The Cross House
This is a long and winding post. You might wish to read it when you have some time. And some wine handy.
The poor carriage house. The poor dear.
It sits, patiently, while Ross does battle with the Big House.
And each year the carriage house…erodes just a tiny bit.
When I first looked at the Cross House with the intention of perhaps buying it, the owner, Bob, gave me the grand tour. As I was leaving, I pointed to the adjacent house next door, which Bob also owned.
“So, that’s the original carriage house?”
“No. While everybody thinks that, it was actually built around 1920.”
Me, confused: “Ahhh, I don’t understand. It looks like a mini-Cross House.”
“It does, but was built decades later.”
Me, still confused: “But…why then does it look like the Cross House?”
“The person who built it had always loved the Cross House so, when the lot became available around 1920, he hired the builder of the Cross House and told him to construct a mini-Cross House.”
Well…ahhh…OK. I mean, I guess that might have happened.
As my offer was on the Cross House, I gave the adjacent structure no thought.
In January, after having my offer on the Cross House accepted, but before I closed, I pulled into the driveway one day. Suddenly, I was struck by how close the Cross House was to the adjacent NotTheCarriageHouse. In a flash, I saw myself spending decades of time, and my every penny, restoring the Cross House…while having no control over the NotTheCarriageHouse seemingly just inches away. What, I wondered, if I poured my heart and soul into the Cross House, while right next door somebody in the NotTheCarriageHouse put an orange sofa on the front porch, parked a half-dozen cars in the expansive front yard, and tossed empty beer cans all about?
The possibility induced terror in my heart. Without any hesitation, I called Bob: “I’ll also buy the NotTheCarriageHouse!”
And so, a month later not only did I own an almost 9,000 square foot house, its every inch requiring emergency work STAT, but I also owned the NotTheCarriageHouse, itself a huge project, being a 5-bedroom house. It only looks small by comparison to the titanic-sized monster next door.
After closing at the end of February, work began on the Cross House and carriage house.
So, the porch came down.
I had a sneaking suspicion, based on nothing, that the tower was originally a turret, meaning that it was always meant to be a looming, extended presence. With the porch gone, my suspicion proved 100% correct as the turret had a finished headboard ceiling where it cantilevered.
So, the porch was a later addition!
During those first few crazy, hyper-intense months, I also tore out a 1990s bathroom that had turned the expansive rectangular dining room in a highly awkward L-shaped space (oh, the horror!), removed an eccentric addition in the rear which basically existed simply to provide access to the basement, and a 1970s cheap addition which connected the eccentric addition to the 1950s garage.
One day I realized, in a flash, that the NotTheCarriageHouse was, in reality, the original carriage house to the Cross House. Later research proved that the structure, around 1920, had been sold off, moved forward on the lot, and placed upon a basement. Its 1894 “barn wing” had been severed, rotated 90-degrees, and was now the kitchen wing in back. Read all about this here.
In short, the NotTheCarriageHouse was, in fact, TheCarriageHouse.
I was not displeased with this discovery.
The Cross House proved all consuming and I put progress on the carriage house on hold. While there has been some intermittent work, the carriage house has been mothballed for five years.
If I could go back in time, what would I do differently?
I am 97% OK with all that I have done to the Cross House, even though I am in a state of shock that this is now year #6 and I have not yet spent a night in the house. I am also in shock that I have been painting the entire exterior as this was SO not even a thought in my head when I purchased the house.
Regarding the carriage house? Oh dear, I do so have regrets.
When I purchased the house, Bob was 90% complete with a Home Depot renovation of the kitchen, and three bathrooms. In 2014, I yearned to make the carriage house F A B U L O U S rather than, well, normal. So, I began tearing out all the almost completed work. And the collapsing porch, eccentric rear addition, 1970s rear addition, and the horror of a bumped-out bathroom insulting the dining room.
And now, in year #6, the poor carriage house is still pulled apart and empty.
I am a very bad home owner.
Looking back? If I could turn back time?
I would have done the carriage house differently.
I should have finished the almost complete kitchen and bathrooms, slapped some plywood over the rotting porch floor and its roof, and got the place rented! This would have generated like $48,000 in income; more, had I Airbnd’d it.
Sigh. BIG sigh.
In 2014, I basically had no idea who architect Charles Squires was. Today, I know a great deal about the man, and I also know that not only did Squires design the carriage house, it appears that he likely designed its conversion into a proper house circa 1920. This means that the porch I ruthlessly tore off, and the rear eccentric addition, were likely designed by Squires.
I am a very bad home owner, yes, and a very bad preservationist.
Today, I think, think, I would still tear off the porch. It had to be demolished in order to rebuilt it anyway. And I love love love the “floating” turret, which is actually how Squires intended it to be in 1894.
While I don’t regret removing the 1920s porch, I now 51% regret removing the eccentric 1920 rear addition.
When I purchased the carriage house, the kitchen was very dark. And I loathe dark kitchens. Passionately. It’s north window was blocked over, and the eccentric addition precluded any additional north light.
Today, the kitchen is filled with light. And this delights me.
Still…the eccentric addition was, by very nature, kinda cool. And today I think I should have kept it. By reopening the blocked-over north window, the kitchen did get more light. Perhaps a skylight over the eccentric addition would have let more light into the kitchen?
In any event, all this recalls the huge effort to restore the Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio in Oak Park, Illinois. The complex had been endlessly rebuilt by Wright while he lived there, and then later rebuilt, and rebuilt, by Wright for new owners after his departure, including significant alterations in the 1950s. When the house was restored in the late 1970s and early 1980s there was a massive debate over just what to restore. Should everything Wright built be retained? Or should the complex be restored to its appearance when Wright last occupied the complex in 1908? The latter approach prevailed but not without furious debate.
The carriage house, like the Wright complex, has been altered and changed significantly since it was built in 1894. Today, save the turret, it is unrecognizable from its 1894 appearance. This has offered considerable leeway regarding my approach.
In short, there seems no perfect approach to the carriage house. The front porch had to be demolished due to severe rot. While it could have been rebuilt with pressure-treated lumber (and still could be), its removal vastly increased the light to the living room, foyer, and front bedroom. I love light. Too, the porch covered four basement windows, and the basement apartment (yes, there is an apartment in the basement) was depressingly dark. The porch also wholly obscured the thrill of the overhanging turret.
However…however…I now think, well, I now think 51%, that I should have retained the eccentric addition. This creates an unsettling battle of thoughts:
- Should I just let it be and continue as planned?
- Or should I make the bold and crazy decision to recreate the lost eccentric addition?
I am pondering just how crazy I should allow myself to be.
Oh! I could not finish without paying homage to The Goddess…