Love and lilacs; Living history revealed in the Skinner House
In the Jack Finney story, “Where the Cluetts Are,” a couple builds an authentic Victorian house and becomes so in tune to it that they turn into Victorians themselves. When the Kaufmanns talk about their relationship with their house, they sound similarly enmeshed, except rather than going back in time, they have brought their home’s past to life and its future into the 21st century.
For example, when they gut renovated, birds flew to the upper sills at the windows and started nesting, as they had not done in years. Once rid of acorns, corn cobs, rodents, bats, and debris, the house was rejuvenated. The lilacs, seemingly dead from being hacked down, returned. It was, as Gina puts it, “As if the house itself sighed a breath of fresh air…. Someone’s going to love me again.”
Better than Plumb, Level or Square
The house had a reputation for hosting festive parties in the ’50s and ’60s, only to fall into disrepair in the ’70s and ’80s. By the time the Kaufmanns acquired it, it was either going to be razed or renovated. Tom says, “It was doomed, if it wasn’t viewed for its real historic worth and character. Some people said there was too much to be done than worth doing; that it was better to simply put up a new structure because this one would never be plumb, level or square (meaning that all the angles are straight.) We saved the structure because we love it so and because we saw the diamond in the rough.”
The house has loved them back. In 1997, when Gina’s infirm mother moved in with the Kaufmanns, they told their five children to prepare for her imminent death. Yet, as her doctor put it, moving into that house gave Kathleen Carlstrom another lifecycle, seven more years of family celebrations and good times. “At a certain point, we were giving cakes away,” Tom said, describing his mother-in-law, “She baked them for us every day.”
Although the Kaufmanns’ children are now all grown and moved out, the house continues to serve as a site for socializing as their extended families use the grounds frequently. In 2008, their daughter Kelly Kaufmann-McKenzie got married on the grounds with 140 guests. Plus, they turned the back apartment into a rentable efficiency.