Not…Predicting The Future

Today I received a long letter from Peter, introducing himself.

Peter is young, and admits to a terrible affliction: he is besotted with big old houses.

In reply, I extended my sympathies.

At the end of his letter, Peter asked several questions. It occurred to me that perhaps others have the same questions, so it seemed a good idea to reply in this format.


Is Emporia, KS, where you want to live for the rest of your life?

I am now 58. I will die at 92, so this gives me 34 more years.

I can easily see myself still working/fussing at the Cross House at 92! But at 58 I have been through enough in life to distrust long-range plans.

For example, today I earn a living restoring vintage lighting. The business is consuming. Yet in 2005 — just a decade ago — the business did not exist. Nor was it even an idea in my head. It started by accident in 2006, and instantly took over my life. The business expanded to the degree that I was forced to find a structure which could house it and me. The Cross House was the result.

If somebody had shown me via a crystal ball in 2005 what my life would be in 2015, and that I would own a fabulous fairy-tale castle, I would have gasped and thought it impossible.


In 1985, I was 28(!), living in New York City, and had just founded my own architectural design firm. The ensuing years led to amazing success beyond my wildest dreams. But in 1995, just a decade later, I was living in Newport, RI, and had lost everything.

So, where will I be at 92? I would not bet on any prediction.

But Peter…I would be thrilled to spend the rest of my life at the glorious Cross House.


What will you do with the Cross House once she is “finished”?

I am so preoccupied with getting the Cross House finished that I can hardly envision the actuality of finished!

Still, I am deeply concerned about protecting the house in the long-term. By this, I am doing nothing to the house which is so specific to me that it would repel a buyer in the future. I also know that because the house currently has bathrooms en-suite to every bedroom, removing one would diminish the future of the house, as having all en-suite bathrooms means that the house could be effortlessly converted into a B&B.

It is not likely that the Cross House will ever be a private home again, filled with kids and dogs. There is almost no yard, and being right on Higwhay 50 would be a huge turn-off to almost all families.

The house however does make sense for me (because of my business, and the need for large areas to store vintage lighting), so I can see the house being perfect for somebody else down the road who also has a home business. I can also see the house as a B&B and events space (indeed, I might convert the house as such when I hit 65). Or as offices.

I do plan to legally entail the carriage house to the Cross House, meaning that they can never be separated. The properties were divided for almost a century until Bob Rodak (the previous owner of the Cross House) was able to acquire the carriage house. I am forever grateful to Bob.

Oh, and I am not doing the house for resale! It is my intention to live in the house.


How will you know you are done?

I have a sneaking feeling that the Cross House will never be done.

Even if, in the decades to come, I manage to whittle the To Do list from 6895 items down to a miraculous 0, my work would not be over.

Old houses require constant, endless maintenance. Wood rots when left in rain. And the Cross House is three stories of wood! Water can also rot the inside of a house via leaks. Then there are termites, and these insidious little creates have created havoc at the Cross House over the decades. Then pipes can (and will) burst, wiring goes wonky, boilers eventually need replacing (at a terrifying cost), roofing needs to be replaced, and on and on and on.

So with a big, accepting sigh, I cannot imagine the Cross House ever being done.

But I do yearn — yearn! — for the day when I can move into the house.

I yearn to take my first shower IN THE HOUSE. Whoee!

I yearn to have friends over for monthly movie nights IN THE HOUSE.

I yearn to sit in rocking chair, on the roof of the main porch, the whole week before Christmas, dressed up as Santa Claus, and with Mrs. Claus in the adjacent chair, and wave at people and kids as they pass by — Merry Christmas! — after I live IN THE HOUSE.

I yearn to be typing up yet another post for this blog IN THE HOUSE.

I yearn to find love and a partner IN THE HOUSE. Oh my!

I yearn to move between the three bedrooms I will use for my lighting business, all the while listening to an audible book via wireless speakers installed throughout the house, as I happily conduct the business IN THE HOUSE.

I yearn to invite close friends over for magical dinners in the fabulous formal dining room (with candles a-blazing) IN THE HOUSE.

I yearn to enjoy summer nights in the three private outdoor “yards” which I will have created and nourished into existence, and enjoy summer days sitting by the huge waterfall newly installed (to white-out the traffic noise), after I move IN THE HOUSE.

I yearn to walk around the finished library, and gently rake my fingers across the spines of many thousands of books, and smile while thinking that I have an actual designated library IN THE HOUSE. A room just for books!

I yearn to sit on front porch in the spring, thinking about nothing, and wave at passing neighbors once I move IN THE HOUSE.

I yearn, yearn, to make telephone calls from the landline in the 1894 telephone closet IN THE HOUSE.

I yearn to sit with my elderly cat, Gilda, on the hot marble slabs resting atop the low radiators during each winter IN THE HOUSE. And Gilda better live long enough for this yearning to became reality!

I yearn for the simple things, like washing dishes in the kitchen sink (put in place by me) while looking out through the huge restored double window, then putting the dishes away in the restored pantry, and then sweeping up the restored pine original floor after I get to live IN THE HOUSE. Sounds like bliss, right?

