July 12, 2009

Beach reads and surprise shore house guests.

The Fixer Upper is a new book by best-selling author Mary Kay Andrews that sounds like a good beach read for me. It’s about a woman’s quest to, “redo and old house, and her life.”…

“…Dempsey is in for a surprise when she arrives in Guthrie. ‘Bird Droppings’ would more aptly describe the moldering Pepto Bismol–pink dump with duct-taped windows and a driveway full of junk. There's also a murderously grumpy old lady, one of Dempsey's distant relations, who has claimed squatter's rights and isn't moving out. Ever. … All Dempsey can do is roll up her sleeves and get to work. And before long, what started as a job of necessity somehow becomes a labor of love and, ultimately, a journey that takes her to a place she never expected—back home again.”

For those of you in the Jersey Shore area, you can meet Mary Kay tomorrow, Monday, July 13, at the Spring Lake Library (1501 Third Ave.) 7:30 p.m. The library is a gorgeous Tudor building that is definitely not a fixer-upper. It's stunning, and was built in 1923 to serve as the Spring Lake community center, which it serves as to this day.

I've learned when owning an older home, you're kind of in a perpetual state of fixer-upperness. There are so many times we wonder about the history of the house, and about what might it might have looked like one hundred or so years ago.

So imagine our surprise last Sunday night, when two women came up to us..."Excuse me...our husbands were born in this house, and our mother-in-law is in the car...she drove by earlier today..."

Stop the presses! Grab mom and come on in!

Pat and Lenny bought our house in 1972. Apparently for $16,500. But let's try not to dwell on that. OK?!?! They've long since relocated to Georgia and were sadly in town for Pat's sister's funeral. It was their first time back in years and years. They were reluctant to knock on the door but when they saw us outside, they pulled over.

When they walked in the front door I could see from the looks and smiles on their faces that it was like stepping back to a happy time in their lives. (In fact, they had just been married and it was their first home together.) We thanked them for not painting over the gorgeous woodwork. They told us that in fact, they had to redo some of the woodwork when they moved in. So we thanked them again!

We decided not to gut the older kitchen, and instead opted to scrub, scrub some more, and do quickie updates. As we’ve lived in it over the past year and change, we’ve come to like the layout and the wood cabinets are so well made I’d hate to rip them out.

Well, turns put Pat and Lenny had them hand crafted by Amish carpenters over a nine month period! No wonder they’re so solid. I’ve been searching for someone to strip and refinish them, so if anyone has any recommendations in my neck of the wood, please let me know.

Pat’s also responsible for the toaster built in to the wall. That’s right; toaster in the wall.

Apparently it cost $250 in the 70s! But they wanted to be hip and modern so they went for it. We look at it and see “fire hazard” but it’s such a conversation piece I think it stays (but will remain unused, despite my friend Spence’s insistence we have wall toaster grilled cheese night).

The daughters-in-law were anxious to see their husbands’ nurseries…and I can’t tell you how cute I thought that was. Turns out the babies were in what is now the green room.

Pat apologized for the other small room they paneled. But reminded us it was the 70s and all. She seemed to like that we whitewashed it, but I was also glad to learn the original walls were under there should we decide to eventually take it down.

She asked if we still had the claw foot tub. Yup!

How about the gorgeous marble sink?

The WHAT? How anyone could have kicked that to the curb I’ll never know.

We told them of our plans to re-renovate the attic that had been “renovated” by the owners we bought from. The room was done a bit on the cheap, with bad laminate flooring and moldings fashioned from simple 2 x 4s. When Pat and Lenny lived in the house, apparently the attic had original woods floors and moldings, wainscoted walls, and an old skylight.

OK, that one hurt. And I was still smarting from the sting of the marble sink news.

We chatted a bit more, and wound up having a bit of a reunion in our front yard when they recognized another neighbor they’d lost touch with since moving. It was so lovely meeting them, and hearing in great detail what they did to and/or knew of the house (I could have easily made this a three-part post!). Pat gave us each a warm hug as she was leaving, and her husband thanked us for turning what started as a really awful day into something beautiful. At which point I got a little teary.

We plan on being in our home for a long time, but most importantly want to be good stewards for the next generation that will call it home some day. Like Pat and Lenny before us.

Cheers to good fixer uppers everywhere.


Blondie's Journal said...


Great story! I'm a little teary eyed myself!! After they left, you guys probably had to sit there awhile to ingest everything they told you!! And I applaud you for thinking of who might own the home after you. There must be some real horror stories out there. And maybe there is a good story (coming from me, LOL!) about why we try to bring older homes back to their original state and how we love to fill them with older (and some not so older) furniture and accesories, not only to save money but because there is something special in seeing something reborn again. Oh, sniff sniff!!

