Would you leave a very comfortable house in the city – a mansion, even by Toronto standards – to live in a dilapidated 1800’s farmhouse in the middle of nowhere?
I, as you know, have lived in interesting places. But when former model and media manager Wendy Boothman told me what she did 31 years ago, even I was surprised.
In 1986, the Boothman family decided to move to the country. They found a large log house in perfect move-in condition. Wendy’s husband and children loved it.
But Wendy wasn’t sold. Without telling her family, she kept looking. She asked the realtor to show her a place in Kendal, a hamlet northeast of Toronto. They toured the property.
“It was a hot August day and the poor realtor was in his suit and tie. I had no idea what 140 acres meant, so we ended up walking and walking.”
They also toured the house. Wendy said she loved the place.
The shocked realtor replied: “Wendy, it’s so dilapidated! Look at the holes in the floors! You have 5 children and a housekeeper. You can’t live here!”
Husband Nick saw it next. An international fashion photographer and audio-visual director with a Toronto studio, he was stunned.
“Woman!” he said. “You’ve finally flipped. I refuse to set foot in that house!”
Wendy showed him the huge wooden barn with cathedral ceilings. Then she drove him up to the highest point of the property and showed him the view. He was impressed… somewhat.
“We’ll renovate the house to what we want,” she reassured him. “We’ll design the garden to what we want. But most importantly, the children will be part of the designing. They’ll decide on the pool, their rooms, and so on.”
Sounded nice. In theory.
“If you think the children are going to want to leave a Toronto mansion to camp out here while we do all the work required, you have another think coming,” Nick protested.
This was a daunting challenge.
Then Nick relented. “If you can sell the kids on this move,” he told her, “we’ll do it.”
One Sunday in August, Wendy and Nick took the kids on a long drive, turned off a country road and drove up to a hill with an impressive view of the area.
The children asked:
“What are we doing here?”
“We’re having a picnic in the country!” Wendy replied, smiling. “We’re moving to the country, so we may as well get used to it.”
After the picnic, the seven of them trooped through the fields and peered into the forest, excited.
Walking down the other side of the hill, the children spied a house and asked if they could look inside — not knowing their mother had a key.
They saw the tiny rooms, the old kitchen, the holes in the floors… the whole catastrophe.
But when Wendy took them into the barn, they were awestruck.
Wendy seized the moment.
“We can move into the log house… or we can get this place and design it together. Your friends can come on weekends. We’ll have horses – you can ride. Can you imagine if we had a pool on the side of a hill and gardens?”
They returned home to Toronto, and started drawing up plans together.
They moved into the house on Halloween that October. Wendy, who knew nothing about school buses, sent the 2 younger kids to the wrong school the first day.
That winter was full of challenges. For one thing, the house was freezing cold.
Both parents still worked nearly 2 hours away in downtown Toronto — Nick at his studio, Wendy at her media management and design office. Every morning, he drove the 3 older children to school in Toronto. Wendy picked them up every afternoon.
A year later, she decided to move her business to her home, creating one of the first “virtual teams” in Canada.
That eased a few challenges on the home-front. But renovating the house and landscaping the grounds would become a huge, 4-year project.
Photos by Hamlin Grange
48 thoughts on “Home at The Grange – Part 1”
What a wonderful adventure. I can’t wait to see the next part.
I’ll post it tomorrow, (deo volente). Thanks for reading and enjoying it.
Congratulations to Wendy and Nick on choosing a home with character! I can fully believe renovating the house and landscaping the grounds was a 4-year project with a good story attached. 🙂
Yes, and the story gets better and better. Thank you for reading and commenting on part one, friend Lavinia.
Wow, talk about a challenge! But I could see falling in love with it all, especially that barn. I can imagine studio space for him, design space for her … we shall see in Part 2!
Yup — and I’m sure Wendy’s mind was whirring with imaginings like that too! Thanks for your comment, dear Jeanne.
I am always amazed at the pull a house can have on people. But I love that there are folks out there who can feel a house’s soul, despite its appearance. Those are the dreamers. We need them now more than ever:).
It’s true, on both fronts. I find their story so interesting, K. Hope you’ll follow it through.
Oh my goodness. I am in total awe of people with such dreams and the stamina to make them come true.
