At Home: Willowbirch

We bought our little house 14 years ago – it was the perfect mix of sweet little house in a perfect, perfect spot (location location location!).  We were looking for privacy and we found it – just under four acres set far off from the road with plenty of room to garden and raise two active boys.

The property was covered in birch trees and there were four grand, enormous willows at the edge of the lawn so naturally I called the place “willowbirch”.

Here’s a photo of the house around this time:

So the land we loved by the house – eh? Not sooo much. It was fine.  It was OK.  (It had a screened porch!  It had three bathrooms!)  It was fine.  OK.  Fine.  Hmmmm.

Well, we figured we could fix up the kitchen.  Get rid of all the brown cabinets.  Perk up the musty basement (at least it was a walk out!  we could open up the walls…get more light in…) – – the list went on and on.  But really all I cared about was playing outside with the kids and working in the garden.

We worked on the place a bit – as much as one can work on anything with two little boys running around.  (Here’s a typical snippet of a day back then: “put the snake down. Put.The.Snake.Down.  NOO! Not ON THE RUG! TAKE IT OUTSIDE!  or “no we can’t keep the frog. he’s dead! we don’t keep dead pets.)

So most of what we did was cosmetic.

And some was necessary because little did we know but we bought a house that served as the Summer Camp for the United Legions of Carpenter Ants.  They’re gone now.  But this is what their snack time leftovers look like:

So we had to replace thresholds and put up new front steps.

And we talked our friends into coming over and laying new walkways for us while we watched!


And that all went along just fine for a while.  Until we decided to pull the trigger on The Plan.

We’d drawn up a zillion iterations of a renovation plan – but we finally hit on one we loved and we were ready to go for it.

Oh, the plans were ambitious.  New exterior look, change the garages into a great room, renovate the kitchen, fix some nasty exterior drainage issues – it was going to be GREAT!  Then again, everything was great inside the bubble – this was 2007 and home values were through the roof. Our house had more than DOUBLED in value since we bought it!  So we took a home equity loan and off we went.

So much activity:



Humming along SMASHINGLY until one day I woke up and heard a gigantic POP sound!

That was the bubble bursting.  The economy fell apart.  I lost my job as an architectural designer and a day later my husband’s income was cut by about 1/3.  But if that wasn’t the kicker, we got a cherry hi-how-are-ya-folks letter from our home equity lender that went something like this:  “so, hey, folks – love ya, but ya know what just happened?  home values went ka-boom so that equity line we gave you?  well we are taking it back.  funds are frozen. you can’t use them anymore.  soooorrry.  lol.  xoxo”

And on that day my house looked like this.  It was October 2008.  And the money was gone.


Now, I’m sort of an upbeat person but this was a bad day.

To make a long story short we pulled through (not without some sleepless nights!) and we are now back on track to finishing what we started.

Here’s a collaged image of where we were about a year ago.  New portico and siding, tiny breezeway porch enclosed and doors on the great room where there were once garage doors and – on a rainy day in October 2008 – a big, gaping hole.


So that is the story of Willowbirch.  I still love it here.  More now than ever before.  Every change I make – from big dramatic renovations to tiny details like whether I should go with Manchester Tan or Shaker Beige in the front hall – is a delight.

Once I figure out how to make categories in this blog I’ll keep you updated on how we’re doing.


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