Homeowners share what makes their homes unique

Homeowners share what makes their homes unique

Back in August, we shared the colorful history of the Angie's List campus with you and at the same time launched a Homestead History Contest, asking what makes your home unique. We received nearly 100 fascinating entries, making it tough to pick the outstanding winners you see featured here.

Home has psychedelic appeal

Ruth and David Housman of Newton Center, Mass., are "Leary" of a ghost.

"Our house, an 1894 Georgian revival, was one of the first on Homer Street.

"We discovered that Timothy Leary, the Harvard psychologist who experimented extensively with LSD, rented the house in 1962 from a professor on sabbatical.

"This house has a history of wild parties, and people like Dr. Richard Alpert - who later became author Ram Dass - were here, no doubt enjoying psychedelic cocktails. Who knows what acid is still leaking through the walls?

"When the professor returned, he was very unhappy and sold the house. It went through a number of iterations and was at one time a boarding house. We kept a list for a while of all the people getting mail at this address. A woman dropped by and said she had given birth to her daughter here!

"One day I heard a piano playing downstairs. A friend who was with me also heard it, but when we tiptoed downstairs, nobody was there. But I doubt I can lay this 'ghost' on Leary except to say there might be some mystical vibes we are heir to."

Historic home still standing after more than three centuries

Larry Schneider of East Greenwich, R.I., has earned bragging rights to the 328-year-old house he shares with his wife, Deborah Colasanti.

"For his service during King Phillip's War of 1675 to 1677, King Charles II of England gave Clement Weaver a parcel of land in East Greenwich, R.I. The home he built there in 1679 is likely the oldest private home in Rhode Island. In the past 10 years, we have painstakingly restored it.

"I can tell you from first-hand experience that living in a home like this takes some getting use to. Between the crooked little doors and the crooked little floors, nothing fits, nothing stays straight and almost all the furniture needs to be shimmed. I like to think of it as 'charm.' My wife has other thoughts.

"The visitors start coming in the summer. Some actually come from overseas. They're looking for evidence their forefathers have been here. They show up in our driveway, walking around and taking pictures of loved ones standing in front of our home.

"About nine years ago, an elderly gentleman from Newport dropped in one Saturday. He introduced himself as Clement Weaver Brown, eight generations removed from the original builder. He became quite emotional looking at the house and telling me stories of what he had learned about it over the years.

"Although no Weaver has owned it since the mid-18th century, he knew more about the house than I did. About three months later, I read Mr. Weaver's obituary. I was happy I brought him some joy."

Abandoned house transformed into recycled loft

Seth Dewey of Philadelphia put $50,000 and a whole lot of creativity into his recycled loft.

"I found a small house in a dilapidated section of Philadelphia that had been abandoned for years. It had been inhabited by crack addicts that couldn't take the deplorable conditions anymore.

"I couldn't even go into the house when I purchased it, but I envisioned a tall, two-story kitchen and open loft.

"It took months to stabilize the structure and clean it. I did all the work myself and refused help on my '3-D art project.' I began making a place that I envisioned living in, using recycled materials and a lot of stone and tile.

"I've traveled around the world, and parts of the house have Latin influences and there's a Japanese garden in the back. Some of the house's unique features include a concrete sofa, a mosaic bathroom, hidden bits of pillars and decorative brick.

"Now that it's finished, I feel like I'm on vacation each day."

Lava rock fireplace prompts home purchase

Turns out there was a whole lot of partying going on in the home of Eileen Gill and Kevin Pruitt of Austin, Texas.

"A co-worker had been to an estate sale at an amazing 1960s house and had pictures on his mobile phone. When I saw the huge lava rock fireplace, my first reaction was, 'Where is this and how can we get in to see it?'

"My boyfriend, Kevin, and I drove over the next morning and without even going inside we knew we had to have it! We had just purchased a new home 15 months prior, but we were convinced this was meant to be. We sold that house in a day and netted close to $100,000.

"We closed on Dec. 29, 2006, while the first of three dumpsters was delivered. We had 30 days to get the house habitable. The list of projects was very extensive.

"Things moved along quite nicely, then came five days of ice - in Austin. Our whole 30-day timeline went out the window. Our house is shaped like an airplane and our new goal was to get the wing with the secondary bedrooms finished so we could move all of our belongings into it.

"Jan. 30 came, and during all of this craziness, we had to move from our new, clean little house into this big, messy 3,500-square-foot construction zone.

"Neighbors stopped by and told us stories from long ago. We found the house was built by a man named O.T. Sims Jr. for himself and his family back in 1967. He liked a house filled with guests and was the life of the party.

"When we asked one neighbor about a particularly puzzling area off the kitchen, he said, 'That was the dance floor!'

