My dear friends Lucy and her husband Hugh recently purchased an old yellow-brick house that is very “high needs,” with the intention of gutting it, restoring it, and flipping it.  Hugh is a tenor/drywaller (isn’t that a delightful combination?), and a renovator extraordinaire. Surprisingly enough, this is their first flip. Up until now, Hugh has been too busy with other people’s renovations and in staying on top of his musical commitments to branch off into flipping. However, this house came along at an opportune time. They bought it.

Lucy promptly christened the place “Fern.” It is right around the corner from their place of residence, and Lucy is delighted to have her husband so close by. Often, Hugh’s jobs take him to far-off locations and his hours are crazy. Lucy and Hugh’s two children have spent their summers working for their dad, and they pitch in with Fern whenever they are in the neighbourhood.

To my delight, I was invited to tour Fern today. We pulled up in front of the house. The workers were industriously engaged, filling the front lawn with piles of busted boards, broken hunks of plaster, and slabs of wallpaper with patterns circa 1960. There was an enormous garbage bin there, but it was filled to the brim–and that was the second one.

We went through the enclosed front porch. Lucy told me about their plans to winterize it. I imagined airy white curtains in the many windows, welcoming the breezes–summer furniture, plants and a pitcher of icy lemonade on a little table. Maybe a small writing desk where I could sit with my laptop and a glass of wine….or hot tea in the winter while the wind buffeted the windows.

We stepped inside the front door into a haze of dust. The kids were scraping plaster off the walls, and everything was mostly down to the studs. Looking down, you could see through the gaps right into the basement. Looking up, you could see glimpses of the upstairs.

Everyone was wearing dust masks, and we followed suit and stuck them on over our mouths and noses, too. Several of the walls were taken down and a new support beam was up. Hugh explained where new walls were going to go, how the space was going to be reinvented. Through the dust and the bare studs and the rubble, I saw the house knit itself together. I saw a bright kitchen with an open eating area, a batch of muffins cooling on the counter and a big bowl of red apples on the table.  A comfortable living room with fresh walls and shining hardwood floors, a wall lined with books. Colourful throw pillows and the perfect “nap” couch. Nearby, a tiny little two-piece bath for quick dashes.

 Upstairs, were three bright bedrooms and a roomy bathroom. The stair landing had a window–so the stairwell was filled with sunshine. Once we were up, I immediately started to think about which room would be mine. I chose the one at the back of the house, and I even imagined where the bed would go. The beautiful bed with white linens, and fat lacy pillows. An antique dressing table and an overstuffed reading chair in a floral pattern, positioned near the window. A thick rug beside the bed, to accent the glowing hardwood floor.

The other bedrooms were smaller, one without a closet. A lovely pine wardrobe would do for that room. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a tiny house…I have always loved smaller spaces. I guess that’s kind of strange. I feel safe in close quarters, like a dog. Small equals cozy, in my mind. I love nooks and corners…

I was thoroughly enjoying my tour and all the wonderful offerings of my imagination, when Hugh pointed upward towards the exposed attic and explained how the entire area would become loft space. Under the hot mask, my mouth opened in an ecstatic “O.” The sloping ceilings and the triple windows at the front–a large one, flanked by two smaller ones. A room for retreats or parties, movie nights and video games…there were no stairs yet, but I floated up there nonetheless, choosing the colours and the carpet, where all the furniture was going to go…perhaps a guest bedroom area on one side, and a television area on the other….a playroom for….grandchildren!?! Here, in the battered confines of Fern, I allowed myself to entertain thoughts of grandchildren for the first time….I could hear them laughing up there!

I think Fern really liked me.

How I envy Hugh that talent, to take something so wrecked and hopeless and then to so confidently step in with a vision for it–and have all the skills to bring that vision to life. Stressful, no doubt–the financial risks, unforseen obstacles–but, exhilarating, too. Hugh is meticulous; I am certain that place is going to be utterly fabulous by the time he is through with it. Lucy, with her artistic flair, will colour in all the details, and poor little despondent Fern will find herself delightfully transformed and enjoying an unexpected resurrection as not only a house, but some lucky family’s home. How sensitive of Lucy to recognize that the first thing that house needed was an identity beyond its seemingly hopeless disrepair. A house needs wires and plumbing and drywall and paint. Fern, however, needs tender, loving care. She is getting it.

Under all the mess, there is something very special…a new story, just waiting to be written.