The stories houses tell

Every house tells a story.  Who lived here before you?  What did they do?  How did they live?  Was there more happiness and laughter than sorrow and pain?  Were children born here?  Did anyone die here?  Why did they leave?  Where did they go?  These are just some of the questions that fill my mind when I look at a house, especially an old house.

I love history. That, combined with a natural (almost feline-like) curiosity, is what motivates me to research everything that catches my fancy — family origins, different countries, cultures, religions and, yes,  houses.

So, when we bought our historic home in the bohemian  (as in “free spirit, eclectic, artistic”) village of Coconut Grove (in South Florida), I was thrilled.  What struck me was that the house had really, really good energy.  Now, this is not my imagination.  Every friend or family member who has either visited or stayed overnight in this home has said exactly the same thing:  It’s got good vibes.  And, I’m happy to say, it’s also got good bones.

But,  like most  old houses,  it is not without some “challenges.” Built in 1928,  this small house – with loads of windows and creaky floors – has been a haven for many families. Laughter and tears, births and deaths, triumph and defeat – it’s seen it all. Now it’s our turn to play a role in its long history.

Coconut Grove was first inhabited in 1825 by an influx of Americans from the Northeastern United States, as well as British and Bahamian immigrants. Formerly an independent city, Coconut Grove became annexed to the city of Miami in 1925.  It is Miami’s oldest village and the beautiful architecture, rich tropical flora, artistic community, delightful restaurants, cafés and shops make it a highly desirable place to live … or, at the very least, visit.

Native flora in Coconut Grove

Our cottage-like house was built by the Bahamians (as in “from the Bahamas”) who first lived in it.  As was customary at the time, builders made use of all the available natural materials indigenous to the area, such as coral and Miami-Dade pine.  Homes were simple, yet full of character.  Back in the day, there was no air conditioning and, as such, air flow via windows (windows, windows, everywhere!) was  how the steamy South Florida weather was made bearable.

Thankfully, the previous homeowners have managed to preserve much of the original character of our home.  We have thick Miami-Dade pine frames around all doorways and windows. We have a beautiful coral fireplace.  And, we even have a barn — complete with the original doors!  Of course, we currently use it as a garage but we intend to convert it into a two-story architect’s studio with a roof-top deck. However, we will keep the first floor (with original doors) completely intact.

Our “barn” (with Bacchus standing guard!)

We’ve had to streamline our life. Over three decades, we’ve collected so much “stuff.”  Too much stuff.  At some point, it becomes almost obscene, this collection of material things. When this house beckoned to us (it really did!), we knew that it was time to downsize and simplify. So, we’ve been taking stalk of what is really important to us and, amazingly, the downsizing process has become quite simple.  There are many others who need these things far more than us. And it’s to these families that we will pass them on.

And, so, the house is a work in progress and its story continues to the next chapter…

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