There is a type of person who aspires to live in weird places.
Like, a lighthouse, say.
Or, a converted barn.
Yes me, but not just me. There are other weirdos about.
Behold the Tiny House movement.
Naturally, I would love a Tiny House.
Of course, a vintage Boler is really a kind of Tiny House.
Arlo Guthrie memorialized the cool, weird house back in the 1960s with his song, “Alice’s Restaurant” in which Alice, Ray, and Potcho the Dog lived in an old church.
My dad introduced me to the song when I was about 12. As an adult, my friend and fellow Alice’s Restaurant fan, Bamboo Guy, even owned a church that was very swoon-y. Bruce Cockburn lives there now and how cool is that?
I’ve wanted to live in a church ever since.
And, even before.
In fact, my fascination with weird houses manifested itself as a child when, with every snowstorm, I attempted to build a house made from snow.
Unfortunately, I never learned the Inuit tradition of igloos (although I tried to build one many times!)
Usually, it was just me and my sister with shovels and soggy mittens, making a hole in the snow bank at the end of our driveway and trying to pretend that the result was a cozy as a Hobbit house.
In a melty, collapse-on-your-head kind of way.
My mother was concerned (as all Canadian mothers were) that the snowplow driver would kill us, by accident, with all that gallivanting at the street side.
That meant, my other option was an old margarine container in the back yard.
I would pack the snow in the container tightly, then tip it out carefully on the ground.
Sometimes, it was that dumb sugary snow that wouldn’t hold together.
Boo, hoo, hoo.
Other times, it was close to Spring and my “bricks” had a lot of leaves and twigs in the mix.
It marred the pristine, crystalline, margarine beauty I was going for, but I tried to just pretended it was mortar.
I wonder if Frank Lloyd Wright ever had these kinds of issues?
I’d lay out the floor plan: kitchen here, library here, secret passageways there.
My projects always seemed to cover the whole back yard.
Not one able to keep to minimalism even then, no siree.
Which meant that either I got discouraged, or the snow melted before my margarine-tub-formed walls were more than about ankle height.
As an adult, I drag Practical Man around to look at every weird building I can find.
Yesterday’s schoolhouse was very fun.
Built in 1847, it counts as “very old” among buildings in Canada.
It was kind of in the boonies, of course, since that’s where country schoolhouses tend to spring up.
It still had slate chalkboards.
Be still my heart.
There were tin ceilings in what used to be the girl’s and boy’s entrance foyers. Oh yes, they were of a time:
And the original schoolhouse lights (SIX!):
Swoon-y swoon, swoon.
As you may have observed, it even had a bell tower.
Ding, ding, ding!
Minus the bell, but I’m sure we could remedy that.
Alas, it had a bidding war planned for Monday and about 10 years of hard labour involved after purchase.
Boo, hoo, hoo.
One of the things stopping me from buying some of these weird buildings (besides a usefully-practical Practical Man) is their one-room schoolhouse size.
Since we can’t usually afford the life-size ones that don’t have 10 years of hard labour, I’ve been collecting small buildings.
Fisher Price vintage ones.
I’m sure you guessed that’s what I meant, since I have no children and I’m pushing 50.
They do take up a bit of space, as you can imagine.
So far, I have a castle:
an A-frame Cottage:
and perhaps best of all,
the School house:
This Schoolhouse was the perfect price and size.
It even has a bell in the bell tower.
It’s December in Canada, so of course I am dreaming about a vintage summer cottage.
Just to be clear, there are no sisters in these dreams, thank you very much.
When I was growing up, Summer wasn’t Summer unless it included a week at my grandparents’ cottage.
That is to say, my little sister had her week and I had mine. No sharing of the grandparents, no siree. Just full on, 24-7 attention and affection a la Celine Dion and Brigitte Jones:
All. By. Myself.
Needless to say, it was glorious. My Grandma Helen would open the cereal boxes upside down so I could get the prize at the “bottom” right away and we would watch Woody Woodpecker while we drank Freshie and ate “schnibbles” of summer sausage and old cheese and “crinkly” carrots at lunch.
My Grandpa Lou, resplendent in his Coca-Cola hat, would drive down the cottage lane on his lawn tractor, pulling a wagon behind, with me and half the neighbour’s kids piled in. In the mornings, he’d wake early and smoke at the kitchen table with a large, hardcover book in front of him. I remember him using an ashtray that had a metal top and sort of a plaid beanbag pillow for the bottom. I don’t think he ever used these jazzy ashtrays.
They seemed to be for company and Frank Sinatra music.
My Grandpa built a gigantic swing and teeter totter in the yard and I loved to swing, overlooking the lake. My Grandma baked Great Aunt Batche’s coffee cake recipe on special mornings and rice krispie squares with chocolate “ants” (you had to be there). My Grandpa loved to re-design his food and taught me to eat tomato soup with Kraft dinner in it.
Maybe my grandparents did these wonderful, comforting things when my sister was around too.
But, I doubt it.
