The House I’ll Never Own

{Originally published 6/28/11}

There is a beautiful, huge Victorian on Old Mill Road in my hometown, just past the Methodist cemetery, right before the sharp turn in the road that my dad used to accelerate through making us fly out of our seats, giggling as butterflies fluttered in our stomachs.  One day while driving home from my grandparents’ farm, my dad told me that my mom wanted to buy that house when they moved back there after her residency, but it never happened.  I thought about that every time I saw that house, walking past it the day of my aunt’s funeral, driving past it when I wanted to see if the boy that lived down the street was home, his VW in the driveway. It broke my heart that there was something in the world that my mother wanted, but could not have.

The home I grew up in is a hundred years old, a deep wooden porch wrapping from the front around to the side where concrete steps lie hidden in the flower bed.  The doors are dark, wooden paneled behemoths filling the house with warmth and creaks.  A key hangs behind the upstairs bathroom door, able to lock and unlock every blackened brass knob in the house, but never used.  The front rooms remain separated by heavy pocket doors that open only if you lean into them, their musty antique smell next to your face.

I assumed that one day I would own the house of my dreams, the one my mother never got, a house with the same mahogany trim running along every floor, antique brass fixtures gritty in the palm of my hand.  I would have a skeleton key of my own and my children would wonder what stories that key could tell…

But I will never own that house.

I found it about two years ago, flickering through the trees behind million dollar mansions, lost, abandoned in the wake of progress and development.  I nearly drove off the road when I saw the For Sale sign, my van tires skidding into the gravel along the side of the road.  How had I not seen it before?  Only five minutes from my own home, it had been there all along.

Eventually curiosity got the best of me and I emailed the realtor who had first sold us our townhouse months after our wedding and then two years later, our single family home where we were raising our two small children.  She was curious as well, so we went to see the house knowing from the start that I could never afford to own and restore it to its former beauty.  I immediately recognized the musty smell of the old wood.  The red tin porch roof was one coat of paint away from shining in the sun, rows of white rocking chairs stretched out along the wrap around porch, complete with a portico.  The glass in the solarium waved, thin as paper.  The pocket doors towering above me, nearly touching the twelve foot tall ceilings.  Built-in bookcases. A fireplace in every room.  A hidden staircase for the servants running from the third floor rooms down to the kitchen.  As I stood in the servants’ rooms and looked down on the front porch, I saw a faint circle in the grass, the remnants of a fountain.  My heart broke.

About a year later we bought the house we now live in.  It’s eleven years old and absolutely beautiful with its Trex deck and neatly manicured lawn looking out onto the regional park that borders our lot.  Two white rocking chairs sit on our flagstone porch, one on each side of the front door.  This house will never trick me into falling too deeply in love.  I can see its flaws – eleven year old HVAC can be problematic – but know that it is the best investment, the most sensible place to live.  This house and I will grow old together, creating memories, filling the expansive 4,000 square feet with the laughter of children, their friends, their spouses, their children.  The other house hid a lifetime of problems, despite the way it called to me up there on that hill behind the mature trees at the end of the long drive.

It will always be the house I will never own, no matter how I’m drawn to it.

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  • I know this feeling! We did buy an old house that had fortunately been well cared-for and hasn’t presented us too many problems. But the one I made every excuse to drive past for years is right down the street, and I still lie in bed and imagine what it must be like inside. Thanks for sharing such a thoughtful, sentimental piece!

    • Amy

      Thank you for understanding! Sometimes I put these things out there and am not sure what’s going to come back to me.

  • I love houses like that Amy. You are not alone. I think we all have that house we will never own! xoxo

    • Amy

      And the car we’ll never drive and the job we’ll never work and the man we’ll never marry and the country we’ll never visit…

  • I have a house like that too. I am inexplicably drawn to it. It wouldn’t even fit my family, it is not my style yet I still love it and drive by it at least once a month.

    • Amy

      Do you also watch HGTV? I’ve decided the two problems go hand in hand 🙂

  • I love old houses like that. There is a revival downtown in my City where these houses are being restored and families are moving in. I so long to be one of them but the prices are just completely unreasonable nearly 4 or 5 times the cost of our 1960s split level. Just hold onto the dream and the memories. Likely, living there would take some of that magic away.

    • Amy

      Andrea, exactly. Sometimes just thinking about having we want is better than how it would feel to actually have it.

  • There is a house around the corner from us, only 2 years old that I covet every day. It’s been for sale and once I even convinced my husband we should look at it seriously, even though we had only been in our house less than 2 years. I came to the realization we will never own that house either. I have to let it go.

    • Amy

      Emily, what is it about it that you loved?

  • We put the offer in on the house we’ll never own. It got rejected. I was heartbroken. A victorian overlooking a valley with a turret and all the charm in the world.

    It’s now a B&B so I’m glad someone poured there love into it.

    Maybe someday you can quit social media and do the same. I can see it now-a Social Media retirees B&B with awesome wifi.

    • Amy

      Kelly, I drove past the house today, saw it was being restored, and my first thought was: when the kids move out I’m going to buy it and start a B&B 🙂

  • Misty VanEpps

    wow. such a beautiful story.
    I have a house just the same 🙂
    Im in love with it and will probably never have it.

