I really need to start paying closer attention.
You see, I’ve slowly come to learn that when my partner Shawn has just the slightest idea in mind, when he gets some tiny notion in his head, that stray thought that swirls around and around and just won’t quit….then it’s time for me to brace myself, take a deep breath, and change into some clean underwear as we prepare for whatever fantastical journey is just up ahead. If I was only slightly more self-aware, I’d see the signs more clearly. When Shawn is interested or focused on something, it starts to…invade his life, and, in by a process sort of like osmosis, mine. Take for instance when he really wanted to buy this antique Sheraton sofa he’d discovered recently online. Suddenly, the words “Sheraton sofa” start to pop up in many of his conversations. Then he starts to relay warm childhood stories about his memories of Sheraton sofas (because everyone has those, right?) and then he’s pointing them out in books, in movies, and in magazines. Soon he’s googling them wildly at night and moaning about them in his sleep. And the next thing you know, you find yourself barely awake at some god awful hour on a Sunday morning, driving down some dirt back road of some rural township you’ve never heard of, so you can precariously strap to the back of your trusty station wagon your very own Sheraton sofa (albeit one in serious need of some TLC, but never fear, because Shawn has an amazing friend named Aimee who’s a designer and upholsterer extraordinaire on call for just such an emergency. And these emergencies can happen often!)
So with experiences like that under my belt, you’d think I’d be more prepared when he stopped talking about silver trays and pottery mushrooms and folk art and jumped right to a mysterious place called Bollard House. I mean, a house is a lot bigger than a sofa, so that alone should’ve stopped me in my tracks. I’m a bit embarrassed to say I didn’t know much about the history of Bollard House a few short months ago until Shawn casually mentioned it one night, but quickly he brought me up to speed. Turns out Bollard House was built in the 1830s in the township of Halifax, so before our great city was even a city. It was built in a Georgian style, with detailing around its doors and ceilings hearkening back to ancient greek civilization, and in 1863 a triangular addition was created, making the house six-sided in appearance. The house is one long room deep throughout with seven flights of stairs connecting its four floors. It is truly unique in our fair city in that it remains, after all these years, virtually unchanged and unaltered today. It has withstood the ravages of time and stands proudly today to tell the tale. It has had a very colourful history during its long life, including a period during the 1970s when it served as a spa for poodles (yes, you read that correctly!) Bollard House became a registered historic property in 1985, which is approximately when Shawn actually first visited it and fell in love (because as you know, some boys fall in love with historic houses and some fall in love with Batman). And why do I know all of this? Because Shawn knows all of it, and life with him is kind of like having your own personal commentator from PBS and the History Channel, only one that’s much better looking, smells good, and is a great dancer.
Shawn is a member (and former board member) of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, an organization that fights to preserve some of the most architecturally and historically significant structures in the province, as well as promote and advocate for protective legislation with business interests and at various levels of government. Through the Trust, he came to know this lovely lady named Janet, a champion in her own right who works hard to preserve the built heritage of our fine city. The two hit it off well with their shared passion for preservation (as the Batman lover in the relationship, I suspect these Heritage types all have capes and spandex in their laundry that they wear to strike fear in the hearts of those evil modern developers/destroyers. But alas, I’ve yet to find any costumes in the laundry). Anyway, Janet had recently acquired Bollard House after it’s previous owner had passed away, but was uncertain of her plans for the property, other than her goal of keeping its rich heritage intact. Conversations began with Shawn, he who is ever so opinionated about just these sorts of things, on hypothetically just what one might do with a property like Bollard House. And rather than it involve any knocking things out or tearing things down, any demolition, deconstructing or defacing of any kind, his ideas centred around a whole lot of paint and the occasional swing of a hammer. And before you know it, somehow THAT evolved into the idea of our moving into the house, living their and caring for it, and bringing it back to life, so to speak, while respecting where it’s been. When I first had a chance to tour the house, even I could see her “good bone structure” and recognize the charm and character of the house (it truly felt in a way you were stepping back in time when you walked through her doors), but it was clear the house was going to need a lot of time and love and careful attention. As it were, we were also both pretty attached to our old apartment, a heritage property itself and quite full of charm and character, but it had been obvious for a while we’d outgrow that space. And so, with practically four floors at our disposal at Bollard House, an impressive showcase for all of Shawn’s unique and wonderful STUFF, and the challenge of breathing new life into an old property, how could we refuse such an opportunity?
And so the journey to Bollard House again (well, technically, it wasn’t much of a journey, as we’d only lived four blocks away). From the start, the whole never enough hours in a day and the time needed to do everything that needed to be done was a bit worrisome. I’d recently returned to school, and had made a bit of an insane decision to work full-time and take a full course load. Since “phoning it in” isn’t in my vocabulary, and I tend to be a bit of a a high achiever, I figured it’s all straight A’s or bust. (And, by bust, I mean bust your face if I don’t get that A!) Shawn has a pretty demanding job, one that’s anything but 9-5, plus he likes to dabble in….well, just about everything. Our cat Mungo, a feisty little guy with a pretty demanding sleep schedule, was initially rather unimpressed with this decision to move. I mean, no one bothered to consult with him that his nightly (potential) mouse patrol would now involve four floors instead of four rooms. That’s a lot of work!