"By the end of March, we were living in the entire house. Next spring, we will start working on the landscaping, pool and outdoor living areas."

Making a house a home

Thomas MacEntee grew up in Liberty, N.Y., where his mother added flair to the mundane.

"A home can be two types: a place to be with family in good times and bad; or a house where a family lives.

"Growing up in New York, I knew my mom would succeed in building the first type of home, even though times were tough in the early 1970s for a newly-divorced mother with two young boys.

"After many years of apartment living, Jacqueline MacEntee decided it was time to buy a house. In early 1976, we got word that someone was selling a house on the outskirts of the village for $18,000.

"On our first visit it became clear why the price was so low: it was a Lustron Home.

"Lustron Homes were manufactured between 1948 and 1950 to help solve the housing crisis as GIs returned from World War II. They were made of porcelain-enameled steel and the concept was a house that took 350 man hours to install and had no maintenance or decorating issues.

"One could simply wipe down the panels with soap and water. There were built-ins such as radiant panel ceiling heat and a Thor washing machine that converted into a dishwasher.

"We soon found out upstate New York is no place for a Lustron Home. The houses were intended for sun belt states with mild climates. Our home was on the side of a mountain where 50 mph winter winds made sure the pipes would freeze and hot steamy summers began to corrode the steel.

"Mom was resourceful, though. Before I left for college, she had insulated the entire house, paneled the outside with wood, replaced the roof, exchanged rusty metal doors for bifolds and made many other improvements.

"She took a house that didn't fit into its surroundings and converted it into a home where relatives gathered for holidays, crazy graduation parties and summer cookouts and two boys grew into men."

Our homestead

Scott Miller of Kent, Wash., wrote this ditty, entitled "Our Homestead," when he and wife Wanda downsized to a mobile home.

INTRO

Every home has a story
And someone spins the tale.
So sit back in your rocker
And I'll tell you without fail:

VERSE 1

Like me this home looks older
From the outside as you look.
But the cover's not the order
To see what's in this book.
No dark wood panel, popcorn ceiling
Will you find in our home.
But tape and textured walls and ceilings
Await you in our home.

CHORUS

Our homestead ain't a house
But it's home to both of us;
It's a '63 mobile
That sits on cement blocks.
Our homestead ain't a house
But it's a home to both of us.
As far as we're concerned,
Our homestead really rocks!

VERSE 2

We've got Swedish oak cabinets
With pull-out turn-arounds
And laminate flooring
That MLC put down.
Lifetime vinyl windows
With Levolor custom blinds,
And you should see our garden,
It would really blow your minds!

REPEAT CHORUS

BRIDGE

Lest you think our life is perfect,
I better set you straight.
There's a few things about our homestead
That we have learned to hate:
The front door's made for people
Built closer to the ground,
And the small and narrow hallway
Makes it hard to get around.
But besides the knots upon my head
And the bruises on my side,
We love our little homestead,
It's home to my wife and I!

VERSE 3

We've got a corner toilet
And a corner shower too,
New plumbing and new lighting
And a steel bathtub, brand new.
We've got a 20-year roof
That's never leaked a drop.
And we live near Seattle
Where the rain don't seem to stop!

REPEAT CHORUS

Husband's presence felt in dream home

Shortly after building their dream home in Collinsville, Ill., Angie Weir's husband, Brenden, died in a tragic accident.

"We bought two acres of land in 1997 and decided to build a home. We drew the plans ourselves, hired a company to do the framing and Brenden finished the house along with his family's help in June 2000.

"We ended up with 3,000 square feet and a 27-foot ceiling in the great room. Brenden was determined to build my dream home and that he did.

"He found the fireplace mantle in an abandoned house and paid $20 for it. The front doors are from a church in St. Louis, complete with stained glass windows. The wood flooring came from a church being torn down in Highland, Ill.

"When Brenden, a man of tremendous faith, heard of the church's demise, he wanted to include portions of it in our house. The rails leading upstairs and to the basement came from the church, too.

"Brenden, an electrician, died May 5, 2006, when he fell from scaffolding at a friend's home. He was 43.

"We have two sons: Ben, 19, graduated high school three weeks after Brenden died; Jake is 13. We have quite a big house for just us, but I'm determined to stay here as long as I am able to. Brenden's presence is felt in everything."

Conserving water with alternative front yard

Martin and Cynthia Offenhauer of San Diego added a touch of color and subtracted from their water bill.

"Three years ago, we were talking with friends about the growth of San Diego County and the demands on our natural resources. We talked about possibilities that would save us money and make a significant change in our water use.

