Lessons of an Old House


Since we bought Chez Gainey, our ninety-seven year-old home in Southside Birmingham, fourteen years ago, we have been on a mission to make every nook and cranny better than ever before, and to heal the home from the previous owner, a rather nefarious character who supposedly had run-ins with the law. While he did many great things to the property- adding two garages, great decks, the guest house, etc, his main theme was closing off the house from people, from light. Every single window had thick blinds blocking the beautiful views of the city, fences and locks were everywhere, gun racks filled the back room, and a large rifle hung over the fireplace. The entire house, property, and guesthouse were wired for security cameras and there was an elaborate security system.  The furniture was dark, large and oppressive, a padlock was on the master bedroom door, and there were even animals almost left behind; two dusty, cranky, sad outdoor Dobermans and one sweet and neglected indoor cat. In short, the house was everything we were not, except for the potential we both saw and felt in our bones the moment we walked up the long flight of stairs from the street that very first time. 


Even to this day, I have continued to pick up the broken glass that comes up in the ground after every rainstorm. The glass is there from when the house burned and the windows exploded ten years before we bought it. We heard through someone in the neighborhood years ago that the fire had been intentionally set by the owner for the insurance money. While it sounds crazy, the house felt sad to us, wounded by darkness and neglect. Working together to renovate and make the house our home bonded us even more deeply as a new couple. We made it our mission to get Chez Gainey back to where it felt at peace again, one small step at a time, bringing light and beauty back to the house and land. 

Some befores and afters…







Our life together has happened here, from the highest highs to the lowest lows, and everything in between, these old walls hold our memories, our dreams, and our treasures. 

We’ve had some amazing animals come into our lives here…

Rosie…


Kasey….



Bailey…


Cooper…



Sophie…


We’ve celebrated holidays and special occasions, creating our own traditions, enjoying time with those we love. 



There have been scary times when we came close to losing our home – just two years ago today. The apartments next door- just twenty feet from our wooden fence-burned down, but thanks to very heavy rains, our trees were singed, but our home was saved. 


This place is our hobby, our passion, and we love sitting on the sunporch or the top deck, dreaming about what we will do next. We are not wealthy people, so we just do things as we can. Big things, like foundation work…


And smaller things like lighting and landscaping…



There are always, always repairs to do…and 911 stays on my speed dial…



We uncover hidden beauty, such as removing scraggly bushes to rediscover a beautiful stone wall…


We learn so much from our old house; patience, history, anticipation, accomplishment, and teamwork. We’ve given a lot of blood, sweat and tears to our home, but the returning gifts have been priceless; memories, comfort, love, joy- that sense of home that just can’t be bought. And at the end of the day, there is always a beautiful view to inspire us, no matter the season or the weather. Home, sweet home


To quote Laura Ingalls Wilder, “Home is the nicest word there is.” While home for me is where Dan is, this place- our Chez Gainey, embodies our love and shared goals and dreams. A pretty special place that continues to yield magic year after year. I can’t wait to see what the future holds. 

 Oh…and by the way, the house is smiling now. 


4 thoughts on “Lessons of an Old House

  1. Wow! Those stairs are really something. How many trick-or-treaters dare climb them for that piece of candy?

    I would love to hear about your planting and maintaining of that hillside. I have a smaller hillside at my home, and I feel I am losing the battle. It was all weeds, or wildflowers depending on your viewpoint. Have removed some and am replanting, but the wildflower weeds are beginning to win the battle again.

    Is Coops fully recovered?

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi JoAnne, the trick-or-treaters actually come in droves, as Dan creates an amazing experience with a graveyard and a ton of animatronics…and we give them tons of candy if they make the climb. 🙂 As for the hill, I have spent countless hours weeding, but much better than when I used to weedeat it (fell every dang time). We planted juniper (the before pic is when we had just planted them. As Dan knew they would, ‘first they sleep, then they creep, then they leap.’ They’ve been great to hold the hill and provide wonderful ground cover. Ours is called Blue Rug juniper. It’s all so fun, especially seeing dreams come to fruition. Good luck with your hill!

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