As I was doing some New Years purging of my desk, I came across the real estate brochure from our previous home in Westport, Connecticut. I hadn’t looked at it in some time and so with fresh eyes I studied the pictures of the home that we had lived in for twenty years. I only wish I had some of the before photos- they are probably buried somewhere in the garage in our old photo albums.
In 1989, my husband and I were living in a 5 story walk- up in NYC and wanted to move to Connecticut. We fell in love with the town of Westport, and so concentrated our house hunt there. When I first saw the 1918 stone and stucco cottage, I knew it was the one! My husband took a bit longer to warm up to it. That may have been due to the wall-to-wall green shag carpeting, the over grown foundation plantings, the flowered wall paper on the ceilings, or the fact that the kitchen was a total gut job (unless we liked gold brick linoleum floors with matching gold wallpaper.)
We dubbed our house “Ivy Cottage” because of the ivy which covered one end. To me it was a magical English cottage that we could make our own and with enough property that I could plant gardens. (Never mind that I didn’t know anything about gardening!) It was a project that spanned many years and which many mistakes were made. There was the September morning, that I just couldn’t stand the giant shrubs obscuring the front of our house for one more day. So I hired someone to come in with a backhoe to rip them all out. I had told my husband that I could wait until spring, but patience was not my strong suit. He was horrified when he arrived home to a torrential downpour and a yard full of mud. I hurriedly hired our lawn guy to come up with a plan and replant the front of our house. One should never do things in a hurry because I ended up hating the basic azaleas and mountain laurels that he planted in little rows in front of our house. I started visiting gardens and nurseries and devouring garden books. 2 years later, plant by plant, I replaced every one of those shrubs with peonies, hydrangeas, and boxwoods. I became quite the gardener and our home was often featured on garden tours.
I made just as many mistakes inside the house. My poor husband deserves some kind of medal for putting up with a master bedroom adorned with pink and white striped balloon shades (do you remember when those were popular?), white wicker chairs, and pink and green Laura Ashley rugs! What was I thinking? I must admit the whole house leaned toward the feminine side, but just as I taught myself how to garden, I became better at decorating. I learned to simplify and edit, and replaced those horrid balloon shades with wooden blinds. Yet, looking at the photos, my taste has certainly changed since moving to California. I still love white and the color green, but favor cleaner lines and quieter spaces. It seems funny to me that our Connecticut home was almost 2800 square feet and our midcentury modern home is just under 1900, but we live bigger because of the open concept.
I love our simpler, smaller Little Glass House in Santa Barbara, but it was at Ivy Cottage through trial and error that I began my love affair with design.
photos by Michelle & Company