Welcome to the glass house. This 150-foot building, circa early 1900s, is one of our biggest challenges at the farm. The glass is single-paned, uninsulated, fragile, and so dirty, it may as well be wallpaper. The painted wood is peeling and moss-covered, but underneath is solid redwood, still as hard and intact as the day it was milled. We don’t know what to do with the structure. Every visitor who enters through one of its four doors falls instantly in love and urges us to rehab. Every tradesman who has been asked to submit a bid assures us he would relish the chance to work on it, but he cannot predict the costs. “You know,” my friend Patrick says, “restoration means they take a shop vac to your wallet.”
As the estimates for a new roof, new paint, and new glass grew less exact and more speculative, my husband and I began to diverge on opinion. Who are we kidding. We became Kansas vs. Massachusetts. Not only did we disagree on the issues, we couldn’t even agree on the facts. And our positions were cemented by underlying fears and desires that we could not articulate. Or at least it took a few lively discussions for our true feelings to emerge.
He loves the romance of the building—the steampunk gears that crank open the roof, the Colonel Mustard in the Conservatory English garden aspect, the gables and finials and weather vane. No modern structure looks like this old dowager, as he likes to call her.
“And what will you do with it?” I ask him pointedly. “Huh? Huh?”
He was perplexed by my question. “Enjoy it?” he offered.
“You’ll enjoy it empty?” I asked.
I had to explain to him that I know scale. I know that putting two plants in a huge glass house will look stupid. You either do no plants or you fill the place with rows upon rows of living things.
Which brings us to my sticking point. Living things require care. Outside the doors of the glass house are perennial beds stretching as far as the eye can see. They’re stunning, and I love working them. But again, it’s about scale. All those plant babies! And we are two old tired fifty-six-year-olds who have already raised four human babies.
If you are like my mother, you are wondering why these conversations didn’t occur before we signed on the dotted line. Yes, a question for the ages.
One day in late July, a visitor listened to my dilemma. She was a smart woman, with a lot of life experience. She suggested that we consider the “cost per use” of the renovation, that we do the math. Take into account the rehab, the bill for heating the glass house in the winter, the cost of plants and their care, and divide all that by the number of times we will actually set foot in the space.
The next day, my friend Ellen came by for a visit. You remember Ellen, the woman whose adventures on the Appalachian Trail became one of my most popular blog posts. She is a north star for me, and she too listened patiently to my dilemma. Then she shrugged and said, “Some things are more important than money.”
She is right. My husband is right. I changed sides. I realized we can’t live our lives by equations. The bottom line is we are both optimists. We trust that things will work out. We value old things and this glass house is older than our parents.
The glass house is empty now. We begin work soon. In the photos below, you can see what it looked like before the business closed. (Keep a close eye for the hummingbird flying around inside!)
Photos by Renn Kuhnen.