A Reader's Letter to His House
TOH reader Shawn Coyle shares how working on a neglected 1714 Colonial has shaped his character and changed his life
Who: Shawn Coyle
Where: Wayne, Pa.
What: Reveals what restoring an old house has taught him.
To my older and wiser friend, my teacher, my constant companion—my house,
I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you some of the things I've never been able to say.
Remember the day we met, a little over two years ago? I was a newly married 26-year-old trying to find my way in the world, and you a 294-year-old survivor in need of serious TLC. You were tired and worn, but I could see that you still had great beauty and integrity.
I paid no mind to the bad stuff people said, that you were a gold digger and had been in too many dysfunctional relationships. I just knew you'd give as good as you got.
And so, I committed to you. In return, you taught me important life lessons. Here—in both words and snapshots—are just a few:
You've seen so much in your nearly three centuries. The Valley Forge encampment was just two miles away, and your warm hearth surely welcomed great leaders, perhaps General Washington himself. Your hand-hewn timbers are witness to these voices from the past, but also to a long-gone craftsmanship.
A prior owner let the rain come in and ruin your walls. But stripping away your water-logged sheathing led me to discover your sturdy stone walls. A fresh coat of plaster, and you'll be good as new.
Remember that sheet of plywood that came careering into my ankle? Well, my spirits may have flagged, hobbling around on a cast all those weeks, but it gave me a chance to focus on details, like repairing your rotted wood window casings.
I never undertake a new project without consulting these sketches, twice. They show how every room relates to another, and every rafter to the framing. If I follow the plan, I know the end result will be right.
Your new master suite will be amazing, I promise. But while it comes together, your blue-painted guest bedroom has been quite welcoming.
Your original builders relied on the materials they had on hand. Some of the stones in your walls were once part of a tumbledown hearth; they've got the char marks to prove it. I could have cleaned them and made you look glossy and new, but that's not who you are.
The lovely Natasha, my wife, the architect of those all-important sketches I mentioned earlier, has been by my side every step of the way (here she is, stripping wallpaper). Our commitment to you has strengthened us. And I don't mean from all the heavy lifting. Now, as each room comes together, we're starting see the returns on all our hard work.
There is still much to be done before fulfilling all our dreams, but I am confident we will get there someday. Hopefully, the pitter-patter of little feet will be echoing through your hallways in the not-too-distant future. And I know you will provide for our kids, protect them, and teach them some of the same life lessons you've taught me.
With love and admiration,