This Old Open House

Rebuild it and they will come

By Cynthia Adams

Coy at the start, the house played us. We were young, inexperienced. It said it needed us. Dazzled us with its charms:  picture molding, butler’s pantry, a fantastical staircase, coal burning fireplace, impossibly high ceilings and a certain, elemental je ne sais quoi.

The 1911 house in Greensboro’s leafy Westerwood neighborhood directly north of UNCG had champagne tastes and thumbed its nose at our beer-budget offerings. 

How it crooned to us, drawing us ever closer to the shore of financial ruin like a beguiling siren. 

When its original wooden siding was discovered rotting during an expensive scrape-and-paint job, we had German siding milled.

When the wide front porch opened its maw beneath our feet about to swallow me whole, we hired a handyman to redo it. In a moment of financial recklessness, I restored the Chinese Chippendale railing. 

Then we just had to have a swing. 

When the dining floor tilted dangerously, I called my clever brother, whined, and he arrived one weekend to shore it up, reworking the pilings. Where the plaster cracked in spider web designs, each crack spawning cracks of its own, we built our own scaffolding and learned to plaster. We painted the walls a perfect shell pink and the moldings creamy white; the house blushed like a bride in evening light.

Yet the old heater grumbled, sounding very like a ghost. The roof was iffy.

The redos kept piling up: a new powder room. New tile work and an elaborate bathroom reno. Floors. New A/C, appliances, kitchen cabinet fronts, countertop. New patio, terracing and new parking area. Overgrown shrubs and trees went out. Plantings, bulbs, an arbor, picket fence and brick sidewalk went in. 

Every night we labored, subsisting on pizza and Snickers bars, and outsized dreams of the finish line.

The powder room was so charming that my sister said she just wanted to stay there, savoring it. We replaced the original drop-down ironing board in the kitchen, which was impractical because there was little room for it, but it just seemed the right decision. The house grew ever more radiant.

There were things we didn’t and couldn’t fix. The sagging garage. A shared drive.

When we knew we had to cut bait, we held open houses. The house was a blushing beauty; we knew others would see that and ignore the negatives.

During the first open house, people trooped through; we watched in disbelief at their numbers. My husband high-fived me from behind a corner, grinning. “Told you they would come!”

But no offers.

After another open house, we watched the curious leave. We plopped down in the kitchen to open a bottle and take stock. Why no offers?

My hubby cocked an ear.  “Hear that?”


Our ghost?

He raced upstairs, finding two women banging on an upstairs door.  From inside.

Sheepishly, they hurried out. 

“They said they wanted to experience the quiet of the room,” hubby said, his eyebrows high.

The house took them captive, we joked.  Choosing its next victims?

At a recent gathering, we ran into an old friend. He reminisced about the women. We gabbed about the open houses.  And happily, about the young newlywed who simply had to have that house: She saw what we had seen and loved it.

Our friend grinned knowingly. We grinned back. 

Somehow, house people just get it

And the house always wins. 

Cynthia Adams resides in a 93-year-old house whose slate roof just had to be replaced; she is holding the rest of her retirement funds ransom until it gets new shutters. 

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