momentum, so did we.

One of my favourite little projects was the restoration of a chandelier that came with the house. Clearly not an antique, the fixture was loaded with dust and appeared too dirty to have much value. I couldn’t even tell what finish it was. At the time, cleaning it almost seemed more trouble than it was worth.

My mother didn’t agree; she insisted we bring the chandelier to her house, where she helped me rescue and repurpose what ended up being a nice little showpiece.

After removing all the dangles, I was able to clean the candelabra frame and brackets. My mom painstakingly washed each chandel-earring in hot soapy water, followed by a vinegar and water bath, carefully labelling their location and laying them out to dry on tea towels.

I’m so glad she talked me into keeping that chandelier, and putting in the extra elbow grease. It ultimately became one of those special little before-and-after moments that gave us inspiration to keep working toward our vision. And in the beginning, those moments were few and far between.

Another project was sealing and painting the interior of all the beautiful original wood cabinetry in the house. On the outside, the handmade cupboards were warm and lovely, but on the inside were stains and cracks and in some cases, a graveyard for dead bugs. They smelled musty. We wanted the cabinetry to be functional as well as decorative, and Brodie Burt of CL Paintworks did an amazing job for us.

Brodie also weatherproofed our picket fence, which was decent but sort of nondescript before he stained it a crisp country white.

One by one, our contractors packed up their tools and materials, shook our hands, and said good-bye. The biggest and most immediate projects had been addressed and we finally had our white picket fence. Things were beginning to fall into place and we were on the cusp of coming home to Tett House.

(To start our blog at the beginning, go to Part 1.)

Finding Tett House, Part 9 – Trial by Water

Disclaimer:  This is not a fun post. It’s long, probably convoluted, and I’m afraid there aren’t many pictures, but I promise you, our story starts to get better after this.  It’s a hugely important part of the Tett House narrative, and it has to be told, so bear with me.

The day we got the key to Tett House (see Part 8) we discovered our well had been vandalized and contaminated with diesel.

We didn’t know all the details right away, and had to go through many channels before we had all the answers, but it was ultimately confirmed by each professional we consulted. Shortly before we moved in, someone poured a jerry can of diesel down the well.

What a housewarming gift. I would have infinitely preferred brownies baked by a new neighbour. Except we really didn’t have any neighbours. Trevor, Oliver & I were spending our first weekend in our new house in a new community, but we were in trouble and we knew no one. We couldn’t drink the water or brush our teeth with it. We couldn’t bathe in it. We weren’t sure if it was OK to flush the toilets, or even stay in the house. Joey, our new plumber and electrician, was the only person we could think of to call, as he had accompanied us on our last visit to the home two weeks before.

Our first morning at Tett House.

Joey stopped in as a favour on a Saturday night after having ice cream in town with his family. To say we were grateful is a radical understatement. He ran the water in the kitchen and could smell what we all thought was gasoline right away. He said immediately, “This wasn’t like this two weeks ago.”

He used a portable meter to test the water for hydrocarbons, confirmed a positive reading, and expressed his concern that someone had vandalized the well on purpose. He told us we needed to have the water specially tested by a laboratory and then contact the Ministry of the Environment for further instructions. He also advised us to call our lawyer. At the time, we couldn’t tell for sure if someone had poisoned our well or we had unknowingly bought a contaminated property. We soon found that neither scenario was going to be easy or cheap to address.

Trevor and I felt like we were in the middle of a nightmare. It was the May 24 long weekend, and we had to find somewhere to stay, but all the local hotels were booked up. We also had 4 different sets of contractors ready to start work after the holiday, and five major appliances scheduled for delivery over the next two weeks.

Everyone and everything had to be put on hold. Our whole world seemed to grind to a halt, and yet it was also spinning out of control so quickly, it was making us sick.

What do you do when someone vandalizes the well on your newly purchased property? No one could tell us. We discovered that we were in a largely unprecedented situation. Our realtor didn’t know. Our realtor’s boss didn’t know. Our lawyer didn’t know. Our new insurance broker didn’t know. Joey the plumber didn’t know. A well technician I called for advice didn’t know.

