Music vibrates from the vintage boombox in the corner of the wide-open living room as Philip Oswald hops onto the stone hearth. “Hey everybody!” he shouts over the heads of dozens of people, who quiet to a hush. “Welcome to our house. Don’t feel awkward if you don’t know someone’s name. We’re all here to get to know each other.” He steps down but remembers, “Oh yeah … make yourselves comfortable. There is nothing here you can mess up.” His welcome washes over the crowd, and the house suddenly becomes everyone’s home.
Philip is quintessentially Californian with his long, curly hair, hoodie, and skater shoes. He surfs, skateboards, plays music, and exudes cool. Being in his presence makes a person feel just a bit more carefree. Kristen, his wife, is slender and petite with effortless style. She stands in the glow of an Edison bulb light fixture that Philip made from an antique tripod and chats with a few guests. She is in her element exercising one of her strongest gifts — hospitality.
More people arrive at the party and walk up the worn railroad tie steps to the barn-red door, a fitting color considering that 200 years ago, the building was home to creatures that brayed and neighed. Originally a barn on the 1,300-acre Selwood Farm in Columbia, it has seen wilder creatures than the ones it contained the night of their party. A group of men move a couch to make more space in the center of the living room for an impromptu jam session. On top of refurbished pine floors and in front of a crackling fire, Philip strums his Martin acoustic guitar, inviting people to sing along. The house erupts in music and laughter. This old barn did not know what it had coming when California moved to town.
When the Oswalds grew weary of the hustle in California, they started to look for another place to call home. “The pace of life in California is crazy,” Kristen says.
Philip looks at Kristen knowingly and adds, “It was time for us to slow down.”
Ready for a new pace of life, Kristen and Philip began a job search. Kristen especially dreamed of living in the South where life is slower and people share her passion for hospitality. “We were interviewing all over the country,” Philip says, “but we kept feeling drawn to South Carolina.” When Philip landed a job interview for a worship pastor position at East Lake Community Church in Irmo, he remembers thinking, “These are our people!”
The Oswalds sold their 2,800-square-foot California home along with much of what they owned, packed their life into a pod, and drove east in a tiny house built on the back of a flatbed truck. Their plan was simple. Buy a modest house in Columbia, work at the church, start a small side business, and make a few friends. But when they saw the historic Selwood Barn for sale on Zillow, the trajectory of their lives took a surprising turn.
An Untouchable Dream
At first, Kristen thought the home was an untouchable dream. The historic barn was priced well over their budget, so the Oswalds decided to view it just for fun. But when they walked through that red front door, they were enchanted. Hand-hewn cedar beams stretched from wall to ceiling with wooden pegs holding each in place. Previous owner Carole Rothstein carefully preserved the building’s history as she transformed animal stalls into living spaces in the early ’90s. Throughout the home, charcoal marks on beams remain untouched from the original barn raising in 1817. The original ladder leading to the hayloft extends to the ceiling in the center of the living room, and a shining clawfoot bathtub that had been used to water cattle was pulled from a field and now proudly perches in the downstairs bathroom.
Carole was just as conscientious about her updates as she was about her preservation. She ordered cabinetry reclaimed from an old church in Pennsylvania and installed it in the kitchen and bedroom areas. Every doorknob, drawer handle, and latch are vintage reproduction. And the striking staircase leading to the second and third floors was constructed from cedar trees downed by a tornado. No feature of this home lacks a story.
As she toured the home for the first time, Kristen ran her fingers over the dark wood, feeling each ax mark and the weight of the history behind this remarkable home. Deeply in love, she couldn’t fathom walking away. But she also couldn’t fathom making an offer. Hand still on the beam, she looked out the wide window next to her and saw the second structure on the property — the historic Selwood Cottage. And that’s when the idea took root: What if the house was a small business? Their realtor, Zeke Riddle, expressed his certainty that the couple could easily rent the charming cottage next door on Airbnb. That was the moment they said yes to the Historic Selwood Barn and Cottage.