Glad I got to see more pics of the house. Have you read the book yet?? I'm going to look for it, not like I need another unread book on my nightstand...but hey, people with empty nightstands are boring!

Jane (long & drawn out again Jane)

Allidink said...

That is such an awesome experience! What a great story! How cool that you found out those awesome things about your cabinets and toaster and such lol.

All the best,

Wanderluster said...

How fun that must have been, to hear about your house's history! There are always things in an old house that make you think "I wonder why they did that?" Now you know some of those answers. Its great too that you had preserved some of the original details. And I would have been bummed about the lost marble vanity too :)

Linda Lou said...

How great to have met previous owners, and ones who appreciated how you have kept the integrity of was once their home filled with memories...your house looks great by the way, love the old tub and the marble sink and those lovely cabinets...you have done a heck of a job!

rh said...

I'm so jealous! I wish I could hear from past inhabitants of my home, both living and in the spirit world!

I've gotta read that book.

Someone to refinish the cabinets? YOU!

heidi said...

What a wonderful gift!!!! Did you get pics of Pat n' Lenny? Did you ask them to send YOU old pics of the house???

Joyce said...

Ahhh... Laura this just melted my heart. As I'm sure yours to find out more about your home and all the love and fond memories that another family shared within the same walls. Very sweet!

black eyed susans kitchen said...

Now that's a gift! On a day that could have been like any other, serendipity gave you a surprise visit and in the end, deeper roots to a home that you already have feelings for. The book sounds like a perfect beach read...any desire to swap when you are finished?
♥, Susan

Mary Kay Andrews said...

Hi Laura--thanks for the shore shout-out! Hope to see some of your shore house regulars at the Spring Lake Library tonight--but for now, I'm off to hit the Point Pleasant Antique Emporium.

Tina said...

What a fabulous story. I enjoyed reading this post soooo much. Bummed out with you on the Marble sink, but what a treasure you have there and so grateful you share it with all of us.
Happy day today, my dear.

The Quintessential Magpie said...

What fun, Laura!!! Isn't it great to find someone who knows the history of the house you love? I think you've done great things with the Shorehouse and obviously, they do, too! Neat story...


Sheila :-)

Laurie said...

What a great story, I loved hearing it!

Renovation Therapy said...

This made me teary too. Man, am I sap?

Really though, awesome!

stacilynfeldman said...

what a LOVELY story!

pve design said...

I want to read that, and your surprise is just the best.
We had that happen here too ---
Sort of spooked me....

j.cro said...

That's really wonderful and lovely.

Kwana said...

How wonderful to have them come visit. I adore the wall toaster story. Have have to see that in person one day. Just cracks me up!

Leigh of Bloggeritaville said...


What a incredible story! Amazing! I love the history! How awesome to know it. You should write it down, preserve for future generations!
I too LOVE MKA. I have a post ready to run shortly on MS. A. She is awesome!
Thanks for this post! So enjoyable!

OH! I LOVE that kazoo parade! That rocks!

Thrifty Cottage Dreams said...

So awesome! And I love Mary Kay Andrews...I have read all of her other books and can't wait to read this one.

Rhonda @ Shellbelle's Tiki Hut said...

This is such a wonderful story and you were so nice to open your home to the former owners. I say this because while researching my family tree I discovered where my great-grandmother was living in the 1920s. I went to see the house when I was in Georgia and wanted to knock on the door, but didn't want to disturb the people living there. Your post has given me the push I needed to do this when I'm there again in the Fall.

BTW, I'm so glad you received the photo with no problems, it was a pleasure to send it to someone who will enjoy it so much.

Looking forward to new pics of the tents!

Maya@A Beach Lovers Place said...

Pretty great to learn all that! And I also browsed through Mary Kay's archive..., and since I'm an ex-remodeler I think I'm going to feature some before and afters of her beach cottage renovation on Tybee.

muralimanohar said...

What a fantastic story! And I am crushed for you, just thinking of the fabulous features some tasteless idiot tossed from the house!

Kelley at My Island Wedding said...

Good luck with your beach read..., I'm only at page 78 in mine.

Too many interuptions!!!

Sue said...

Great story and how those people must have loved seeing what you have done with the house...They must have been thrilled....and I highly recommend Mary Kay's books...she is really "Kathy Hogen Trockek" and if you find her earlier books they are fabulous....she is a real hoot, a lovely lady, we have met her many many times and she writes with a great sense of humor....

Gretchen said...

I've already read Mary Kay's book and it's really good. I would highly recommend it.


Rue said...

I'm so thrilled for you, but so envious at the same time. We haven't had anyone really step up and describe what the house looked like. What a wonderful time you must have had! Did you get a description of the sink??


Maureen said...

I love that you met the former owners. That is awesome. We are only the third owners of our home - and both previous couples divorced... yikes... we are filling this house with love!