Well. We are now in the unenviable position of being able to tell you exactly what to do when someone vandalizes your well. Yay, us!

First, we had to call some of my relatives, who lived an hour away, and ask them to take us in for the weekend. It was midnight by the time we got there, tired and stressed.

We had to take samples of the water to a lab in Ottawa and pay for a special and expensive test that isolates hydrocarbons. It took several days, but came back positive for high levels of diesel.

We contacted the Ministry of the Environment, who advised us to hire an environmental consultant, and told us to report to our local health unit.

We found an amazing consultant who guided us every step of the way. She was incredibly sensitive to our situation, as well as very knowledgable and professional. She told us the first thing we had to do was identify whether the diesel was in the water due to a contaminated aquifer (underground) or whether it was, in fact, an act of vandalism.

We had to hire a company of well technicians to pump the well dry, remove and clean the pump, scrub the well-casing, and properly dispose of the polluted water. After this, the fresh water coming in from underground had to be immediately tested. If it was clean, the contamination wasn’t environmental. But, if it tested positive for diesel as well, then we’d be looking at a bigger problem. Then, a series of test drills would have to be made in all directions (at our expense) until the source of contamination was found, which could run up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and effectively bankrupt us.

It was a terrifying prospect. It took several weeks to get the work initiated and undertaken, which felt like years, as we endured sleepless night after sleepless night, and days of lengthy phone calls and consultations. Trevor stayed back at our house in the GTA, working and taking Oliver to school, while I made the 3.5 hour drive back and forth to Tett House 2 – 3 times a week.


Surface well water sample, featuring yucky, floaty things.

Fortunately, the aquifers were found to be clean and the underground water fresh. The diesel had all been floating at the top of the well, and it was a clear case of vandalism. However, hydrocarbons had gotten into the cracks and fissures of the well casing and continued to leach into the water. At these low levels, the water was no longer an environmental problem, but it still wasn’t safe for human use or consumption. We found ourselves with a well that was still out of commission, but unable to dig a new well, in case of cross-contamination. Our environmental consultant told us it could take as long as five years for the well water to “rehabilitate,” if it ever did.

IF IT EVER DID.

Needless to say, we did not have five years. Our other house was closing in about 10 days, and at this point, none of the renovations we’d scheduled at Tett House had been completed.

So… what do you do when you no longer have a viable water source in your new home? You call Joey at McNichols Electrical & Plumbing again, of course.

Oh, but before that, you call your local OPP and file a criminal report. Poisoning someone’s well is a serious charge, although we had no expectation of ever finding out who did it. We did discover, however, that the previous homeowners had either cheated or pissed off a substantial number of people long before we’d had the (mis)fortune of dealing with them. Someone had obviously decided to get their personal revenge, not realizing an entirely new family was moving into the house. The officer we spoke with called it “Lanark County Justice,” and then apologized for this being our first experience in the community.

But, I digress.

Since Tett House is surrounded by a pond on one side and a lake on the other, Joey set us up with a lake water system and new filtration unit. This could be a temporary or a permanent solution, depending on how clean the well water would be in a few years. Because the house is atop a cliff, it involved running 350 feet of heated line uphill from the pond to the house. Good times.

The next step in this complicated process (feeling overwhelmed yet?) was “shocking” and flushing out all the pipes in the house. This was a huge undertaking and one that carried no guarantee of success. If any diesel remained, the entire plumbing system would need to be replaced. Meanwhile, any water-yielding appliances in the house (hot water tank, etc.) had to be removed because of the contamination.

Now, I know you’re thinking, “Could this story get any more tedious and complicated?”  Well, in fact, it CAN. As with swimming pools, “shocking” the plumbing is a process that normally involves disinfecting with chlorine. But, as it turns out, diesel and chlorine are combustible, so this was not a method that was open to us. Our environmental consultant had to do more research to find a less hazardous, environmentally-friendly, cleaning material.

