When Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again, he obviously hadn’t been to Columbia. There is something about our beautiful city that pulls many people back to their childhood homes. Maybe it’s pure happenstance, perhaps it makes financial sense, or maybe some just can’t bear to see anyone else living in the homes that hold all of their childhood memories.
For Walker Williams, the timing was right for all involved. His parents were looking for a home with a bedroom on the first floor, and he and his wife, Laura, were considering expanding their family. “We knew we were going to have to find a larger house if we wanted to grow our family,” says Walker. “And my parents looking to move was the perfect catalyst. We moved into their house, which was much larger than the one we had been living in. We begged, borrowed and stole to fill up the rooms and didn’t make too many immediate changes.” But as the years have passed, Walker and Laura have filled those rooms with beautiful furniture and memories of their own.
Walker Williams and his wife, Laura, moved into his childhood home to make room for their growing family.
Katherine Anderson and her mother made a fair trade. Katherine and her boys moved into her mother’s larger house down the street and her mother, who was looking to downsize, moved into Katherine’s smaller home. “My children were getting bigger by the instant, and we were quickly outgrowing our house,” Katherine says. “My mother said, ‘I have this big house and you have all of those boys, why don’t we trade?’” Katherine loved the idea. “My parents had bought the house when I was six years old. It’s a happy place with wonderful memories, and I love the neighborhood.”
Katherine Anderson traded homes with her mother to accomodate her three teenage sons.
The same stands true for Rebecca Rhodes. Her mother also was looking to downsize to a home with just one floor, and moving back into her childhood home was an easy decision for Rebecca and her husband, Jim. “I just couldn’t take the thought of anyone else living in my home. I loved it that much.”
Arthur Gudmundson purchased his brother’s share of the house their mother had given them. The home is now a labor of love. “When you live in an old house, you need to be ready to do some work. I know every nook and cranny of this house, and I don’t mind taking the time to work on it.” Arthur and his wife, Marlow, completely renovated the kitchen and made various cosmetic changes, but many of the original elements of the home are still in place, right down to the screens in the window – a testament to the strong bones of older Columbia homes.
Arthur Gudmundson and his wife, Marlow, have renovated the kitchen in his childhood home, but it still has the same original elements.
While the experiences of moving back into a childhood home are very different for each person, there are certain common threads you should consider when making such a decision. First and foremost, for these families, it was important not to change the character of the house, the charm that drew them to it. The simple task of changing paint colors and replacing wallpaper can make a dramatic difference and give the home a completely different look and feel. But keeping that in mind, each family was sure to take steps to make the home their own.
For instance, the Rhodes and Williams families enlisted the help of Nan Sammataro of In Home Design. Rebecca wasn’t afraid to make changes that would work better for her family, knocking out a wall here and there. But again, the overall feel of the home remained intact. She says, “The changes we made for our family made it our home, as well as the people in it. I have the familiarity of growing up there, but it still feels like ours. It’s a good mix.”
Laura agrees. “Changing the colors and bringing in your own things is important. But you have to make sure it’s what you want for your family,” she says. Her husband adds, “Don’t move into a house just because it’s the house you grew up in. Move in because you want it to be your home.”
The Anderson family enlarged their kitchen – a necessity with three teenage boys – but was careful not to erase the appeal of the house. Katherine, an interior designer herself and owner of Katherine J. Anderson Design/Interiors, says to use caution when making those initial changes. “Go slowly. You might move in, change things quickly and zap the whole reason why you loved the house in the first place,” she says.
For the Gudmundsons, their personal touch has come through the continued restoration and updating of the house. But sometimes, the way the house was is the way it should be. Arthur’s mother had invited an interior decorator into the home many years back for some design assistance. As you would expect, Arthur and his wife moved furniture and art work to different places when they moved in. Later, they brought their own interior decorator, Jenny Reynolds, to the home, and she moved every piece of furniture back to where the original designer had placed it. “Everything went back to where it was,” laughed Arthur. “My mother could have walked back in the home and thought it was still hers.”
Certainly, purchasing a house is no small endeavor. It’s a true business transaction and should be treated as such. Walker says, “If you allow feelings and family desires to get in the way, it has the potential to hurt both parties financially. If you buy your parents’ home for less than it is worth, they have less money in retirement. If you pay more than you can afford, then you could carry an unnecessary burden for years to come. You have to make sure that the transaction is the right decision for both parties.”
The Rhodes family made sure they knew the true value of the house and ensured the exchange was fair for all involved. And for those looking to move into an older house, keep in mind renovations and changes will be inevitable. “Make sure you save money so that you can fix up the house the way you want it to be, so that you can make it your home,” advises Arthur.
One thing is for certain, moving into your childhood home can blend old memories with new. “It’s great because it brings you back to your childhood, but at the same time you create your own family memories,” says Rebecca. And memories and stories are what keep generations alive. As Walker reflects, “When anyone asks me about living in my childhood home, I say the coolest part is when something happens. If my child trips on a root and skins his knee, I can say, ‘You know, I tripped on that very same root when I was a child and skinned my knee the same way. And here’s the scar.’ They think that’s very cool.” And with a story like that, the wounds heal that much quicker.
Yes, in Columbia, you can always go home again.