"The answer was right in front of us: our lawn. We began planning an alternative front yard, studying books on California native plants. We decided on plants that change with the seasons, extensive use of San Diego River Rock, large boulders and driftwood.

"We also realized the exterior had not been painted in 10 years. When we told the man behind the paint counter our home was built in 1915, he had an idea. He had stacks of albums with retired paint colors, and we found shades befitting the era of our home that would also compliment our new garden.

"The landscaper and painters began to work on the front of our home. During the six-month transformation, a lot of people stopped by to give us both advice and encouragement.

"One such visitor told us he grew up in our home from 1933 to 1961. He shared an old, black and white photo of our home and told us it had been built as a model for the 1915 Pan American Exhibition in Balboa Park. It was moved to Kensington [its present location] not long after the exhibition closed.

"We recently won honorable mention in the San Diego County Water District contest for low water usage."

Cary Grant lived here

The home of Dennis and Diane* of Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., has movie star appeal.

"In May of this year, my husband and I bought the home I grew up in.

"Built in the 1920s, it's one of the first homes built on the Palos Verdes peninsula in southern California and one of the few English Tudor style homes. Since then, all the homes and streets were built in the Spanish Mediterranean style.

"Palos Verdes Estates is known for being cool, quiet and a bit isolated. The nearest highway ramp is 20 minutes away. This area quickly became a mecca for Hollywood stars who wanted a summer home, and ours was lived in for several summers by Cary Grant.

"The original 'Ghost and Mrs. Muir' movie was filmed here in the 1940s, and a street around the corner was built and lined with beautiful palm trees for a movie before the rest of the area was developed. It was known as 'lovers' lane.'"

* Last names withheld at members' request.

Storybook house

Angela Dallo stepped out of New York and into an Indianapolis fairy tale.

"While preparing to relocate from the New York metropolitan area, I researched different neighborhoods in Indianapolis. I was struck by the historical ambience of Irvington, its entrepreneurial spirit and strong sense of community.

"What piqued my interest even further was discovering Johnny Gruelle, creator of Raggedy Ann and Andy, made his home here in the early 1900s, along with many other artists, writers and scholars.

"When I first saw my home, I felt as if I'd walked into a storybook. With its pitched roof, center gable stained-glass window and charming full-panel front door, it appears as a life-sized doll house. It's a combination of a cozy cottage and a Tudor.

"I checked with the Irvington Historical Society, which revealed the first owner arrived in 1931. Many features from this era remain, such as single panel mahogany doors with glass doorknobs and brass hinges.

"Stucco walls and arches in the kitchen make me think of the Tuscan countryside. As an Italian-American, my world revolves around my kitchen. My vision as the new owner is to blend a pinch of childhood innocence with comforting Old World European charm."

Affordable home by design

Julie Lopez of Sunnyvale, Calif., has the architecturally-inspired home of her dreams.

"I have lived for the past 45 years in my beautiful Eichler home.

"Real estate developer Joseph Eichler had lived in a Frank Lloyd Wright home and decided to bring a reasonably priced, modern home to buyers who envied the wealthy and their light-filled, architecturally state-of-the-art houses. The first time I saw an Eichler home, I knew I wanted one.

"Built in 1961, my house has walls of glass that enclose the living area and make the transition from indoors to outdoors seamless. The house surrounds an atrium where plants grow and my family gathers.

"The rooms flow effortlessly from one to the other. I have installed Italian ceramic tile floors throughout the house with the original radiant heat system underneath.

"There are eight outside doors: the front door, six sliding glass doors and a wooden door that goes to a side yard from the family bathroom. That door was a blessing when my four children got dirty playing outside!

"My late husband, Jack, and I raised our family here. I'm thankful for enjoying many adult years in the house of my dreams."

Blazing a Western trail

The cream-colored clapboard house of Wendy and Steve Hodgden of Kansas City, Mo., has a place in history.

"Our house is the 4 O'Clock Hill Farmhouse. Wagon trains on the Santa Fe Trail would reach this hill from Independence, Mo., by 4 p.m. and stop to water oxen and horses from the large cistern and 50-foot well. The well still stands, but we had to fill the cistern with dirt.

"My husband and I own the original abstract signed by President James Polk in 1844, which is when William and Elizabeth Grey purchased 160 acres from the government. It's believed the house was built around 1860.

"Over the years, we've unearthed old pottery, tools and animal bones. The root cellar is still here with iron meat hooks hanging from the cement ceiling. Recently we discovered steps under the coal room; leading to what, I don't know.

"We've had several members of the Santa Fe Trail Society visit. A few years ago, I awoke to hear horses and wagons traveling up the street in a re-enactment. I felt goose bumps as I sat and watched, feeling like a part of history."


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