We were lucky. Shocking the plumbing worked. The new lake water system and its filtration equipment worked. We added a reverse osmosis filter in the kitchen, just for good measure. Our final step was to have the water lab-tested for everything from e.coli to benzene. And diesel, of course, and every flavour of hydrocarbon in between. Everything came back completely safe and “non-detect” for any contamination. We got the results exactly two months from the day we first got the key to the house. The water from our tap was cold and crisp and clear and tasted like a benediction. I wept. I think I had aged 10 years in 8 weeks.

Oh, and there’s one last, very important thing I can tell you about what happens when you buy a new house and find out someone vandalized the well just before you moved in… Legally, there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. You’re financially on the hook for everything. And if you’re eligible to make an insurance claim, it’s a very tiny drop in a very large bucket.

This was our introduction to our new life at Tett House.

Click here for Part 10.

(To start our story at the beginning, click here for Part 1.)

Finding Tett House, Part 8 – Closing Day Chaos

A plume of steam rose up from the kitchen sink where I was running hot water. It smelled strongly of gasoline. I rinsed my cleaning rag, wiped the counter, and it left a greasy film. My hands were oily and smelled like I’d been filling up my car at the local Esso.

“Don’t drink the water!” I called out to my husband and son. “Something’s not right.”

It was just after 9:00 pm on the Friday before Victoria Day long weekend last year. We got the key to Tett House that very day, and had been in the house for less than an hour.

Our realtor had been reluctant for us to close on a Friday, in case anything went wrong, but Trevor & I were confident that we had done our due diligence.

We sold our old house quickly at the height of a booming market. We were grateful and relieved. We had a month between closing dates, so that we could do the upgrades and repairs necessary to make Tett House livable. It had been inspected. The well-water had been tested. The septic system had been pumped and assessed. Our plumbing technician had joined us on our final visit to the house, two weeks before we got the key. Electrical, insulation, and HVAC contractors were lined up to start work. Financing was confirmed with the bank and our lawyer was ready to go.

We really should have taken the advice from our realtor about the Friday thing. Everything went wrong that day. I mean: Every. Damn. Thing.

Official Timeline of Closing Day Chaos:

1)  That morning, our bank messed up the paperwork for the transfer of funds. It took the service manager over two hours to correct her mistake. Since we had to drive 4-1/2 hours from the GTA to Smiths Falls and pick up the key before 5:00 pm – and drop off a trailer full of furniture at Tett House – this put us precariously behind.

2)  En route along the 401, our lawyer called. The bank had transferred the wrong amount of money and we were $10,000 short of the purchase price. The banking officer said we had “violated our contract,” but refused to elaborate. We were shocked and embarrassed, but no one had any answers for us. It’s a long story, but in the end our bank confirmed they had made another mistake that apparently no one had the authority to investigate or correct at the time.

It was 3:15 pm when we got to Tett House. We had 1 hour and 45 minutes to come up with $10,000 before the end of that business day.

3)  We hurriedly dropped off our trailer at Tett House. Our realtor met us there and confirmed that the previous owners had not cleared out the 2-storey carriage house, as per the purchase agreement. I just want to remind you what the carriage house looked like inside:

A few weeks before, we’d met with our lawyer about this issue. Having already experienced what the previous owners were like (see Part 5) Trevor and I weren’t confident they were going to honour their legal obligation to empty the space. If it wasn’t cleared out, our lawyer said, we should call him right away, and he would hold back several thousand dollars from the purchase price to cover the cost of having it professionally dealt with.

Our realtor immediately called the lawyer to inform him of the violation of contract.

4)  The lawyer didn’t hold back the money.

While driving to the lawyer’s office, Trevor made arrangements on the phone with another bank to front the missing $10,000, while I endured urgently apologetic calls from our mortgage broker who admitted they fucked up, big time. We picked up a cashier’s cheque at Scotiabank, who totally saved our butts (and where Trevor hugged the banking manager) and then piled back in the car. We got to our lawyer’s office with minutes to spare.

I’ll say it again:  our lawyer didn’t hold back the money.

And we didn’t find this out until later, but he also miscalculated the property taxes, making us responsible for several hundred unpaid dollars left outstanding by the previous owners.

We really, really should have taken the advice from our realtor about the Friday thing.

