Photography by Steve Parke
The 100-year-old cottage was in ruin from years of neglect, and no one had wanted it. Four buyers had fallen through because they didn’t want the task of fixing it. The second I laid eyes on the sweet country porch and its rickety charm, I fell in love. It was 2005, and my former partner and I, both performers in New York City, had barely enough money to scrape by for rent. But that year was the year that American banks were giving out mortgages like candy, regardless of your credit or how little you had in the bank (which resulted in the massive housing crash of 2008). We were shocked to find out we had been approved for a mortgage with no cash down and $900 between us in our bank accounts.
When we signed the papers, there was no key to hand over. The Little Cottage just was open. We pulled up the dank rugs, broke through the floor of the attic, and let sunshine stream into places that had never seen it. That Father’s Day, my dad (known fondly among my friends as the Big Dude) road-tripped to help me paint the front porch spindles with tiny brushes—colors of sky blue, majestic purple, and mint green. Friends came up on the weekends and pitched in for a chance to enjoy the mountain and swim in the famous Big Deep river hole in the summer. The Little Cottage went from looking like it was the dingy setting of a horror film in the woods to a brightly colored fairy-tale dwelling. Local children nicknamed it the Easter Bunny House, and I was proud of how some hard work, love, and paint was bringing the Little Cottage back to life. I planted sunny black-eyed Susans to welcome friends at the front door and hung chimes to sing on the mountain breeze. I finally felt like I found home in my life.
That was all taken away in the ten minutes it took for a raging fire to rip through the old wood structure in April 2011 and burn it to the ground. The sweet Little Cottage, with so much history that got to be reborn and loved once again, was gone. Except for a few blackened boards with a hint of the old mint green paint on them, everything was lost. I remember falling to my knees, devastated—and then seeing a single brick of the Little Cottage next to me. I clutched it to my chest, to hold on to something … to hold onto the memory of home.
The sadness seized my days for months. My mind would wander through the ghost of the Little Cottage. I would drive to the empty field that once held the little cottage and stand in the spot where my bedroom used to be. I would sit there for hours, on top of the pieces of the fake fur of childhood stuffed animals, of old burned family photos, of things that couldn’t be recovered in the fire. Mosquitos would bite me, and my skin would rise in bumps like secret braille, like some secret message to make sense of it all.
How do you begin again?
The rising of Magic House is a story worthy of fairy tales—of defeat, of triumph, of community, and of what happens when you allow yourself to believe in magic.
In the small town that we live in, everyone had heard about the fire. Houst & Sons, the local hardware store, reached out to us and let us know that any of the machines that they rented out, they would lend to us for free. Tyrone Featherly, a friend and builder, was so moved by seeing the devastation of the cottage that he volunteered to come help build the shell for a discounted friend rate in exchange for a place to stay for a year. Friends came in droves on weekends, as we scoured YouTube for how-to videos by day and wielded hammers and nails and huddled by a campfire by night. Several people in town who had seen the devastation and knew how hard we were working to fix the old place left anonymous cards of support with hardware store gift cards. We got a lot of the pieces and parts of the house from Build It Green, a reuse salvage place of building and construction material. Over the years, with hard work, with a lot of dreaming, the phoenix started to rise from the ashes.
There is a new story to be told now, rooted in the love from the old stories.
That single brick that I found the day of the fire is in the center of the new home, and our old friend, the Little Cottage, became born again in a new incarnation known as Curiosa Magic House.