I yearn to walk, late at night, from room to room, and pause a moment in each to admire (a little breathlessly) the beauty of the spaces, as I smile thinking about what a wreck each room looked before I lived IN THE HOUSE.

But Peter, mostly I just yearn to live…in the house. The yearning is intense, and a bit painful.


  1. Doug on June 20, 2015 at 9:08 am

    32 years ago I was in the same state as Ross.

    Owner of a magnificent old home badly in need of restoration. Yearning for the day we could move the family in.

    27 years ago, we did just that. Moved the family in. Washing dishes in the upstairs bathtub because there was no usable kitchen. Over the years, celebrating Christmas in 5 different rooms as we moved from room to room to accommodate renovation. As restoration proceeded the magnificence of the home became common place. It was our home. It’s size was just normal to us. The plaster ornaments and elaborate fretwork, normal to us. Only when we have visitors are we reminded of its actual splendor.

    The children grew up here and two of the girls got married in the backyard. The only person to have lived in the house longer is Linnie Mills, the wife of the original owner.

    After 32 years the adventure continues. Not quite as fast or as exciting as originally, but it continues nonetheless.

    When I die at 83-1/2 I hope it is in my bedroom and my ashes spread in the yard. The house is now a part of our story as much as we are a part of its story. I like to think that we have allowed it’s story to continue long after ours has ended.

    • Ross on November 26, 2015 at 6:49 pm

      Thirty-two years!

      Doug, you take my breath away!

  2. Peter on June 20, 2015 at 4:11 pm

    Ross. Thank you for this reply. I know the questions are in many ways unanswerable, but I think they serve as a thoughtful place to represent the now they spread our net out over our dreams. Our lives are like waves, fierce and colored and stormy and mild and sometimes breaking. This house, these old houses are as alive as we are and show the wear of experience and can come back full color as we lay healing hands. Sometimes we need each other this way. I think what I find so interesting about this blog and this project is that it is about so much more than a house. It is about our very fabric of being. It is about our hopes and dreams, it is about passion and hard work and it is about healing hands. It is about how we treat ourselves and how we treat others. It is a story of being alive. And that is why I am drawn to old houses. We need each other in so many ways, and it isn’t about just us. It has a history and it has a craft and it stands as a marker of the past and a beacon to our future selves. I like that.

    Doug. I really enjoyed reading your beautiful comment reply. An old house does become part of our story for it is the place our memories are made. I grew up in a house that was long abandoned in the woods. My mother, on a long walk, found it and inquired as to who might have it to sell. It was owned by a notorious curmudgeon and she was told that no way would he sell it to anyone. It was just a shell of a house, almost nothing there but still he wouldn’t sell. She was told he would rather it crumble into the dirt. She asked him anyway and to everyone’s surprise he agreed to sell it, for 1200 dollars. Mind you there really was almost nothing left of it. My parents had it moved on the back of a flatbed to where it stands now. They rebuilt it from the ground up, poured the basement on which it would now sit, and room by room breathed life into its broken bones. Soon a family filled its halls and rooms. A modest house that was made of love and saved from the tangles of time. They taught me a lot, my parents, about the labour of work and love and how the two make things happen. They taught me self reliance. They taught me how things work. They taught me so many things. And we lived in an old funky house together that they brought out of the woods on a flatbed truck. It contained all of our memories.

    Thank you both. For the good work.

    • Ross on June 20, 2015 at 7:55 pm

      Hi again Peter!

      Thank you for the moving and heartfelt comment.

      I particularly liked: “…and room by room breathed life into its broken bones.”

      I might steal this great line for a future post!

      Do you have any images of the house in your wonderful story?

  3. Denali Dragonfly on June 21, 2015 at 11:33 am

    How sweet to read three men totally in love with their old houses. Ross yearns to sit with Gilda on the marble radiator tops and creates myriad images of bliss IN THE CROSS HOUSE. Doug is allowing his house’s story to continue long after his has ended. Peter has learned from his parents how to make a house of love, save it from the tangles of time, breath life into the broken bones by laying on healing hands to bring it back to full color. All three of you are true artists in what you create from wooden bones and what you create with words to describe how loving an old house is about our very fabric of being. No plagiarism intended, I simply feel pure joy into tears at the beauty of it and how much I personally resonate with it.

    I feel blessed even to read of such love and even more blessed to be close enough to witness some of the painstaking process of The Cross House restoration. I have always loved victorian era homes, but alas, I’m in love with the house my parents built in 1960 where I grew up. It is an old house now, but not so much. Yet so many of the feelings the three of you describe I totally resonate with and appreciate that there are others who understand.

  4. Traci on June 21, 2015 at 11:45 am

    Hi Ross:
    Have you or would you ever write about your rebound after losing everything?

    • Ross on June 21, 2015 at 2:08 pm

      The story has been written, in an unpublished book of mine called finding ross.

  5. Californianinkansas on October 19, 2016 at 7:05 pm

    Mr. Ross,
    Thank you for publishing such a beautifully written and quite profound essay.
    Also, Gilda is a great name for a cat (long may she live)!
    Abilene, KS

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