But in the end, the chance to do this was simply too good to be true, and the challenge ahead seemed fun. We started cleaning, painting and stripping (not the Magic Mike kind) for weeks on end, often late into the night. I already knew Shawn was as handy as he was handsome, but truth be told, I worried at first about his focus, as he tends to get a bit easily distracted – oh look, squirrel! – and that could potentially slow things down. But never fear…it was clear from the start he was throwing himself wholeheartedly into a mission to restore life to this beautiful home. That’s not to say we didn’t face a few obstacles along the way. The staircases are small and narrow and difficult to move furniture around. Hence, when an old sofa refused to climb the stairs before becoming jammed, it was attacked by a very creative friend with an exacto knife and brought out in small pieces (you don’t want to get on her bad side!). And although we were able to squeeze a small sofa and even an oversized antique linen chest upstairs, the laws of physics said that queen size box spring just wasnt going to make it, and so we spent a few weeks sleeping on the floor until we could get a replacement And finally there was the late afternoon I took my niece Nicole on a tour, proudly showing off all the space we’d now have. When we’d reached the end and I’d shown her small dark room with the slanted roof and skylight that would be my office and writing space, she declared “um, doesn’t this room kind of remind you of the Amityville Horror?”
WELL IT DOES NOW!!
Alas, any reservations I had about the work we were doing was put to rest early on. Shawn had let me in on a little secret, one I didn’t realize or know. He said old houses aren’t like more modern, almost disposal ones. Houses like this one just need a little paint and a little sprucing up, a little love, hard work, and attention, and before long they start to respond to what you’re doing, and slowly start to warm and come to life on their own. And sure enough, before my very eyes, it did! We built a man cave in the basement that’s the envy of all football loving fiends across the land (too bad it’s mainly used for Madonna and Gaga blu-rays!) Shawn chose a colour scheme and design layout for our bedroom that makes it look like some high-end magazine photo shoot – remember that saying that your bedroom should feel like an oasis? Our bedroom IS an oasis, and as big as some small apartments.
And that Sheraton sofa? IT is now totally rocking the living room.
I do have one minor complaint about our grand new residence. For one, where’s the ghosts??! (True, I’m opposed to the Amityville Horror of my new office, but come on…ghosts are cool!) I’d convinced myself when moving into an historical home that has experienced as much as this house has over the centuries, that it only made sense we’d be left with a few former inhabitants, or at least an occasional visitor or two. I waited up most of the night Halloween, saying this would be the night. But nope….nothing. I even watched The Conjuring recently (mostly behind a blanket, with one eye open), figuring some ghostly apparition would say “oh yeah, so that’s how you want to play it huh?” and start slamming doors or levitating tea cups around me. Still nothing. (I’d say BOOOOOO but I was hoping the damn ghost would do that!) Regardless, I still talk to the house all the time, like it’s a person. Just check in, see if it likes the new paint colour or the smells of supper and such. Someday it’ll answer back, I know it, and for that reason, I want to stay on its good side!
And so you know, since no one bothered to run this rather significant life change by Mungo the Cat, he’s still decided to begrudgingly patrol the house. However, he will NOT do so quietly. So instead, with all the grace, dignity, and poise of a baby elephant, you can hear him slowly wander about with LOUD, sharp banging motions, climbing stairs and opening doors (because, yes, he can hook his paws underneath doors and make them move!) as he seeks out and finds new and exciting places to nap. Also, despite the change from four rooms to four floors, and the increased exercise he’s um…gained a bit of poundage somehow (he calls it muscle)…although I suspect this could be part of is revenge plot. In other words, baby elephant ain’t so baby anymore, and you better believe the kitty grocery bills going to feel it!
Oh, and it seems Mungo also likes to um…weigh in on decisions about the house, like paint colours. So much so that he’s now investigated three freshly painted rooms, just so he can give it one meow or two. You’d think with all the paw scrubbing afterwards he might be a bit deterred from being so opinionated, but nope…but then again, maybe he’s just looking for a day at the spa!
And so the cat and I are having a lot of fun living here….but nowhere near as much fun as Shawn. Shawn loves the house, and takes great joy and pride in living here. He’s very respectful to its history, and he takes great loving care of it everyday. And I think for those reasons that the House has been just as lucky to have him as he’s been to have it.
So here’s to the first of many more great adventures at Bollard House. And stay tuned for many more updates, as they’ll be sure to come….I promise, I really am paying attention now!
For Shawn, Christmas 2013