From House to Home: Our Labor of Love to Restore Our Roadside Cottage

When I was younger, I never dreamed of living on the side of the road. All the homesites of my dreams were miles off the interstate, in the middle of a winding pasture that curled around cornfields and split-rail fences for miles. Yet, when my husband and I found ourselves newlywed and penniless, we were desperate for anywhere warm in our hometown community that wouldn’t break the bank. Enter, our tiny cottage.

It was the homeplace of an elderly couple who had gone to my church my entire life. The wife had passed away about 10 years prior, and her husband was in the local nursing home. Their house, where they’d spent a good 50 years together and raised one great baby, was now sitting empty and their granddaughter needed someone to rent it -- someone she could trust to be clean and respectful of the property.

I say that the house sits on the road, and for all intents and purposes, it does. There is minimal front yard before our little country road sits flat as a rail. Yet, behind the house is a glorious wilderness that’s so beautiful only a handful of sites can rival it in my book. There are muscadine vines and pecan trees, decades-old massive blueberry bushes, a winding and bubbling creek, and a clothesline big enough for three loads of laundry. If I could spend my summer afternoons anywhere in the world, I’d pick there.

Yet, the house needed major work. It hadn’t been updated since the original owners built it and all the wiring and fixtures were original as well. We got to work with a local contractor and, with the permission of our landlord, we went about doing some major renovations.

We tore down three walls to make the downstairs living area one big, open-concept space. We installed granite countertops and replaced the yellowing and cracked linoleum in the living room with new floors from Floors USA hardwood flooring. We built a breakfast nook in the kitchen and whitewashed the brick in the laundry room. It was still a dollhouse, a cracker jack-sized cottage on a road with towering tract homes, but it was ours and I was head over heels in love with it. We adored it so much so that, at the end of the project, I cried and told my contractor he’d given me a home and we asked our landlord if we could move from being just renters to being homeowners.

She agreed, we signed the papers, and the house was ours in October.

That’s the thing about restoring an old home. You pour enough of your heart, soul, blood tears into a place that you create a connection. Then, the years start to pass in those rooms. You bake cookies with your children at four in the afternoon and you stay up late watching television reruns with your husband on the couch. You paint with watercolors with your children as golden hour streams through the kitchen windows and you rock on the side porch glider while the sun goes down.

You do these things enough times and suddenly, it’s no longer just a house. It’s absolutely a home and one that becomes deeply ingrained in you. I felt that way about our cottage, and I still do. Now, however, a family home has become available for us to consider.

It sits far off the road, without any neighbors. In many ways, it’s my dream home and we’d be more than lucky to get it. Still, I travel back our field with my two kids and we sit at the edge of that little creek. The sun starts to set and I look out at what we’ve made, and everything we’ve worked so hard to get. This cottage is tiny, despite our best efforts to maximize the space There’s a spot in the kitchen where the floors squeak because my daughter spilled a water bottle and no one saw it until the morning. The cabinet doors hang a little crooked if you look at them just right and sometimes the basement gets damp after a hard rain.

But for all its faults, it’s home. I’m not sure where we’ll be next year, or even in the next few months. For right now, though? I’m curled up in my bed with the lamplight on, my two babies sleeping in the tiny rooms above me. The air is still and the night is warm and I’m home.