Saying goodbye to an old house

By: Shannon Dauphin Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Old House Musings

The old saying is true: Change is hard. Even when change comes for the best of reasons, it's still not easy to let go of those things that have become a part of your personal history. And so it is with old houses, and the day the "for sale" sign goes up in the yard.

Last week, that day came for my 1950's Rambler. Though I knew it was time to put the house on the market, the day it went up for sale was bittersweet.

The house that became a saving grace

Going from an ancient Victorian in Tennessee to a much newer home on the Georgia coast was quite the experience. Where there was once careful restoration with period-appropriate materials, there was now a wide-open sea of renovation possibility. The creaking stairs and small bathrooms and non-existent closets of the Victorian were replaced by the wide-open spaces of the Rambler, which gave us plenty of room to…well, ramble.

But it wasn't just the house that was undergoing renovation. It was where this formerly land-locked southern girl learned the smell of the ocean in the early morning, grew accustomed to palm trees instead of old cedars and traded bear sightings for alligators sunning themselves at the roadside. That Rambler became my refuge after a terrible divorce, the place my children became teenagers, and the home where I found peace -- and love -- again.

For everything that house gave me, I strove to give it just as much in return. I put on a new roof, one that will keep it as safe as possible when hurricane winds start to blow. The ancient plumbing was gutted and replaced. The floors got a do-it-yourself upgrade, the pool got a fresh liner and the new ceiling fans help keep all the space cool. From the retro faucets in the bathroom to the modern cooktop in the kitchen, the house looks much better now than it did when I moved in.

But for all the improvements made on the house, that's not what I want the new owners to notice.

The true treasures of that old house

The gorgeous way the sun falls through the floor-to-ceiling windows in the afternoon makes installing curtains a travesty. The courtyard looks dead during winter and early spring, but at the first breeze of summer it explodes into thousands of roses in every color imaginable -- it's really a breathtaking sight to behold. The back corner of the deck is always shaded. Opening all the exterior doors yields a breezeway effect that cools the house down even on the hottest summer days.

The stones in the courtyard were hand-painted as tributes to pets. The big whirlpool tub nursed me back to health after a knee injury. The kitchen bar was installed so a mother and her two children could have pancakes and conversation in a cozy spot on Sunday mornings. And hidden under the wallpaper in that corner bedroom are drawings, walls covered with the artwork of a little girl who just might be the next Picasso.

Winston Churchill said, "We shape our buildings; thereafter, our buildings shape us." I found new life in the walls of that old Rambler, and I hope the next person who lives in that old house can find the same joy.