  • The patina on that doorknob breaks my heart. In a good way. We live in a house built in 1989. Not a super year for construction quality. I will spend the next 15 years improving it and adding value. The sunlit lot and lake shore almost make up for the faux gold faucets and skimpy doors. Almost. I grew up in a victorian and the stair creaks and slamming screen door will always be home to me.

    • Amy

      You’ve just described my bathroom. My goal is to have it gutted this winter and recreated to look like a bathroom in an old farmhouse.

  • Kelly – that’s exactly what I want to do one day 🙂 The social media retirement B&B in an old Victorian! I love this post, and how we all have those houses in our lives. The houses we haven’t lived don’t haunt me, it’s the beautiful homes we have. We had our dream house, 100-year old Victorian in upstate New York, but we moved away and sold it. We built a 4000-sq dream house in Nashville.. oh, and the one in Ohio.. The houses I loved all for different reasons haunt me, how would I life be if we were still there..? At the same time – now we live in an apartment, because sometimes it’s more difficult to leave the houses of our life behind, than never have them at all.

    • Amy

      I love how your comment is about so much more than houses…

  • I look longingly at any house that is bigger than my little 3 bedroom townhome, full to the brim with children and STUFF. Someday I will have a house I love, but so far, I’m settling with loving the house that holds my family. It’s the best I can do.

  • I just found that house… my house I can’t own… and it’s making me so sad.
    I instantly saw myself living in it, happy in every way. Sigh.

    Lovely post. Thank you for sharing!

  • Amy, I love your taste in homes. It’s what I sometimes miss about the south & midwest. So many homes of my dreams look like the one you describe, but you’re right, they are money & sweat equity pits. I’ve often said I want to build a brand new home with all the same charm & qualities of homes gone by. Maybe we could be neighbors! Imagine the front porch chats we’d have 🙂 But your slate porch with two white rockers looks quite inviting.

    • Amy

      Rajean, I would love to be big porch neighbors with you!

      I grew up in rural Pennsylvania where beautiful old farmhouses are simply abandoned, the farmland much more valuable and worth saving. They line the landscape like skeletons standing in fields. It has always made my heart ache to see them, ghosts of what they once were, no longer homes at all.

  • What a beautiful post Amy.

    There was a house in Australia that I desperately wanted for years and years. It just needed a whole lot of TLC but I could see myself growing old there.

    • Amy

      Would you ever go back?

      • It’s always a possibility. My husband has 4 years until he retires from the military. We are going to make the decision then. Our oldest also starts college then, so it depends on where he wants to go.

  • Rachel Benson

    Im drawn to old Victorian’s, they’re so beautiful. They just dont make houses like them anymore. There’s a 1930’s Victorian in a small town that we’re going to look at next month once our loan gets approved. Its obviously a fixer upper as its priced as such. As long as it has no major structural damage, I might get to own my dream home. 🙂 Life is too short for me to miss an opportunity like this.

  • I have one of those too. We lost a bid on it and bought a house down the street. And as much as I love our house, I always wonder what could have happened if we got that house.

    • Amy

      Jodi, I had no idea! Is it weird to live down the street from something you wanted so badly?

  • Loved reading this, and the story behind it. Old houses are beautiful and romantic and have such great stories — but, yeah, expensive to whip back into shape.

    • Amy

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees the romance behind beautiful old homes. Thank you for commenting!

  • We bought that house. Not THAT house, but the romantic 200 year old old stone farmhouse. Which some days, when a plaster ceiling gives; or when something needs to be rewired, requiring drilling through stone; or when I have to pay someone to seal peeling pain because it most certainly contains lead, I wish I’d chosen the most sensible place to live.

    • Amy

      But the rest of the time is absolute heaven, isn’t it? You can tell me. I can take it.

  • Matthew and I have dreams of restoring this gorgeous mansion on our favorite vacation island. We just got word that they are planning on demolishing it 🙁

  • I drive past the same vacant plot of land almost every day. It’s been for sale for years. I know how much they want for it, and I can’t afford it. I’d still have to build a house on it! But I dream about it whenever I pass the For Sale sign. I want to build there. It would be perfect – TJ would still go to the same elementary school, too!

    I’m not giving up hope, but I don’t know what I’ll do if I ever see “sale pending” on the sign.

    • Amy

      Call. Call and find out how low they’d go. Do it now.

  • Beautiful post. I love the IDEA of an old house but I think living in one would drive me a bit crazy. Old houses definitely have a charm that the newer ones don’t have. So much history . . . .

    • Amy

      I think that a lot of things in life are like that. They seem like they would be worth having, but in the end they’re not worth the trouble.

  • Lovely. You really show the tug of war between dreams and practicality.

    • Amy

      It is a life long struggle for me and likely always will be. Thank you for reading!

  • Oh this post has just caught my eye from your side bar– I’m glad I’m NOT the only one who has a DREAM home they’ll never own!

    • I sing in a worship band with a realtor and she said there are many of us – the stalkers of perfect house listings 🙂

  • Beautiful post! The title caught my attention because I will never ever own my dream home. In CA they are completely unattainable. It’s funny to me because the home we live in would have been unacceptable back where I grew up, but here it’s normal.