Editor’s Note: The idea of purchasing and renovating a home is a dream that many carry, but few of us stop to consider the complications and complexities of the process until we are already knee-deep in drywall debris. Lisa Przystup, a writer, florist, and frequent contributor to Front + Main has been kind enough to share her journey of home ownership with us. Check out the first installment here. Enjoy!

west elm - Things Learned From A New (Old) House

Illustration by Tallulah Fontaine

The Thursday night before Labor Day weekend we left the city later than we’d like to drive up to Delhi. When my husband and I got in, we dropped our bags as we walked through the door, poured ourselves a drink, lit the taper candles we’d stuck into the mouths of glass bottles barely large enough to accommodate their dripping wax, and relaxed into the chairs at the kitchen table. A minute later I saw a brown shadowy figure flit across the floor and my citified mind immediately panicked thinking it was a cockroach. Instead it was a very ballsy mouse that toured the parameters of the kitchen before heading straight for our feet.

I’ve learned that mice are a reality of country homes, especially old farmhouses like ours. I try to loudly state this well-known fact as often as I can to any local within earshot in an offhanded, matter-of-fact way that says I’m totally cool with the idea of sharing my home with mice. All this in the hopes that it will earn me the street cred I lost when we painted the floors of our home a very beautiful but highly impractical shade of white. We knew we had mice thanks to the telltale droppings we’d sometimes find and also thanks to that one time I woke up in the middle of the night to the sounds of scurrying I assumed could be attributed to squirrels on the roof, until my half-asleep husband muttered the most reassuring phrase one could hope to hear at 3:00 am in a new house, “The sound isn’t coming from outside—it’s in the walls.”

But this was the first time we had seen one in the flesh and my reaction surprised me—it was an unexpectedly pretty brown field mouse with big eyes and ears and I thought it was really, really cute. We scooped it up and let it go outside.

Friday night we saw another one, and Saturday night we saw two. Although we’ll have been in our house a year in October it’s really just now starting to feel like home and it felt like this crew of mice were our unofficial belated welcoming committee.

Since we’ve moved in we’ve killed hundreds of spiders, painted countless walls, argued over where things should go, built many fires, lost our porch then got it back, and planted a tree. We’ve woken up to an excavator in our backyard—a beast of a machine that effortlessly and impressively hooked the lip of our raised deck and pulled it out of the ground in one fell swoop, hoisting it in the air and depositing it in the yard to the right of the house so it lay there, jutting at an angle into the sky like a humpback whale breaching the water’s surface. We hosted a 25-person housewarming birthday dinner, cramming everyone at a long table under the front porch because it rained (little known fact: precipitation is the single most dependable thing up here in Delaware county).

We sighed at the magic of snow and discovered the perfect mix to melt it (sand/salt/ash). In the spring, we dreamt of summer. And in the summer, a season that leaves almost as soon as it arrives, we hosted friends and family every weekend, the house feeling fuller with memories with each passing guest.

We now know what blooms when on our property: in the spring clusters of yellow daffodils brought their sunny disposition to cloudy days that still held the chill of winter well into May. Early in the summer, we discovered a lilac bush that bloomed with petals that were so pale pink they were almost white. Each season brings a different pest: in the winter swarms of ladybugs cluster at the corners of windows, soaking in the amplified sunlight that the glass brings. In the summer, ants, then yellow jackets. And all year long multitudes of spiders—some as thin as a whisper—gathering in every single corner. We’ve experienced the joy of spending entire days at our home watching the light move through different rooms of the house as the hours pass and the frustration of endless days of gray.

We learned that our tactic of leaving the heat set at 60 degrees in the winter to prevent the pipes from freezing was just not financially sustainable, that the warmth of a wood fire is unbeatable, that black floors show dirt more that white floors, that house inspectors are a rotten bunch, and that these things take time.

We’ve learned to trust our gut: that if your front porch looks crooked to you it probably is, despite what your home inspector tells you. Don’t let anyone rush you through the buying process—this is the biggest purchase of your life and you’re the one who’s going to have to live with it in the end—not your realtor or home inspector or lawyer. Ask a million dumb questions and don’t apologize for it.

You Tube is your friend (and not just because of David Goes to the Dentist). It’s a great source for DIY how-to videos. And speaking of DIY, be sure to take into account the fact that you’ll be learning as you go, which means that if you think you’ll be done with your project on a Tuesday it’ll likely be two Tuesday’s past that. Same goes for any contractor work except maybe add three weeks to whatever end date they quote you. We were really gung-ho about doing as much as we could on our own 1. Because it feels good and 2. Because it saves money but the reality is that you can’t do it all and sometimes you just need help.

And lastly, your home will probably never feel done to you. There will always be a new project, a new dream, a new vision, a new emergency. Creating a checklist of perfectly curated moments is all well and good and we’ve definitely done our fair share of that but what really makes a house a home is living in it, creating memories, and taking the time to let it speak to you. That being said, here’s a collection of some of those perfectly curated moments captured by our friend and superlative photographer Sarah Elliott. For us they serve as a milemarker and give us perspective on just how far we’ve come. We have so far to go (and that’s a good thing).

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

west elm - Lisa Przystup Home Tour

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