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Part 2: John’s House in Prince Edward County

TACKLING THE GREEN ROOM

John Garside and his wife Ann sold their home in big-city Toronto last year and bought a house two hours away in Prince Edward County.  They’ve been living in a condo nearby while John renovates the house.

image via prince-edward-county.com
image via prince-edward-county.com

Prince Edward County is known for small towns, farms and lakeside living.  In the last decade, its vineyards and wines, fine cheeses and restaurants have also become popular. The County is a well-known mecca for artists and weekenders.

John has bravely promised Ann that they’ll be able to move in by the end of April.

Blog Photo - Picton House Exterior 2

But their “new” home  is more than a hundred years old, huge — almost 4,000 square feet —  and needs repair.   John, who has never taken on a project of this scope, is doing almost all the work by himself.

The first room he tackled was “The Green Room” on the main floor.

“It was the worst room in the house, ”  he says.  “A water leak from the 1980’s had caused a great deal of damage to the plaster ceiling, walls and the crown moldings.”

Blog Photo - Green Room in Progress

John took on the challenge –– very carefully.  He rebuilt ceiling, walls, and even the crown moldings.

“I repaired what others would have scrapped, and I did it all by myself!  And I had never done anything like this in my life!”  You can hear the joy in his voice.

Blog Photo - Picton Green Room 3

Every time he looks at the room,  John feels “a glow of satisfaction and a sense of oneness with the house”.

Blog Photo - Picton Green Room

The house is full of beautiful features worth preserving.    John has to proceed cautiously.

Blog Photo - Picton Window

He says, “You think about each action a great deal before you act. That way the unpleasant surprises are held to a minimum.”

Blog Photo - Heritage Sign

The skills he learned from his grandfather — extreme patience, careful planning, attention to detail and observing safety rules –are all essential right now.  ‘Measure twice, cut once’ is the rule.

“You must understand,” he says,  “that the project you are working on is not modern, but 100 years old. So you must take time to think about what you are about to do, and plan in detail how you are going to achieve success.”

John puts in 8 hours every day — and no slacking off.  After all, the end of April is just around the corner.

Will he make the deadline? We’ll keep checking in.

Original Photos by John Garside

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John’s House in Prince Edward County

Some weeks ago, I asked the question: Who would buy an old house, knowing it needed a lot of renovation?

John Garside replied: “I would!”

And he’s doing exactly that.  Which led me to more questions:

Why would a big-city guy, born and raised in Toronto, sell his comfortable home and move to a small town 2 hours away in Prince Edward County?

Blog Photo - Picton House Exterior

Why would he buy a rambling old house, knowing it would need years of renovation – most of it his own labour?

And why – several months into the dusty, grueling process – is John so darned happy with his decision?

John is the former editor of the horticultural newsletter that publishes some of my garden stories and poems.  When I heard about this move, I was happy for him — but very curious at the same time.

Was he, like so many other émigrés who’ve left big cities and moved to “The County”,  planning to have his own vineyard and make wine?

Image via thecountywines.com
Image via thecountywines.com

Or produce fine cheese?

Image via kingstonherald.com
Black River Cheese – Image via kingstonherald.com

Or become a landscape painter, perhaps?

Glide by C. Pachter - via Oeno Gallery, Prince Edward County
“Glide” by Charles Pachter – Available at Oeno Gallery, Prince Edward County

None of the above.

Turns out that John has had a love affair with the small towns and lakeside settings of  Prince Edward County since he was a teenager on a Grade 13 geography project in the area. Years later, he fell in love with Ann, who also loved the area. They visited often, and even honeymooned there.

Six years ago, they bought a condo in The County for weekends and summers.  By then, the area was already becoming a trendy place.  More and more people were ditching their big-city lifestyles and operating vineyards and wineries,   restaurants, cooking schools and  art galleries. Some were winning awards for their cheese and wine.

More and more artists had moved there, while others were buying weekend and summer homes in the small, lakeside towns.  Still others discovered that The County was a great place to visit.

Meanwhile, John and Ann toured an old house in downtown Picton one weekend a year ago.

“Walking through the home,” John says,  “I felt an immediate attraction, not only for the home but the property itself.  It needed a keeper, and I really felt that we were the ideal people to take on this project.”

Blog Photo - Picton Staircase

Only four families had owned the house in 100 years.  Each owner had  preserved its grandeur.

Blog Photo - Picton Staircase 2

Each bedroom has its own bathroom.

“And lastly,” John says, “the stained glass windows in every room are wonderful!”

Blog Photo - Picton Window

John sounds like a man in love – with a house.  But his eyes were wide open.  For all its good looks, the house needed a lot of work.  New electrical wiring and plastering,  for starters.   That meant floors and walls ripped open, etc., etc., etc.

John’s been doing the work for several months now.

“This project”,  he says, is “the greatest test of my skills in my life”.

For one thing, he’s doing most of the work alone. For another, he’s not a brawny guy – John weighs only 155 pounds.   And then the third thing: he promised Ann that they’d move in by the end of April.

So how’s it going?   Will John and Ann be able to move into the house as planned?

Blog Photo - Green Room in Progress

We’ll find out!  I’ll check in with John each week.  And I’ll share pictures and progress with you.

Good luck, John!

Original Photos by John Garside

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House Proud

Every house has a story, and so does this one.

Blog Photo - Brick House3

“I walked through the front door”,  owner Beth says,  “and, without seeing the rest of the house or knowing anything about it, I burst into tears and said ‘We’ll take it’.    The realtors replied: ‘But you haven’t seen the rest of the house’.    I didn’t need to.”