My grandparents’ cottage was built in the late 60s and when I was spending time there in the late 70s, 80s and 90s, it had a lovely vintage vibe to it. A certain musty, home-y smell and barkcloth curtains in the bedrooms:
There was a room with a double bunk bed (on top AND bottom!) and witty signs dotted around the walls and especially, in the bathroom.
That is, treasures collected by my grandpa and I think, permitted with grace by my Grandma:
There was always candy in Grandma’s candy jar on the hutch and I liked to play with the cast iron Mennonite figurines.
That is, treasures collected by my Grandma and I think, permitted with grace by my Grandpa:
In the evenings, we played games, like Flea, Parcheesi, Sorry, Yatzee, Crazy Eights and later, Upwords. My Grandma Helen was a great adult, because she never let you win. You had to earn it. Sometimes, we bet with pennies or potato chips and while Grandpa was the risk taker, Grandma was often the winner.
Of course, every game needs a snack. Often, it was cheesies. Day-glow orange and crispy, dissolve-in-your-mouth artificiality. So delicious. Especially when served in vintage melamine bowls like these beauties, found at the cottage:
Today would have been my Grandma’s 90th birthday. We remember her each year on her birthday with Chinese food (one of her favourites) and games, of course.
My grandparents have both been gone for a few years and their cottage is now for sale. But, I can still go there any old cold, Canadian December I want because of my memories and the treasures I’ve shared in these pictures.
That is, treasures collected by my aunt for me and I think, permitted with grace by Practical Man.
We went to see a really cool, vintage building this week.
The experience reminded me of Star Trek, only with less spandex and more dust.
First of all, there was the much-hallowed Enterprise:
Such good omens to own a building project in such a vintage-geek-chic place.
Enterprise is a teeny, tiny village (more of a hamlet, really) about 40 kilometres from any neighbouring town. There’s no body of water nearby (a rarity in these parts) and although I’ve never seen one, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a tumbleweed roll down the main street. Enterprise is kind of in the middle of nowhere.
The middle of nowhere is nicely in our price range.
So, we went to have a Tuesday afternoon gander. To boldly go where no one has gone before, as they say.
Picture it: a partly cloudy end-of-summer day and a lovely drive in our little Fiat with the sweet sounds of Practical Man muttering under his breath, as he likes to do in these kinds of situations.
I think the muttering is so that his head won’t explode.
But, we were having a gander so Practical Man gandered along with me, good sport that he is. Plus, he loves a challenge. Why else would he have married me?
Sometimes I give inanimate objects personalities. Y’know: cars, vintage trailers, old buildings…those sorts of things. I named this building Betsy and now we are bonded forever in a way that only weird people would understand.
You’re weird, aren’t you? I hope so. Weird is such a great thing to be.
Anyway, we gandered at Betsy’s amazing 127 foot ceilings covered with original tin and beautiful display bay windows in the LARGE storefront.
I was picturing: cafe, piano/music studio, artists’ collective, vintage store (naturally), cupcake shop, speakeasy, vintage trailer design shop, children’s bookstore, or one of the many little businesses I’m always making up in my head (and designing logos and menus and marketing for…)
Yes, I am incorrigible, thank you very much.
It was hard to concentrate on practical things like what we would use the space for though, because I was very busy being completely in l-o-o-o-ve with the tin ceilings. Acres of them. Right from the front of the building, past the end of the storefront, through the kitchen and hallway and all the way back to the way-in-the-back.
I caught myself batting my eyelashes at them several times. I’m kind of fast and loose when it comes to tin ceilings. I just can’t seem to play hard-to-get.
Behind the storefront, Betsy had a kitchen (massive) with an amazing wide, wide, very unusually wide-for-this-vintage-building staircase. I pictured a mercantile or a hardware store back in the day.
Modestly grand. Perfect for me to sweep down with lots of tra-la-la, don’t you think?
Upstairs and in all directions, there were apartments. I have no sense of direction and we were going in back doors and sneaking through secret passageways that were normally locked so it is all a bit hazy to me. I believe there were two apartments above the store. Plus another one in the addition behind the store. Plus one on the street level beside the store.
So, around 34 investment-potential apartments. All with very groovy original baseboards and trim.
And, income potential.
In the middle of nowhere.
Practical Man is sweating a little.
Don’t let this benign picture fool you. This was the most civilized bit, all tarted up and innocent looking.
But, I want you to love my cool, vintage building so I am helping you by showing off its best features. It’s not the building’s fault that its owner for the past 27 years neglected it very badly and didn’t care for it the way it deserved.
All the bathrooms and kitchens were very moldy and falling down (albeit with fun, vintage tubs, sinks and toilets in pastel colours). Any carpeting was very, very, very, very (do you get the idea?) smelly with water damage from a formerly leaky roof and other things I don’t like to think about.
It reminded me of a few places I inhabited in my 20s. Places where I always kept my shoes on, even with my pajamas.
I found this fun, vintage, enamel sink in one of the apartments.
In my 20s, when I inhabited these kind of places, I could fixate on how much I loved that sink all day. It helped me ignore the fact that I was living in what my mother called “another fire trap”.
