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When Kate Whouley saw the classified ad for an abandoned vacation cottage, she began to dream. Transport the cottage through four Cape Cod towns. Attach it to my three-room house. Create more space for my work and life. Smart, single, and self-employed, Kate was used to fending for herself. But she wasn’t prepared for half the surprises, complications, and self-discoveries of her house-moving adventure.
Supported by friends and family, and egged on by Egypt, her bossy gray cat, Kate encountered a parade of town officials, a small convoy of State Police, and an eccentric band of house-movers, carpenters, and tradesmen. She found herself dancing on the edge of the gender divide–infatuated with trucks, cranes, tools, construction terms, and a dreamy mason who teaches her the history of concrete.
Sketched with a deft hand and told with an open heart, Cottage for Sale is a deeply personal story that captivates, inspires, and delights. In one remarkable year, Kate moved a cottage and created a home. Once you cross the threshold, you’ll never want to leave.
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Kate Whouley is a writer and bookstore consultant. She is the author of two books: Cottage for Sale, Must Be Moved and Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words. Whouley lives in a house-and-cottage on Cape Cod.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I am a compulsive reader of the classifieds. For this reason, I do not get the daily paper. But each week, the Pennysaver arrives in my mailbox, and I cannot resist the urge to read: Wedding Gown: Priscilla of Boston, Ivory Lace. Size 8, Never Worn; Paid $2,500. Sacrifice $1,200.
Imagine selling your unused wedding gown. Soon-to-be-wed women calling you, the disappointed bride-not-to-be. Worse, they come to your house, full of undimmed hope and in search of a bargain; they look critically at the gown of your dreams, decide not to buy.
The classified ads, for me, are like reading stories, or maybe like reading the skeletons of stories, waiting for me to invent their skin. But my compulsion is not merely recreational. I am a dedicated finder of desired objects. Seven years ago, I bought an all-in-one washer-dryer from a woman who told me she needed a large-capacity machine to handle her husband’s heavy work clothes. My stackable is still running, and I bought it for a quarter of the price I’d have paid had it been new, pristine—and without a story. Through the classifieds, I found the slate to build my patio and a full-size gas stove to replace the two-burner model with the oven door that had to be tied shut. I’ve located daylilies to plant on my hillside, an Adirondack-style love seat, handmade. But I don’t shop only for myself. I take assignments. My mother’s first computer came from the classifieds, as did her most recent fridge. Not to mention the deep blue canoe I once found for an important man in my life. A beautiful canoe, with a maple leaf embossed on the side, and shiny padded seats. Orange life vests came with it, along with varnished hardwood oars.
I mention all this by way of explaining why I am reading the Pennysaver on my lunch break today, a Wednesday in early December 1999. As I scan the aptly named “Things and Stuff” listings, I am looking for nothing in particular. At least nothing to purchase. The stories today suggest simple lifestyle upgrades: a few pieces of living room furniture, a couple of TVs, a computer and a printer. “Wanted to Buy” is just as mundane. Deal-ers of antiques wondering if I have any to sell; a man willing to come to my home to buy my books. He’s always in there.
I move on to a new heading, “Buildings,” with a single listing:
Cottages for Sale. $3,000 each. Must be moved.
I imagine these cottages, all in a row. Waiting to be adopted. I wonder where they are. I don’t recognize the exchange.
$3,000 each. That doesn’t seem like very much money for a completely assembled cottage, even a very small, completely assembled cottage. Even a very small, completely assembled summer cottage with no insulation.
Must be moved. I wonder how much it costs to move a building. *
*I live on cape cod in a three-room house that was built in 1950. It is a quintessential seacoast home: weathering cedar shakes, yellow shutters, summertime window boxes filled with lavender impatiens, a white picket fence out front. To reach the house, you travel a long dirt driveway and climb six brick steps, walk through the arbor and along the slate path that separates the shade and sun section of my perennial garden. Knock on the front door—there is no doorbell—or come around and rap on the glass panes of the kitchen door. I am more likely to hear you there.
The house sits on a flat bit of land in a hilly landscape; the downslope from the south-facing patio leads to an ancient way, now a gravel drive for my neighbors to the rear. From the kitchen you can see past the drive to the overgrown cranberry bog, home to cardinals and catbirds, doves and quail, robins, purple finches, crows, jays, red-winged blackbirds, the itinerant warbler. Turtles occasionally climb up the hill from the wetland; I find them nosing around in the myrtle or behind the house under the holly tree. A woodchuck makes his way, regularly, slowly, low to the ground, in the opposite direction. I know where his hole is: just outside my bedroom window, on a rising hillside, overgrown with white pines, chokecherries, and wild raspberry vines.
