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A Man in Love With a House – Pt. 2 in the Ebor House Series

The moment Ron Coffin saw Ebor House,  he was smitten.

Blog Photo - Ebor House

“It was for sale for a couple of years and a friend said I should see it. I saw it and said, ‘My God!’ I fell absolutely in love with it.”

Blog Photo - Ebor House Entrance

Never mind the weed-choked acreage surrounding the grand old house and barn.

Blog Photo - Ebor House overgrown lawn

And the nearly derelict rooms inside.

Blog Photo - Ebor House derelict Room 1

The cobwebs hanging from the ceiling and spaces crammed with old contents.

The stuffy, old-house smell.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Derelict Room 3

Ron was a man in love.

**

That was 8 years ago.

Today it’s a remarkably beautiful place.

I first saw Ebor House recently, and was so impressed, I asked Ron to share his house’s story. Days later, we sat in his refurbished kitchen, sipping our coffee as Ron reflected on his decision to restore the property.

“What possessed you — to take on such a daunting task?” I asked.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Kitchen and side door

“In life there are things you have to do. Some people have to climb Everest. I had to do this.”

Blog Photo - Ebor House Ron Smiling

Ron, a single parent, has four children and a dog. He also ran his own business. But he had “a huge interest in Canada’s architectural heritage and how it fits into its time” and he loved both the house and its location in historic Bond Head in Newcastle, Ontario.

“It’s like being in another world here. You even have to go through a series of entrances to get to this home. The first entrance is a bridge that you have to go under when you leave the highway. Then there are the gates to the property. Then there are 2 entry doors before you can come into the house.”

Blog Photo - Ebor House Gates

Ron had a vision of the house at its best.

He decided to do some of the restoration work by himself.

“I made the common mistake of plastering the walls and painting, then realized the roof was leaking”, he said. “The house also needed all new plumbing, heating and wiring. So I had to rip out some of that work and start again.”

Luckily, the seller still had the architectural drawings from 1867,  the year Canada became a nation. (Construction started in 1868 and Ebor House was completed in 18 months.)  Those drawings convinced Ron that he was on the right track.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Dining Room full

Some chandeliers and furniture  – such as this Jacques & Hay sideboard on the right – were in the house in 1869. Ron bought other furnishings – including lighting, paintings, mirrors, and other furniture — after meticulous research.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Green Room with portait and walls and furniture

Sometimes he felt like a detective trying to solve a mystery.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Living Room

The house and grounds provided clues.

The pantry doors were found in the barn. Old pennies were found under the lawn.  The pennies, found together,  likely fell from someone’s pocket during a picnic, Ron thinks.

Blog Photo - Ebor House back lawn

Blog Photo - Ebor House Canadian penny 1858

The more Ron learned, the better he understood how people lived in the late 1800’s and early 20th century.

Blog Photo - Ebor House entrance inside

“One thing I learned was how the double front doors were used. On days when the family was receiving guests, they’d open the outer door, while the inside door was closed. That would signal that visitors were welcome.”

He also became deeply interested in the Farncombs, who built the house and lived here for more than 130 years. Theirs was a remarkable story of great success and happiness, as well as heartbreaking tragedy.

**Watch for Part 3: The Farncombs.

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Men Who Build Stuff

I promised to follow up with two different men who both work on houses.  

One – John – has been working on a BIG house, restoring it by himself.

The other – Jean – creates tiny houses – for birds. When last we heard from Jean, he was working on his Xtreme Birdhouse.  While I was impatiently waiting for the photos of the finished product, Jean sent me these other ones, made from the corks of wine bottles and said:

“I can assure you that I was totally sober when I worked on those…. lol…..”

Jean Long's Wine cork Birdhouse
Jean Long’s Wine cork Birdhouse

I promised to believe him.  Which doesn’t mean YOU have to.

Jean Long's Creation
Jean Long’s Creation

As for his Xtreme Birdhouse, it’s complete, and it’s even larger than it looks in these photos:

Bird Cathedral by Jean Long
Bird Cathedral by Jean Long

 Which may explain why Jean calls it “The Bird Cathedral”.  Congrats, Jean, on one heck of a birdhouse! Here’s another view:

Jean Long's Bird Cathedral
Jean Long’s Bird Cathedral

So let’s go over now to Prince Edward County and check in with John, our intrepid house-restorer, and his wife Ann. When last we heard, they were about to move into the beautiful old house. Here are some photos, starting with Ann sitting on the step waiting for the truck:

Blog Photo - John's House Waiting for Movers

Blog Photo - John's House Moving Truck

John says: “The Move went as smooth as SILK!!  No surprises, no grief, and very good weather!”

Blog Photo - John's Hosue Ann unrolls carpetThe couple had spent the days prior cleaning the house,  and now it was time to roll out the rugs and put things in their places:

Blog Photo - John unrolls carpet

Blog Photo - John's living room with sofa

Blog Photo - Ann in Dining Room

Within a day or two, the dining room, living room, master bedroom and third floor den were partially set up.

Blog Photo - John's third Floor Partly set up

John’s office, meanwhile,  looks like it’s always been there….

Blog Photo - John at Office desk

Of course, there’s a lot of work left to do. They’re also keeping an eye on the garden, to determine how much work it will require. But one thing you and I know about John: he has a plan for getting it all done perfectly, and on time. 

