A Love Letter to Mount Carmel

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There is something that gets me about old houses. Every. Single. Time. They have a sleepy, timeless grace. That perfectly, imperfect element of ease. Every room, every floorboard, every windowpane holds lifetimes of stories. They’re alive with the history they’ve earned.

Now, I could sit and wax poetic about old buildings all day, but this Valentine’s Day, I wanted to share why we fell in love with Mt. Carmel in Redwood City. I originally wrote this note to share at a city council meeting last summer, but thought it would be fun to share the story of how we ended up in our home as it is a bit of a love story.

I’ve lived in the area almost my entire life, went to school in Berkeley, and found my way back here when my husband, Cliff, and I decided to buy our first home. Actually, “decided” might be the wrong word. We kind of fell into our first home. Cliff is a realtor and had showed our house to one of his clients. It was 2011, pretty much at the bottom of the real estate market, and there was this little log cabin in Emerald Hills. When I say little, I mean little. 1 bedroom, 1 bath, with not a lot of modern amenities. But, we fell in love with it. And we made it our home, until our first son, Jack, came along and all of a sudden our life was less about an idyllic cottage on the hill, and much more about needing space for a growing family.

When Jack was a few months old, I used to get him into the car, drive down to Iris or Hudson or any of the other beautiful tree-lined streets in the neighborhood, set up the stroller, and go for a walk. Then, when we decided to start looking for our next home, these walks began to have more purpose. My husband and I actually walked every block in Mt. Carmel and personally wrote and addressed letters to people asking if they might consider selling us their home.

We got to know the neighborhood, block by block, house by house. And we got to know the community, as we stopped and chatted with folks out walking their dogs or working in their yard. Eventually, a house came on the market and we just knew it was perfect for us. It was built in 1927 and is a charming eclectic mix of Spanish and Tudor styles. It had it’s quirks, and a rotated foundation, but again, we fell in love. With the flow, the floorplan, and the old windows.

A few months later we began to settle in and Cliff, who is always about five steps ahead, began planning the renovation. (And now, we’re a family of four.) Now, if you’ve gone through a renovation, you know — it’s all about compromise — with your spouse, your contractor, and in a lot of cases, the existing house.

We knew we needed more space, but we also wanted to maintain the historic integrity of our home. In some cases, this is practical, like refinishing hardwood floors. In other cases, not so much. Cliff and our contractor can attest, that I’ve asked them a hundred times if we could save the lathe and plaster. (Apparently, I was his first client to ask such a thing. And apparently, we couldn’t.)

I can’t promise that we’re going to get every detail exactly right, but we are definitely trying to walk that fine line between respecting our home’s history and updating it for modern times. Even though much of it will be new, we want our home to feel like it’s been here since 1927.

There is just something magical about driving down the street in Mt. Carmel. The way the tree branches intertwine, leaving space for a golden, dappled light. And you can tell, those trees have been here for some time. It took years for them to grow and mature and become what they are. And I think the same goes for the homes in this neighborhood. Their history helps bring this community to life.