Though people are not far away, I am shielded by hills and trees from all my human neighbors. It is the birds and animals I see and hear more often. Raccoons arguing late at night; skunks small and beautiful, more white than black, moving silently on their nocturnal errands; a red fox that circles the house just before dawn. At the feeders, I host chickadees and goldfinches, titmice and nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, white-throated sparrows, pine siskins, and winter juncos. Gray squirrels make acrobatic attempts to rob the birds, but the fortress-like feeder forces them to the base for scraps, which they share with their furtive red-squirrel cousins and small striped chipmunks. The bunnies live closer to the road, preferring grasses and the apples that fall from the ancient tree. Egypt, my large gray cat, is sometimes less than hospitable to the smaller ground-dwelling animals, but all in all we live peaceably on this tiny patch of Cape Cod.
As long as I have lived in my small home, I have contemplated enlarging my space. I work from home, too. File cabinets and clothing fight for space in my bedroom closet; my printer sits atop my dresser and my fax machine is on the kitchen counter. The space—any space—would be welcome. Yet when I think of adding on, I think of the disruption it would cause us all: Kate, cat, home, business, and animal bystanders. Because my house is built on a four-foot concrete block foundation, adding a second story would mean first lifting up the house to make new foundation walls. I imagine disconnected plumbing, a house on stilts, and the rumble of bulldozers terrorizing Egypt’s dreams. When I think of expanding into the hillside instead, I realize I cannot bear to displace the ruddy old groundhog, who sometimes suns himself in early spring at exactly eye level from my desk.
Rather than adding on, I have managed, these many years, to squeeze home and business into just three rooms, to limit my possessions (or to build more bookshelves), to create space in odd places, to blur the boundaries between home and office, to keep the kitchen counters clear—to be content, if slightly crowded, in my lovely little house. *
*There were shards of window glass in the backyard and spider castles in the living room when I first laid eyes on my little house, though it wasn’t advertised—or priced—as a fixer-upper.
Hollies abound on the wooded setting of this unique one-bedroom cottage.
After months of low-budget house hunting, all the houses I hunted were looking pretty much the same. They were little ranches, situated on postage-stamp lots, treeless, and much too close to my least-favorite road on Cape Cod: Route 28. An abundance of hollies was exactly what I wanted, even if the wooded setting was starting to claim the little cottage situated between the cedar trees, even if the kitchen was last painted in 1952, even if the old wooden gutters were probably last cleaned that same year. Much to the dismay of my realtor, I made a lowball offer. After an evening of phone calls, we settled on a price that I could afford and that the owners could accept.
We passed papers on a clear day in May in 1987. I spent a month of nights and weekends scrubbing walls and windows, waxing floors, and removing the cheap white paneling in the bedroom. It was slow going, and the bedroom wasn’t yet ready for occupancy when the lease on my apartment ran out. I piled all my possessions in the living room and slept in front of the fireplace, my mattress the only object in the room that was allowed to lie flat.
After the bedroom, I worked on the kitchen. Almost every surface—walls, cabinets, ceiling, even the refrigerator—had been painted a jaundiced beige. I began by stripping the two knotty pine walls. The unfortunate yellow was not easy to remove. On the advice of the True Value hardware man, I purchased a stripping tool, a heat gun with a blade, which came in handy when I moved on to the kitchen cabinets. The cabinets I stained cherry; the wood walls, when they were finally revealed, I left in their natural state. The rest of the kitchen I painted white, as white as possible; same in the bedroom, same on the ceilings. Nonyellowing white I bought, as white as white gets. The kitchen counter I replaced with a speckled blue laminate, saving a piece of the original: it resembled a composite of hazardous waste sealed in gleaming plastic. I replaced the peeling beige-pink linoleum with blue-gray and white vinyl after I had the fridge refinished into shiny white. Then I moved on to the sickly green bathroom. *
*Nowadays, the nonyellowing whiteness is gone, replaced with saturated colors, colors that take risks. The still-bare wood in the kitchen meets warm red walls, walls the color of mulled wine. My bedroom is deep peach. The bathroom is painted an unapologetic pink. The wood floors still need refinishing, but Indian Sand Treewax—another recommendation from the True Value man—does a great job covering up the scratches and imperfections.
I have lost the eagerness to do it myself, and I rely instead on Harry and Tony, two old friends who happen to be handy around the house. Our friendship predates my Cape Cod life. We met in Boston back in 1983, when we all worked at the Boston University Bookstore. Harry’s a musician and Tony is working on his doctorate now; both have the flexibility for and interest in the occasional odd job that entails a Cape escape, and I am happy to have them here. I’ve known these guys for seventeen years; they’ve known each other for seven years beyond that. As a result, the three of us spend a great deal of time debating the merits of any project before we actually begin, and we tend to take long lunch breaks to discuss the politics of the day. It’s close to impossible to win an argument with the well-informed and tenacious Tony, but Harry and I do our best to help him perfect his scholarly form. In the summertime, we often end the workday with a swim at Long Beach, followed by Indian food for supper.
One Saturday, a few years back, when Harry and Tony were making me bookshelves in the kitchen, we decided they needed a corporate umbrella, a name. In minutes, they became the Bog Boys, named of course for the bog at the bottom of the hill. Two superintelligent men who are wonderful to have around the house. Two middle-aged guys who like to eat donuts and read the Boston Globe before they begin their workday. The Bog Boys? Oddly, the name is a perfect fit.