Following this staggering series of set-backs, we rushed to our insurance broker’s office to submit some final signed documents, but they had already closed. Our realtor, Trevor, Oliver and I sat down on the steps of the insurance office, exhausted and shaky. We hadn’t eaten since about 7:00 am and not one thing had gone the way it was supposed to. I thought of our old life, and the uncertainty of our new one. “God, I hope this is going to be worth it,” I said with a smile, and then burst into tears. People walking by on the sidewalk cast sympathetic glances.  I felt utterly demoralized. But at least, we had the key. Tett House was finally ours. The worst was over, we thought.

We had dinner, and then went back to the house where we intended to spend the weekend. It was almost 8:30. We unpacked the trailer and assembled some basic articles of furniture we brought with us:  our bed, a table, some chairs. I decided to wipe down the kitchen cupboards and put away the few dishes we’d brought.

I ran the hot water. It was laced with oil and smelled like gasoline. Our bad day wasn’t over; it had just begun.

Click here for Part 9.

(To start our story at the beginning, click here for Part 1)

Finding Tett House, Part 7 – Fallout

Once we sold our house, and the conditions of the Tett House purchase started to fall into place, our world stopped spinning for a short time.

It had truly been a whirlwind experience up until that point. Throughout the real estate process, the negotiations, the purge, the reno’s, we had been breathless and excited, and slightly intoxicated by our own daring. Isn’t this what people dream of doing – buying a big old house in the country, leaving the city and all of that traffic and corporate bullshit behind?  Carpe Diem, am I right?

Yes!

But.

(You knew there had to be a but.)

There’s a reason that it stays just a dream for so many… because turning it into a reality is really scary and here’s what all those TED Talks don’t tell you:  the Fallout is real.

The Fallout comes in many forms. It creeps in as second-guessing and self-doubt. It shows up as regret, establishing itself in your newly staged home, which you suddenly love more than ever because it looks so good, but now fruitlessly realize belongs to someone else.

Fallout makes you wonder if you can truly handle a rural property on the edge of a forested cliff, because the only wilderness you’ve known in the suburbs is an unmown lawn with too many dandelions.

Fallout reminds you that you’re leaving behind the close proximity of your home town:  the landmarks and memories of your childhood, and your sister, who still lives there.

One evening, I found myself driving to the only corner store in the small village where I grew up and, and I bought a piece of licorice, by way of saying goodbye. I ended up parking my car in some stranger’s driveway, with a Twizzler in my hand, bawling my eyes out.

  

Fallout shows up on the faces of friends who can’t quite hide the fact they think you’re crazy. And not the good crazy, either. I’m talking, cray-cray. It was late in the game when we finally started telling people about Tett House, and we encountered two very distinct reactions:  the people who were all like, “OMG THAT’S SO AWESOME I’M COMING TO VISIT,” and the ones whose smiles froze onto their faces while they pretended to understand just what in god’s name we were doing.

We didn’t mind. Underneath our bravado was the gnawing suspicion our brand of crazy was legit.

Fallout also makes an entrance as your parents, torn between supporting you, and feeling saddened because you already live several hours away and are now moving several hours further. Fallout further reveals itself in the reaction your mother has when she finds out you’re turning the extra bedroom in your new house into a home office instead of a guest room.

Fallout grandstands as people who claim to be hurt or offended that they were “left out” of what was ultimately a hugely personal decision for your family. A lack of respect and understanding for the privacy and logistics of our choice led to some irrevocable changes in our old world.

The most challenging Fallout is the one that tiptoes in as your child at bedtime. One night, after weeks of enthusiastically endorsing our move by falling in love with the new house, and raving over his new bedroom and large backyard, our son Oliver suddenly collapsed in tears under the pressure of impending change.  I lay down with him until almost midnight while he cried inconsolably and said, “Why are we leaving? We have a nice house. I love my friends. We have everything we want here. Why?” I had no answers for him, and eventually found myself sobbing as well. At that point, I was pretty convinced we were Carpe Diem-ing our way into making the biggest mistake of our lives.

We weren’t just moving; we were leaving behind an entire life.

And as it turned out, the Fallout had only just begun.

Click here for Part 8.

(To start our story at the beginning, click here for Part 1)

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 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)