Ann and John, congratulations.

Top 4 photos by Jean Long, remainder by John Garside.

 

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Drum Roll, Please! John’s House Pt. 6

Ladies and gentlemen!

— Drum roll, please —

The Library is now complete!

The ceiling is done….

Blog Photo - John's Library Ceiling

And the walls are painted.

Blog Photo - John's Library Walls Painted1

Even the floor has been swept.

Blog Photo - John's Library floors

And with that, all of the repairing, re-plastering and repainting of the rooms has been done.  Year One of John Garside’s incredible 3-year mission to restore his large old house, coach house and grounds in Prince Edward County, Ontario, is almost over. And this means that he and his wife Ann can finally move in.

(Gee whiz – I feel like stopping everything right now and having a celebratory drink myself – and it’s not even my house!)
Blog Photo - John's House - Front

But before we get too excited, I have to tell you there’s still a bit more to do.

Like putting in the baseboards (skirting) around the newly installed floors on the third floor.

And removing all the scaffolding and tools from inside the house.

Blog Photo - John's House Scaffolding

And paint cans from the kitchen.

Blog Photo - John's Kitchen

And then the big clean-up.

All that before Move-In Day on May 7.

But even during the push to finish it all, John’s feeling delighted with what he’s accomplished – by himself.

“For example, the quote I got to repair the plaster ceilings and crown moldings was $5,000 a room.  Instead of going down that path I invested in $50.00 worth of materials (per room) and did it myself.  The results are truly amazing!  Even the local contractors are impressed!”

Blog Photo - John Red Room Finished

He still arrives at the house a little after 7 each morning and works steadily till 4 p.m., stopping only for a light lunch.

“All is on schedule and all deadlines will be met!  Ann will be arriving on Sunday (May 4) to help with the final cleanup of the house just before the movers arrive on Wednesday.  Great happiness!”

When I told you that John was doing all this work by himself, I wasn’t joking.  His wife Ann, a partner in an accounting firm, has been in Toronto, more than two hours away. This is the busiest time of her work-year – tax season – and Ann’s been working flat-out at her job.   She hasn’t been to the house since mid- February, when she made “a flash-visit”.

Blog Photo - Picton Staircase 2

So how does this work for them? How does Ann know she’ll like what John has done?

“Lots of pictures are sent each day to provide Ann with the state of affairs at 27 Centre Street,” John explains.

“Does she trust you THAT much?” I ask John cheekily.

And he replies: “That is why I send the pictures each and every day . . . Feedback is always good!”

Blog Photo - Picton Staircase

On reflection,  I’m really liking the sound of this arrangement:  Husband does all the hard and dirty work, while wife stays away from all the chaos and white dust, returning when the work is done.

Hmm… Ann, you’re a girl after my own heart.

Way to go, Ann!

Ooops! I really meant:  “Way to go, John!”.

 **

 Photos by John Garside

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Almost There – John’s House Pt. 5

Ever get the impression that this blog is my way of living vicariously through others?  That I write stories about people who do things I wish I could do — or used to be able to do?

If so, you’d be partly right.

But what John Garside is doing – almost entirely by himself – blows my mind.   And now, as he nears his self-imposed deadline for moving Ann and himself into their house in Prince Edward County, I find myself holding my breath every time a new email comes from John.

Blog Photo - John Yellow Room and Scaffold

Will this be the email where John finally confesses that he needs a break from all this work, and that – promise or no promise –  the idea of moving in this spring is ridiculously un-do-able?

But it never is.  Not when he has to repair major cracks in the coach house foundation (below).  Not when he undertakes the delicate restoration of original ceiling medallions.  Not even when he is clearing out the basement.

Blog Photo - Johns Coach House

Blog Photo - Johns House Medallion

A lot of the work has been onerous.  As for the basement, John says it “was very crowded — 100 years of clutter — and cut up with old wooden partitions etc.  This was totally removed by me. 6,300 lbs. of stuff!!”

Right now, John’s working on finishing up the library.

Blog Photo - Johns House Library in Progress

The more John restores the house, the closer he feels to it, and the more he learns about its past.   He’s made a few intriguing discoveries.  Like the original signatures of the first owner and his young son, written in concrete.

“William W. Bedell,” explains John, “was the father.  Willet V. Bedell was his only son.  The boy would have been only 7 or 8 years old when he did it.”

Blog Photo - Johns House  Signature in concrete

Sadly, Willet died as a young man.  It was during the First World War, “on a Troop Ship in 1917 en route to France”.

The second family to own the house were the Wards, though John doesn’t yet know who exactly “Envers” was.   There’s still a lot to learn about the home’s history.

Blog Photo - Johns House Name on wood

John’s original move-in date was April 30.  But life follows its own course.

Just a few weeks ago, John’s mother’s health declined suddenly.  She died within days.

This spring is a time of change for John, Ann, and family.

It’s also a time of renewal.

After a rough winter, a flock of tiny blue scilla flowers is blooming in the garden.  It’s one of the first flowers of spring.

Blog Photo - Johns House Blue Scilla

And inside the house, John keeps repairing and restoring.

Another room done, one left to go. Then, after all the cleaning up, comes the big move.

The movers are now booked for May 7.

We’re cheering you on, John!

Photos by John Garside.