How The Hill Did We End Up Here?

The Dohman Family takes on a historic remodel

By Katie Dohman

My husband and I thought we were fully settled in our 1954 midcentury flat-roof house. We’ve spent our adult lives collecting and carrying on about midcentury modern style. I’m sure even our friend and realtor was a little surprised when I called one midwinter day and said, “We just want to take a peek at that house up on the hill.”

To people who live in in the area—and those who commute past it—it almost needs no further explanation. Everyone knows about the house up on the hill. Of course, most of what they think they know about this 1921 French Revival is rumor. At least that’s what I’m finding out as I start to sift through its nearly 100-year history.

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Lucky for us, our realtor wanted to see the house too. So we booked a showing and tentatively made our way up the steep, curving driveway dusted with snow, the property ringed with oaks.  We walked in. We were just going to look, we said. We’ve just always wondered about That House.

But I should say: I had no intention that we would BUY this house. We were just curious.

William and I both work professionally in style fields: me as a one-time magazine editor and now freelance writer, and William is an architect. So when we see a little mess, or bad paint, or old finishes, we can imagine the potential.

This place had a lot of potential. Like, a lot. Like, good heavens there is….everything to do here.

But we could see past the Shining-esque red carpet, the peeling wallpaper. William whispered to me “We could have our kids’ weddings in that backyard.”

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The mess was phenomenal, but our imaginations were cinematic. The movie of our lives played out as we explored this mysterious house and all its quirks. (A door handle fell off in my hand, wallpaper went to dust under my fingers.) Yet, it was so clear that this house was built with such love, and maintained to the finest standards for most of its life.

But the windows! And the grand staircase! And the mostly untouched woodwork! It was our This Old House Fairy Tale Moon Shot.

Someone had painted “Ruby” on the wall in one of the bedrooms. That’s our daughter’s name. We put in an offer.

Crushing news: There was already an offer. There ended up being about six months of storm und drang, but one Friday night, when we had given up all hope, that the house was gone forever and we were eating our feelings in Thai food:  

 

The deal fell through. Are you still interested?

 

I nearly dropped my egg roll.

Were we? We had just suffered the heartbreak of thinking we lost the house we didn’t even know we wanted.

But we’re fools for love and for good design, so we said yes. And two short months later, we had moved out of our midcentury forever house, relocating our three kids, two dogs, one cat, and 6,000 boxes to our new place, just about a mile down the road.

 

Since then, every day has been a project. When we moved in, we knew we had knob and tube wiring and not all the connections were great. We also had the luxury of long daylight hours, so we used the lights conservatively. When I did finally flip a switch, my 6-year-old exclaimed, “You mean there’s LIGHTS in this house?”

(Yeah, so we’re raising three kids under six and living IN a renovation. More about that later.)

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I love coming home to this glorious mess. To imagine the Great Gatsby – Paris Apartment – Wes Anderson movie setting it will become.

Red squirrels may try to call it home, the deer who peer in our windows certainly do.  While we’ve already moved three dumpsters of broken history out, we working to preserve its history—with that Snapchat glitter filter on it.

 

She is in there somewhere. We are wiping off the dust and shining her up, back to her glory.

 

Come with us. Let’s just take a peek inside. It’ll be fun, we said.

Barbara Schmidt