Fun story and ambitious plans for Wendy and her family. It’s more work than I would want, but I suspect they created a dream home on a nice property and lived mostly happy ever after. 🙂
Thanks, Brad. Not sure it was fun for quite a while. Dream, but know that realizing your dreams will take a lot of sacrifice, some wise person once said.
Yes, I’ve heard that a few times. 🙂
That’s certainly a good choice for somebody who can renovate and repair large place like that. Well, and it most likely requires huge investments. I have no doubt they built and perfected that place.
I personally love both: being with garden, but in a town or very close to a city. One needs a big family not to feel lonely in a rural area without close neighbors.
I hear you, Inese. I guess the ideal thing is to live in one setting, but be able to visit the other as often as one chooses.
wow – congratulations on such beautiful accomplishments, great story and very enjoyable!
Thanks for reading part one, Mihran. By the way, I listened to your music this morning. Lovely!
A wonderful story
Thank you, Derrick. It is!
Barns do have a great draw. Something elemental, earthy and yet ethereal about them. And I lived and loved in one while we were building the boat. Anyone who caretakes a barn and the property it survives on is preserving one of our best cultural and environmental legacies. Great people, great story.
I agree. It’s that soaring, divine feeling that I sometimes get in the woods or in an old derelict cathedral. thanks for your comment, Diane.
Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
I love a challenge and we have picked some houses because of location or the ‘feel’ but in this post by Cynthia Reyes we meet a lady made of much sterner stuff… part one and looking forward to part two.
A great challenge but I imagine it’s going to be very worthwhile…
We live in my husband’s family farm house. It’s been an ongoing project for all thirty years of our marriage. I get it.
I bet you do, Lisa! Farm properties – a recurring theme in my own family’s life.
Wow…so amazing. Thumbs up
My father took us 4 wee ones into an ole log house on our prospective 100 acre property. We ran from room to room … and never looked back 🙂
Haha… Does that mean you kept running, or did your father buy the property, Ann?
Bought it! The vast space was the BEST for creating or own adventures…from the log house and orchard to the creek and gravel pit … priceless memories.
Wonderful. Will we be reading about those adventures any time soon?
😉 in the process of editing as we speak, before year-end is the plan! Thanks for asking Cynthia.
I’m proud of you!
Cynthia, thank you for your endless encouragement, it means the world to me.
You’re welcome. Nagging is more like it …. (smile)
Amazing that it only took 4 years. Amazing the kids were ok with being two hours from their friends at school. Two hours commute one way?!
Yup. There was less traffic back then, but even so, driving to Toronto could take more than 90 minutes.
Wow. I commuted and hour and a half for a while. It’s daunting.
This is an interesting story, Cynthia. What a large project. 🙂 — Suzanne
It sure was, Patricia. And my friends who live on farms remind me that the work is never done. But they’ve achieved so much.
Even when Nick told me this story, I couldn’t really imagine my totally gorgeous fashion model cousin doing this. How wrong can one be? They have built the most beautiful home in a stunning destination that is so very hard to leave! Well done, Wendy and Nick, on creating your dream together with all the children – none of whom are children any longer! Much love!!
So lovely to find your comment Karen – you are such a special cuz… Love always
I would love to have the energy and skill to do something like this! I would have to be living somewhere else to cope because, as you know, just having the plumbers in the house for a fortnight leaves me a quaking wreck! That barn is breath-taking!
I feel the same, Clare. I am in awe of Nick and Wendy.
my gr gr grandfather’s home. he built when he came from Ireland & married Eliza Carscadden also from Ireland,raised 11 chidren. My gr. granfather was the oldest boy born 1851.i started searching my family in 2006 here in b.c. first computer it was different, I never knew about any of this then,my family was close mouth. i feel the soul of this place even though i never was there & i can see that you & your family feel the same. great story. i’ll be watching, have fun !!!
Hello Reg – how great to connect with you. Are you able to send names of gr gr grandfather, gr grandfather, grandfather and your father? We know that old Reg Elliott was born in the house and was the last Elliott to live here. Any additional information would be much appreciated. If you ever return to the Kendal area please be sure to stop by for a visit. Thanks again, wendy
What a fabulous story! Love it .. and that barn! Wow .. really looking forward to part 2
Thanks, Julie. Your kind of place, right? The series has been a blast and I’m glad to have done it.