Name: Megan & BJ
Location: Chatham County, NC
Size: 1,800 square feet
Years lived in: Renting for over 2 years
Traveling homestead? you ask. Isn't that an oxymoron? Well, in the case of BJ and Megan's 1917 farmhouse, that's exactly what it is. After contentedly nestling itself into the soil of Burlington, NC for the better part of a century, the owner had it relocated 30 miles away to save it from demolition in 2002. Although it was undoubtedly grateful to be saved, the grumbling octogenarian didn't make the smoothest of transitions. While many of the original interior plaster walls crumbled during the process and 2 out of the 4 grand fireplaces could not be restored, Megan and BJ consider themselves fortunate to make this beautifully salvaged piece of history their home [stead].
Although their roost lost a bit of its dignity along the bumpy road crossing county lines, it still retains its original double‐hung wood windows, hardwood floors, and fireplace surrounds. The incredibly charming arched front porch still greets guests today, just as it did nearly 100 years ago. The interior plumbing, electrical, and drywall are new, as are the kitchen, sitting room, and screened porch in the back of the house.
The couple practices a lifestyle of simple self-sufficiency where they can by raising their own chickens and growing many of their own vegetables, canning and preserving their produce, drying their herbs, and making natural cleaning products. Where they can't provide for themselves, BJ and Megan try to buy local, making visits to the renowned Carrboro Farmers' Market and the plethora of antique shops in the area.
Stepping into Megan and BJ's home is like stepping back in time—I kept expecting Laura Ingalls Wilder to emerge from the kitchen donning some hot mulled cider and a frilly apron. Well. Laura didn't appear, but Megan did just that. Minus the apron. However, for the record, she did have plenty hanging on the wall. You know... just in case.
Our style: This depends upon the architectural style of the house. With our current home, I definitely gravitate more towards a traditional style, leaning towards a farmhouse cottage look. I am most attracted to architecture that lends itself nicely to the Cottage Style in general, such as historic period Revival cottages (especially Tudor Revival), Craftsman bungalows, and vernacular farmhouses (such as the Triple‐A I‐House) so prevalent in North Carolina. With that said, if I lived in a hip Mid-Century Modern ranch house I'd decorate it with more modern, MCM‐appropriate furnishings. Regardless, I love antiques through and through.
Inspiration: Antique stores, flea markets, home décor blogs and magazines (think Martha Stewart and Country Living), Ralph Lauren, and unexpected sources like the restored villages of Old Salem (NC) and Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill (KY).
Favorite Element: I love the hardwood floors throughout the house and of course the original double‐hung wood windows, but perhaps my favorite elements are the generous porches that allow us to enjoy the peaceful beauty of the rural North Carolina backcountry.
Biggest Challenge: Investing wisely in décor. With my career having begun just three years ago since graduate school and BJ having just finished his Ph.D., our budget was very limited in furnishing a house this big for the two of us. Merely filling it up with things we love has been a huge challenge (and still is). A good portion of our furniture has been handed down by family members or from Craigslist, antique shops, or flea markets. Sometimes I make impulse buys (rather than investing in timeless but more expensive pieces) that I end up regretting in the long run. We are working to change this habit. Oh, and it's also a challenge to avoid tracking in leaves and the occasional chicken feather.
What Friends Say: I hope that friends feel comfortable here—many say that our home is cozy and peaceful. We love host and entertain friends and family, and my mother‐in‐law jokes that she feels like she's staying at a historic B&B when visiting.
Biggest Embarrassment: Oh wow—where do I start? Since this is a rental, of course there is a whole host of things that I'm not fond of (but that the owners installed as their "personal touches.") To name a few: the gigantic brass chandelier in the dining room, the mismatched kitchen appliances, the wainscoting in the dining room that we cannot paint, the horrible utility sink in the guest bath vanity, the fact that every room in the house has ceiling fan in place of a light fixture except for two, and I could go on and on...