Beth was immediately drawn to the  “magnificent staircase”,  the sight lines from the front door, and the kitchen’s stained glass window.

mls.ca

 Set on 5+ acres, this large brick house north of Cobourg, Ontario, has been beautifully renovated and lovingly cared.  Beth and her partner Gerry were enthralled with the  original features throughout the house: the woodwork, the 18- inch baseboards,  the stained glass windows in 4 of the main rooms, and the back staircase that leads up to the bedroom once used by  the household staff.

mls.ca

The house goes back to 1892, one of several built by the Atkinson family on “crown land” (deeded to them by the government).  Descendants of the Atkinson family still live and farm nearby today.

Realtor.ca

But in the 1970’s, the house was in such sad shape that it was slated for demolition.  Then a family bought it and lovingly restored it over 20 years.  Next,  the house was sold to professional renovators.  By the time Beth and Gerry came along, it was already in great shape.

Realtor.ca

Beth has a passion for Victorian homes, and while some of the woodwork is painted, most of it has been kept original. “I have a mission to preserve old houses from being ‘painted’ – as so many of the décor magazines seem to advise right now, e.g.  ‘Paint that staircase white’.  Or, ‘get rid of that ugly wood trim’.”

Realtor.ca

It’s been a good home for Beth and Gerry.

With 5 bedrooms and spacious common areas, the house accommodates their large  family gatherings and also provides separate office spaces for this couple.

They love the views. The sunsets from their west-facing living room. The trees. The fields. And the “free horses” – two Belgians belonging to their neighbours – that come to live in the field from May to October.

Realtor.ca
Photos by Steve Leach – Realty Services

A favorite space is the screened- in porch/sunroom.

“It’s heaven.  Listening to the sounds of nature.  Enjoying the fresh breezes. From the first minute the temperature rises to +5 in the spring,  we are sitting out there for three seasons.  In the mornings with our coffee, at lunch taking  a break from work, and after work with a glass of wine.”

But the time has come for Beth and Gerry to downsize. Their lovely house is for sale.  And though there’s the inevitable sadness when leaving a cherished home, they know that others will enjoy it for years to come.

For more information:

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A House With Potential

One of my favorite TV shows was a series called “Build a New Life in the Country”.

Every episode focused on a couple who decided to leave the big city and move to the country, where property was much cheaper, especially if the place needed work.

Via Channel 5
Channel 5 UK

And they all did. Some were derelict houses, even abandoned barns.

Stone walls falling down? Check. Money running out halfway through the job? Check.  Crumbling roof, ceiling and floors?  Check, check, check.  But these brave souls were determined.

 What made each story gripping was the risk of failure.  Some of these homeowners couldn’t build their way out of a paper bag. Yet, they’d taken on the challenge, dreaming of that better life in the country. Some hired skilled workers, but other couples tried to do the work themselves.

At a critical point in the project, the host,  architect George, would appear on site and utter a dire prediction: “It will take a miracle for this work to be completed….”

Via channel 5
Channel 5, UK

And there I’d be in my living room, cheering on these intrepid builders, hoping they’d get their miracle (they usually did). But at the end of each episode, I’d wonder: What makes a sane person look at an old house and say “I think I’ll just buy this pile of bricks and bring it back to life”?

These questions came to mind recently when I came across a photo of a quaint old house near to both charming Roseneath and artsy Warkworth, two villages in the rolling hills of Northumberland, about ninety minutes’ drive from Toronto.  It was listed at a mind-bogglingly low price compared to houses in the Greater Toronto Area:  just $259,000.

mls.ca
Realtor.ca

The house sits on nearly 4 acres of land, and has, the listing says, “fantastic views”.  It has some nice original features: 2 staircases from the main level to upstairs (a great feature found in some old houses), wide-plank floors, a beautiful front verandah and a circular driveway. It also has some recent improvements, such as updated furnace, some new wiring and a drilled well.

mls.ca

But the interior photos tell a sobering story:  this house needs significant updating. New plastering, some new windows, maybe a new roof, new kitchen, etc., etc, etc. In other words, money and work. So who’d buy it?

Blog Photo - Red Brick House 1 staircase

http://beta.realtor.ca/propertyDetails.aspx?PropertyId=13876645

“Well”, says my husband, peering over my shoulder at the computer screen, “$259,000 is a low starting point; could be great if someone had the money to update it.”

mls.ca
Realtor.ca

“Sure”, I think, daydreaming  of buying that house and installing my dream kitchen.

Farmhouse ktichen
“Dream kitchen” via myhomeideas.com

Then the  thought of all that work, all that money — and all that renovation dust in my nose, eyes and mouth –  wakes me up immediately.

But my friend John, who bought a century-old house east of Toronto and is lovingly restoring and updating it, thinks the Northumberland house has potential.  It could be a wonderful project for the right buyer.

“Some things obviously have been done but definitely not all and that is really the key.  I would purchase this house over one that’s completely updated, as by doing the work and exploring the house you really get to know it and make it what you want and then it is your home!

“And if you do most of the work yourself and only contract out the (really skilled stuff like) electrical and roofing and not get too carried away with your renovations, $150,000 should cover everything!”

So here’s my pie-in-the-sky question: if you had a choice, would you buy a nicely renovated house that’s move-in ready? Or would you buy the house that needs a lot of work but could yield a significant financial return?