As well as the giant brick building, there was also a two-storey addition on the back (with really amazing workshop/summer kitchen on ground floor with what looked like some fixable “sinking” in one corner that seemed to have resulted from a leaky roof and inadequately supported floor joists. We went upstairs to a half-built apartment above and traipsed around all the rooms, looking out windows and ripping down all the moldy drywall in our heads.
Back on the ground, we turned a corner to the side of the addition we hadn’t yet viewed and realized that the whole side of the two-storey building we had just walked around in was held up by exactly zero foundation and approximately 1 medium-sized rock.
When I read the agent’s listing later, it turned out that the addition bit of the property has been condemned and was “not to be entered during viewings as it is derelict“.
Apparently we had boldly gone where no one (sane) had gone before.
So, feeling like we’d been born again, we moved on to the character-filled two-storey barn.
Lots of room to store someone’s present and future vintage vehicle collection AND someone else’s practical stuff. And, when we’re poverty stricken and living in the barn after renovating the building, there will be no vacuuming required because the barn has a dirt floor.
Score. I hate vacuuming.
Practical Man was still not a fan until at last, we reached the piece de resistance, the best place, hands-down on the property (at least according to him).
That would be the basement.
High, dry, strong, with great, thick rock walls and straight as an arrow. I got cheeky and looked up its skirt to the main floor. Even Betsy’s underwear are pretty:
We are not scaredy-cat property purchasers. Betsy is the kind of building that is par for the course for us.
That is, in the middle of nowhere and a hovel.
In fact, our current house, being in our price range, is just south of the middle of nowhere and was a hovel when we bought it. Practical Man is very, very handy.
He’s the Scotty to our Enterprise.
But, let me be clear: we are not buying this Miss Havisham of a building.
Even though I love Betsy and I want to save her from further ruin, she’s way too big.
Also, she scares the living bejeebees out of me.
So, that’s the end of my Star Trek tale.
Beam me up, Scotty.
When I was 8, I thought it would be…um…cool (sorry) to live in an igloo. We did a project on them at school with the requisite stale sugar cubes and I found out how efficient they were to heat, how bright they were inside and they just looked like a really unique place to live!
Never mind that the climate in my southern Canadian locale would only support a melt-y house for about 2 months a year.
Even after abandoning the igloo idea (not before trying to construct many overly-ambitious and unsuccessful prototypes in the back yard in January), I continued to dream of someday living in a unique, vintage abode. I don’t say “house” because when I picture said wistful mirage, it’s not usually a house that comes to mind, but rather a tugboat, Italian trulli, treehouse, factory, library or water tower. Less home-sweet home: more home-vintage-home.
If you’ve ever enjoyed programs like Extreme Homes or You Live in What? then you might understand my leanings to the non-traditional roof over one’s head. My vintage summer camping abode fits the bill perfectly in the form of our 1974 Boler travel trailer. I am so vintage geeky that I sometimes spend an hour when I wake up in the mornings, still under the covers of the kitchen table/bed, looking around and giggling happily to myself. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone.
For year-round options, it’s challenging to find tugboats or vacant water towers in these parts…but I do come across the occasional converted church, like one I dragged my husband to not so long ago. He is ever so handy and practical so while I’m busy sighing and swooning over vintage details like original leaded glass windows and doors, creaky floors, and slope-y ceilings, he is wandering beside me muttering things like “very drafty in winter until all 12 exterior doors are replaced”, “joists need supporting from underneath”, and “likely no insulation in the ceilings”.
That particular reasonably-priced, beautiful, full-of-potential-pie-in-the-sky space was going to need more than $150,000 in immediate deferred maintenance, according to my feet-very-firmly-on-the-ground husband.
Since I am a bargain vintage lover on a budget, some of my vintage dreams just don’t make practical sense.
It’s like the igloo all over again.
But, I keep looking. After all, that’s half the fun.
The plan was to drive over hill and dale (and try not to eat everything we’d purchased at a wonderful/alarming place called The Cheese Barn before we got to our destination) to see the magnificent rhododendrons in bloom in the Smoky Mountains.
Instead, I fell in love with a Texaco.
I didn’t expect it, but we stumbled upon it in a little town called Lebanon, OH. If you haven’t been there, I recommend their historic downtown. Very vintage-y vibe with lots of place to spend any cash that happens to be burning in your pocket (see how vintage I am? I still use real money!)
But, I was too busy swooning to spend much cash. Like, a Harry Connick sort of vintage-y swoon. Yep, busy, swooning over my Texaco.
It was beautiful, with its white brick facade and original porcelain red lettering. It was a perfect match for the fleet of vintage vehicles bouncing around inside my head.
And did I mention, it was available? Currently a swingin’ single building, just waiting for me to sweep it off its feet!
Be still my beating heart. I’ve always dreamed of living in a place called Lebanon in a Texaco station.
Okay, maybe not. But it seemed like a great idea that day.
All it needed was a vintage soda shop next door and I would have been all set.