Proudest DIY: We don't have too many of these since we are renting, but I'd say it probably would have to be our chicken coop and adjacent pen we built mostly ourselves. Also, BJ painstakingly re‐caned antique chair seats and made a pretty cool shelf out of vintage doorknobs serving as hooks to hang my apron collection.
Biggest Indulgence: Our new Bernhardt sofa in the living room. It's classic, neutral; upholstered in a natural linen fabric—I couldn't be happier with it.
Best Advice: Fill your home with what you love and purge often. It is so easy for our home to become cluttered with "stuff." Change your décor up a little with each season by using elements from nature. Rather than trying to pull off elaborate vignettes, a simple arrangement or centerpiece can be just as effective—like, for example, an antique bread bowl filled with autumn squashes (that you will eventually eat!)
Dream Sources: Antique shops, flea markets, auction houses, Lee Industries furniture, and places like early American decorative arts galleries or historic house museums.
Green Elements/Initiatives: We like to think of our place as a mini homestead, and we aim to live as self-sufficiently from our land as we can. We raise chickens for eggs (and maybe one day meat!), tend to organic garden beds with heirloom vegetables, we compost, use cloth napkins and a drying rack when we can. Our chickens help to naturally fertilize our lawn, keep the bug population down, and their pen is surrounded by a portable electric fence that is solar powered. We also engage in other homesteading activities like canning and preserving our produce to eat over the winter, drying herbs, and making some of our own natural cleaning products. Next year we plant to raise turkeys in addition to our chickens and maybe get into beekeeping to help pollinate our plants. Of course, with our home being historic it is inherently green and represents the "ultimate recycling." Reusing old buildings conserves precious building materials and "embodied energy,"—demolishing a historic building even when replaced with a new "green" facility would take decades to recoup the energy losses. Inside our home, green initiatives include mostly recycled and antique furnishings, salvaged interior components, a programmable thermostat, an energy star washer and dryer, and natural cleaning products.
Furniture: Mostly gifted from family or purchased from antique shops, flea markets, or Craigslist. The Bernhardt sofa in the living room is from Furnitureland South in High Point, NC; the armchair and matching ottoman in the family room are from Pottery Barn Outlet; the drafting table in the guest room was custom made by a craftsman; bookshelves in the office are from Target; storage ottomans in the family room are from HomeGoods.
Lighting: Since we are renting, most of these came with the house and we unfortunately cannot change out. However, one that we added is a pendant light made from a vintage wire egg basket from Junkyard Lighting. Lamps are from Pottery Barn, HomeGoods, and antique stores.
Rugs and Carpets: Living room wool rug from World Market; master bedroom rug from Lowes; family room rug from Pottery Barn.
Tiles and Stone:
Window Treatments: Mostly made by me except for the drapes in the master bedroom and living room which are Hampton Toile Pinch Pleat curtains from Curtainworks.
Artwork & Accessories: Antique Paul Sawyier prints (a famous Kentucky watercolor artist from my hometown of Frankfort), other antique prints and frames, family photographs, antique mirrors, and some artwork of our own: the hand-blown glass pieces made by BJ and a few watercolors by me. Since our friends and family feel compelled to buy any chicken-related knick-knack they see for us, I have now amassed quite the chicken/rooster collection.
Paint: Entry and living room: Martha Stewart Soapstone Gray, Master Bedroom: Olympic Earl Grey, Master Bathroom: Olympic Silk Sheets, Dining Room: Olympic Morning Fog
Homesteading Resources: A great resource is Carleen Madigan's, The Backyard Homestead, as are the blogs Homestead Revival and Backyard Farming. You will also enjoy Barbara Kingsolver's (a Kentucky author!) Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Finally, I chronicle my own homesteading activities as well as my thoughts on historic preservation related topics at Restoring the Roost.
(Thanks, BJ and Megan!)
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(Images: Katie Gard)