The House Next Door
God (or science or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or whatever you believe in) never closes a door without opening a window.
For years we talked about moving to Iowa from Denver, Colorado. It was going to be our "retirement" project after the kids went to college. Buy a big old house and renovate/decorate it. Yes, I realize this is how most Netflix horror movies start out.
Gary grew up in Ossian, IA and we had been coming to the area for years to visit his family for holidays and vacations and I fell in love with northeastern Iowa. We were driving down the highway from West Union to Decorah in 2008(ish) and I saw this gorgeous white house and I vividly remember yelling "Oh my god! What is that?"
Well, it turned out that "that" was the John Brayshaw Kaye Mansion, former home of the late 1890s poet, attorney and politician. It had been turned into the Calmar Guesthouse by Gary's good friend's mother, Lucille. Try to keep up here. Lucille successfully ran the Calmar Guesthouse for 30 plus years and had this fabulous reputation as a hostess and entertainer. I insisted he let me take pictures of the house and every year when we would come back, I'd take more pictures. Because I’m a crazy stalker and yes, I know it is creepy.
My mom and sister went on a trip with us from Colorado in 2010 and they stayed at the Guesthouse so I got to see the inside of the house and have Mother’s Day Brunch with Lucille. She was just as lovely as I had imagined and the inside of the house was incredible!
Then the Guesthouse went up for sale in July of 2017–I'll just give you the short version of this story since this is a blog and not War and Peace—and we decided we were going to just go ahead and buy it and move a few years early.
There are a lot of logistics involved in moving and while we were getting things squared away to evacuate Colorado, someone outbid us on the Guesthouse. Outbid us by a lot! We could not have afforded to offer more money and still make the budget work given the amount of work that the house would have needed for upkeep and maintenance. Old houses are a huge undertaking. Especially HUGE old houses. I wouldn't have wanted to buy it and then not have the budget to properly take care of it.
It was really weird because I'd been OBSESSED with the Guesthouse for years and I felt like I should have been crushed by the weight of my dream falling apart. But I really wasn't that sad. I had a brief moment in where I was all "My HOUSSSSEEEE!" and then I was kind of over it and I'll tell you why:
The Guesthouse will always be Lucille's. It would never have been "our house" the way that you need your house to be. I remember there was this book of photos on the table in Lucille's living room and it was full of all of these pictures of Lucille and her family peeling wallpaper and renovating the house when she bought it back in 1984. There's no way you can compete with that.
I bitch A LOT about living through a renovation but the messy parts are what you remember. I'm sure in 20 years it will be really funny that our roof leaks and that we have a temporary kitchen set up in the library or that I may be standing on asbestos while I write this. The messy parts are what inspired me to write a blog. Renovation and design shouldn't be perfect. They should be fun and kind of a disaster. Plus, I honestly have NO idea what we would have done with 8 bedrooms... anything over 6 bedrooms seems a bit excessive. I knew that I didn't want to run it as a bed and breakfast. I don't like breakfast or people touching my china.
So... we bought the house next door. Quite literally.
Luckily, I had also been taking pictures of Gaye Gardens since 2011 because I thought the house was gorgeous! And my momma didn’t raise no fool—always have a backup plan! Again, I promise I'm not as insane as this all looks...
It was odd that the Guesthouse and Gaye Gardens were for sale at exactly the same time. We were doing a walkthrough with the construction team at the Guesthouse in November of 2017 (to figure out the renovation costs) before we put our losing bid in on it and Gary's sister-in-law, Tina, said "Why don't you look at the brick house (Gaye Gardens) next door?" I told her that I loved the brick house but that Gary hated the brick. She suggested I call and set up a showing just in case things didn't work out with the Guesthouse (apparently Tina is not only fabulous but also a psychic) and that it never hurts to look at other options. Sometimes what you are looking for really is right underneath your nose... and slightly to the left.
And now here we are at Gaye Gardens. I fell in love with how much character the house has. It's so weird and so perfect for us. It's this beautiful mess of bricks and flowers and I can't imagine living anywhere else. The universe has this strange way of working these things out for me.
I was worried that it would be weird to live next door to "the one that got away" but I find it oddly comforting. It's like living next to an old friend.