I meant to post this yesterday, on Valentine’s Day; hence, the “love story”. It’s still appropriate today, though, as I think *love* should last all other 364 days of the year…don’t you?
A Love Story
One year ago yesterday we closed on our Birmingham Bungalow. It was snowing and I remember that my stomach was in knots all day as I feared the City (specifically the legal entities needed to satisfy a closing) would shut down in such uncharacteristic weather conditions. Around 5p.m., much to my delight and anticipation, we walked in as owners… and immediately looked around at all the work to be done.
The Bungalow was no “dream house”. No, she’d been neglected for quite some time (which is why we were able to afford her, since we still have a mortgage back in South Carolina). The rooms were dark, dirty and dormant. The yard was (and in some places still is) overgrown and unappealing. There was no way for us to move in immediately, so for the next five months we worked tirelessly, giving up our nights and weekends, until she was “livable”.
So where, then, does this “love story” come in, you ask? Well, when we first started considering putting an offer on this 80-year old house, we did so because we could see beyond the previously mentioned dirt/dust/decay. For example, the front porch is approximately half the size of our house in Charleston. It’s a magnificent place to drink Sweet Tea, to watch Sweet Pea mingle with bugs and bushes and other neighborhood children, to just relax. Also, the windows in the house are large and abundant. The kitchen had “potential”. And, the price was right. We got to work right away and, as with any new relationship, we poured our hearts into her, believing in every minute that we were creating a home.
Now, somewhere around May of last year I was questioning my ability to keep up with the renovation process. It was wreaking havoc on my nails, my wardrobe, my marriage and my (not really all that spectacular) social life. My husband kept encouraging me to set my sight on what we would have once the process was finished, although I was so desperately loathing the present that it was hard to focus on the future. I probably made it harder than it needed to be…for everyone involved. In a nutshell: Renovating a house is no easy task.
When we did finally move in (July 4th weekend, 2010), the house was far from complete and, still today, there’s much work left to be done. But this is our house, our home. We’ve touched every square inch. In some places we’ve stripped her down to a place where we could (literally) see her bones. We have taken great care in restoring and preserving the character of what she once was and will continue to become. Much like Birmingham has offered us, this Bungalow has embraced our family and has given us the opportunity to grow closer and to appreciate just that which we have (and need). Time weathers us all, but if we live with love in our hearts (and in our home), the opportunities are endless.
So, in the spirit of love and open hearts and all the warm fuzziness that fills us all during the week of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to share a few things about our Birmingham Bungalow that we think are rather interesting… Thanks to the Birmingham Public Library (which is a magnificent place to visit and enjoy regularly) and our friend John (bhamwiki.com), we were able to locate information about the Bungalow’s beginnings.
Our Birmingham Bungalow: The Beginning
As far as we can tell from city records (a few volumes are missing), our Birmingham Bungalow was built around 1929. (We’d previously thought the house was built in 1933, according to an inscription on our porch.) There were few houses on our street at that time.
The Wambsganss family lived here and they either owned or were employed by DeLuxe Studio, a photography studio located at 1918 1/2 2nd Avenue North (across from Pete’s Famous Hot Dogs). They did the photos for the Birmingham-Southern yearbooks in the late 1920s. (You can flip through the pages of these archived yearbooks here.)
(Confession: I really enjoyed fantastizing what De Luxe Studio might have been, before we actually knew. I was thinking along the lines of storefront for a speakeasy or saloon, and may have been a tad bit disappointed upon finding that it was nothing more than a place to have your portrait taken.)
Pictures we found of the house from the 1960s show that there were several changes made to the structure within the past few decades. The driveway once stretched to the back of the lot, there was a covered garage structure (which no longer exists) and more recent owners added a door to the side of the house just off the master bedroom that leads to a nice little private deck.
Over the past year we’ve done much restorative work on the interior of the house and now we are just customizing and making some aesthetic changes (this is more my *thing*, of course). This summer we are planning to embark on a few updates to the exterior of the house, including a fresh coat of paint (which, on an 80-year old house is not as easy as dip brush, apply paint, let dry), some landscaping (Lord, help us grow grass) and staining the many decks (previous owners had a “thing” for decks; we have three of them, in addition to the massive and wonderful front porch). We have our work cut out for us, but we knew that from the start…
The first house we bought was new construction. We drove by our lot every single day to get a glimpse of each part of the process. We closed on that house the day we brought Sweet Pea home from the hospital. We called it “The Blue House” and it was a major upgrade from our rented “Little Yellow House That Could”. We loved that house and had the pleasure of watching it take shape from the ground up.
The “Birmingham Bungalow” has offered us a new set of lenses with which to view our home. She’s taught us all kinds of lessons and we learn still every day. I suppose that, for us, a house is not just a house. We give it a name, we put our heart and soul into its keeping, and we work constantly to make it a unique expression of our family.
I can thank my Valentine for giving me not only a wonderful home to live in, but also for the inspiration to make it really special. He uses his hands to improve this house every day, and the difference it makes is tremendous.
So, I suppose, the love story of the Birmingham Bungalow started eighty years ago, and now our chapter is just beginning. We’re looking forward to being a part of her happy ending.