It is the Bog Boys who created the bookshelf that encircles the living room just above doorway height, who made the doors that enclose that washer-dryer I found in the Pennysaver. The Bog Boys made me a spice rack that spans the refinished cabinets on either side of my kitchen sink, and it was the Bog Boys who made my kitchen red, my bedroom peach, my bathroom first blue then briefly red, blue again, and finally spunky pink. The Bog Boys built me a pine vanity for my bathroom sink, and many years ago now, they made a cat shelf, a place for Egypt to land when he jumps up to bang on the bedroom window, demanding to be let in. As the kitty has aged, his cat shelf has become two shelves, stairway-style, to make his leap a little easier, and for this comfort, he can thank—who else—the Bog Boys. *
*I met my closest neighbor about a year after I moved in. She knocked loudly and with the certainty of someone who had watched this house being built almost forty years earlier. I opened the door to find a white-haired woman standing on my step. “I don’t want to come in,” she said, her voice at least as loud as her knock, “I just want to say thank you for fixing this place up. It had gotten to be a terrible mess.”
Of course I invited her in, but she would have none of it. “I’m Barbara Dowe,” she said as I stepped outside to continue the conversation. “My father built this place, you know, and my mother designed it. I live up the hill.” She pointed at the white bungalow with the colonial blue shutters. “My father built that house, too,” she added. “We used to have a cranberry bog right down there.” She lifted her head in the opposite direction, as though she were pointing with her nose. “Now it’s all grown up. A shame. I have a picture around somewhere that shows this cottage when it was first built, you know. You can see down to the bog. You might be interested in it.”
“Oh yes, I’d love to see it.” I introduced myself.
She nodded, then looked down past her bright red coat to her shoes, old-lady shoes, tan-colored, a little scuffed, but proper enough. A beat and a half passed before she looked up at me again. “Well, I won’t take any more of your time. I know you’re busy. I just wanted to say that it does my heart good to see you fixing this place up. Those last people that lived here, they didn’t care about anything. There was trash in the yard, a real mess, and I hate to think how the inside must have looked.”
I invited her in again, to have a look, but again she refused. “No, no. I know you’re busy.”
“Some other time?” I offered, and she looked right at me. In that moment, she was almost scary looking: her eyes froglike behind thick glasses, her mouth open, revealing her teeth—large, perfect, and I am pretty sure, all her own.
“Very nice to meet you, Katie,” she said, immediately lengthening my name into its diminutive form. “I’ll bring down that picture some time.” The interview was over. She turned to walk up the overgrown path between the two houses. “Damn vines.” The thorns were catching on her dull beige stockings. “I just can’t keep up with them anymore.” *
*In the years since that first meeting, Barbara has become a friend and teacher. She gave me my first bird feeder, the first flowers for my garden, and a sense of my home’s history. Recently, she moved into a nursing home, and I have yet to grow used to the sight of her house, dark and empty on the hill. She is rarely lucid now, but she has left me with a deep appreciation of my hand-built home. It is a simple floor plan. You enter through the front door straight into the living room; to your left is a brick fireplace; to your right, a triple window takes up the entire wall. From the living room you move into the kitchen, with the bathroom tucked off to the side. The bedroom is behind the kitchen. It’s a pretty big room, with windows on the three exterior walls. If you move back into the kitchen, and take a left, you can step through an extra-wide door onto the slate patio. Tucked in against the house, the herb garden thrives in afternoon sun, and the beach roses planted on the hillside scent the air with the fragrance of vanilla and cloves.
What is wonderful about my house is the way the light moves through the many windows I imagine Barbara’s mother instructing her husband to install. In three rooms and a bathroom, she planned thirteen windows, and she planned them in just the right places. The sun rises in the eastern corner of the bedroom, and the light moves around the house as the day progresses. The long southern exposure means that there is daylight in all the rooms all afternoon, until the sun sets in the western corner of the living room. The moon, too, shines into the house. In the wintertime, when the trees are bare and the moon is full, I sometimes have to pull my bedroom blinds, blocking out the silvery light bright enough to make a shadow of the windowpanes on the floorboards. Or there will be no hope of sleep.
It is because the elder Mrs. Dowe lived next door that she could plan this perfect play of light and day and night. She and her builder-husband knew how to situate the cottage on the land because they knew the land. I never me...
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Book Description Condition: New. Seller Inventory # 9780345480187
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Book Description Ballantine Books, 2005. Paperback. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX034548018X
Book Description Ballantine Books, 2005. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M034548018X
Book Description Ballantine Books, 2005. Paperback. Condition: Brand New. reprint edition. 317 pages. 8.00x5.25x1.00 inches. In Stock. Seller Inventory # zk034548018X
Book Description Condition: New. New. Seller Inventory # M-034548018x
Book Description Condition: New. New. Seller Inventory # M-034548018X