Kristen and Philip are anything but risk adverse. “We say yes to things,” says Kristen. “What’s the worst that can happen? You get a bump or a bruise along the way? It just adds character.” Their affinity for adventure and character is what drew them to the historic Selwood Barn. Approachable, warm, and rich with story, the Oswalds have a great deal in common with their home.
On moving day, the Oswalds parked their tiny house truck in the gravel driveway and unpacked the few one-of-a-kind pieces they hauled from California: a workbench, a favorite antique dresser, and a couple of midcentury modern record players.
Shortly after, Kristen set about thrifting. “All of our furniture is used and vintage.” Kristen points to a piece, saying, “That couch is from Facebook Marketplace. Our dining room table is from a pallet liquidation warehouse.” Her inexpensive purchases were intentional and made with their highest priority in mind.
“We put way more value on people and their comfort than we do on things.” Philip explains, “If anything gets messed up, it just adds to the character. The house and all the stuff in it just get better with age.”
A few weeks after closing, Kristen listed the cottage, which is a short walk from Lake Murray, on Airbnb. To their surprise, it booked almost immediately. Before long, Kristen was a five-star super host booking seven days a week. Now, her earnings more than pay for the mortgage every month. The historic Selwood Barn and Cottage would be one of the best “yeses” of the Oswalds’ lives.
Built for Others
The Oswalds’ character seamlessly blended with their home over the next two years. Philip collected leftover cedar from the property’s original barn and constructed split-rail fencing. He added rugged railroad ties as steps leading up to their front Dutch door. Over time, he transformed their home from having one bedroom to four. And after discovering that the acoustics of the high, open ceilings in the hayloft were perfect for late-night jam sessions, Philp turned the third floor into a music studio. He even added a chicken coop — complete with a chandelier for Kristen’s brood of hens — to their sprawling backyard.
“Those are my girls,” Kristen says with a smile.
Of all the things built on the property, the memories are the Oswalds’ favorite. “We find joy and satisfaction in living with and for others,” Philip says. “Our house is just an extension of that.” Their home has fostered friendships and laughter through parties, baby showers, bridal photo sessions, and home concerts.
“We have never been more connected anywhere we have ever lived,” Kristen says. They attribute their connectedness in large part to their home, which has enabled them not only to host friends but to explore other opportunities.
“Because of the success of the Airbnb,” Philip says, “we’ve been able to start another small business that allows us to reach even further into our community.” He spent many afternoons in their backyard transforming their tiny house into what is now The Coffee House Truck. Their coffee business has connected them to their community in a unique way and has allowed them to thrive not only professionally but personally as well.
Parked at Heritage Field Farms early every weekday morning, their truck gives them opportunities to forge friendships over their gourmet brews. Passionate about serving others, they have partnered with local churches and businesses to provide free coffee to teachers at various schools and to the staff at Lexington Medical Center — a relief during the height of the pandemic. Desiring to further expand their reach, Philip added a vintage firetruck to their mobile coffeehouse fleet and equipped it for more community events.
“If it weren’t for this house and land, I could never have gotten this firetruck,” he says. But with no shortage of space, Philip worked late into the afternoons — sometimes surrounded by chickens in the backyard — to make the firetruck coffee-ready.
Although Philip is the worship leader at the church that originally brought him to South Carolina, his personal conviction is that ministry can also exist outside the doors of the church. When Philip is not leading worship, pouring coffee, or entertaining guests in his home, he can be found playing his guitar at rooftop venues in downtown Columbia. “We want every part of our lives to bring joy to other people,” Philip says.
The night of the party marks the two-year anniversary of their closing on the purchase of the property. Kristen’s eyes brim with tears, and she feels overwhelmed by the magnitude of dreams realized. She watches her husband sing, surrounded by dozens of their closest friends as seated children dangle their feet through the slots in the cedar staircase. The energy is palpable as friends bask in warmth of the Oswalds and their one-of-a-kind house. This home and this couple exist for others and contain a history of inspiring stories. Columbia is better for both farmhouse and family.