Journey to Arching Oaks

For a "journey" it has truly been.  I can't believe it has been almost six months to the day since I last posted here.  Where to begin? What have I/we been absorbed in all this time?  Momentous things, my friends.  Big, heavy, wonderful, life-changing events.  Events so big and beautiful that my head and heart needed time to process and internalize before I could sit down and write about them.  The first of these big events...The Move.

When my little family moved here to Florida in 2013 we searched and searched for the perfect home on a large plot of land where we could settle down and make our forever home.  But after months of viewing properties and our rental's short-term lease almost up, we decided on a lovely old home (built in the 1920's) on a normal sized lot in a historic neighborhood in Mount Dora.  If you haven't ever heard of Mount Dora...look it up!  It's a charming little town filled with art galleries and cafes.  We fell in love with it the first time we visited and knew we wanted to be near it.  Our sweet little house was a good choice for the time being, but we knew it wasn't the "forever" one.  Still, we spent countless months and paychecks fixing it up and making it a good fit so that we could be comfortable there. 
Our happy but temporary home.
For three years we made this spot our home, but the desire for a larger piece of land kept nagging at us and so we began the search again and put the house on the market.  We received an offer after just one week!  At the same time we had been looking at a potential property in nearby Eustis, FL (just 10 minutes from downtown Mount Dora) that needed serious love and effort, but "ticked" all the boxes on our dream-house list; 20 acres, a huge pond, majestic live oaks, and outbuildings for a future art studio for me and a Japanese martial arts dojo for my husband--even a barn with stalls in case I decide to raise chickens one day. But the needed so much work and the thought of renovating another house (this would be our 4th) was really overwhelming.  Did we really want to take this on? The previous owners had an adult handicapped child living at home with them and had reconfigured the house to create a private wing for them, but the layout was very awkward and the rooms were oppressively dark and gloomy.  The sad, little kitchen was a tiny galley type with a guest bath practically inside of it- not the kind where I pictured myself cooking for my family.

 Pics of the house as it was when we started this adventure....

The house sits up on a hill...always a good thing in hurricane-prone states.  The yard slopes off to the right and down to a very large pond covered by lily pads and, yes, we have a resident gator.  Ava and Chico are not allowed anywhere near the pond alone!

Rear of the house.  You can't tell from this pic but the screening on the lanai roof was torn to shreds and collapsing. It would have to go.

Wrap around porch has a great view of the pond...(not here, though).  Radio tower from the previous owner.  You can see it here against the side of the house. 

Ava touring the back porch with built in bar.  I think she was trying to order a chocolate milk, but the bartender must have been on break.  :)

Indoor racquetball court (you heard me right) and the barn.  Original owner was a racquetball nut. 

Original 1970's galley kitchen with guest bath. 

View from the other side...with small house elf peeking out. :) The tile counters had to go. They were cracking and the grout lines were black with mildew around the sink and stove.

Living/Dining area with pecky cypress paneling and support beams. Ironically, the column you see in the middle of the room is holding up a concealed I-beam that didn't even stretch the length of the entire room.  We think it was put up during the 80's to support a waterbed in the bedroom above.  Gotta love that. 

I love wooden surfaces as much as the next girl, but this was a bit to "heavy" in appearance.
Master bedroom. That was the only window in the whole room. 

There was SO MUCH that would have to be done to this place to make it a comfortable and happy home!  So we thought on it...and thought on it...and decided to bite the bullet.  The land itself was so absolutely captivating to us (really it felt magical when we would walk it) we knew we had to commit.  As my very wise husband pointed out, "they're not making land anymore!"  We made an offer and it was accepted.  In mid June we began renovations...and we just moved in on September 18th.  Three solid months of destruction and construction, set-backs and triumphs, splinters and heating pads, fire ants and wasps, insulation and drywall debris, 8,000 trips to Lowes and Home Depot, well pumps and septic clean-outs, outdated electrical wiring and filthy A/C name it, we either tore it out, replaced it, fixed it, or hired someone to help us fix it. 

Here are a few construction pics:

Kitchen Demo on the very first day of ownership.

Several weeks later after ripping down walls of the guest bathroom to open up the kitchen space.

You know what?  It was worth every second and penny that we spent.  Technically, we aren't 100% finished.  The master shower needs its glass enclosures and we're waiting on permanent kitchen counters and my (beloved) farm sink, but it is totally livable and we are happy as can be. 

Here are some "after" pics:

Never though I'd go for the whole "great room" thing, but I'm loving it in this place. Taken from the television area looking towards kitchen. 

Living area...with Chico on the chair.  You'll have to look close to find him.  He's almost camouflaged against the couch.

You can see the new support beam running through the top right of the fireplace.  In the future it will be encased in cypress trim and we'll create another faux beam for the left side so that everything looks more balanced.  No idea why the original owners positioned the beam there in the first place.  One of the many perplexing dilemmas we encountered along the way.

Dining area looking out to the pond in the back.

Bannister was rebuilt and repainted. The boxed-in area just to the left of the chest of drawers conceals a vertical support beam that supports the one running across the ceiling. 

My beautiful new kitchen.  Open and airy and ready for culinary adventures. The island was a great find on Craigslist. 

We created this hallway by opening the wall at the base of the staircase.  This leads to the guest bath on the right and to our master bedroom down and to the left.  That's an antique downspout hanging at the end of the hall. 

Master bedroom. New mattress arriving soon!

This room was the gloomiest of all when we began this project.  No windows other than the one you see at the very top here.  We uncovered the one below idea why it had been boarded up and then added two new windows on either side of the bed that you can see in the previous pic.

Master bedroom looking into the master bath.  (Jacuzzi tub is awaiting it's finishing touches in there.)  Barn door is almost ready to hang as soon as we add an extension to the hanging bar.  We made the door ourselves from cedar planks, many of which we salvaged from the big paneled wall in this room. 

The new guest bath.  A little tight for getting good pics, but here you can see the sink area.  We had this room down to the studs and then even removed some of them to reconfigure the space.  New bead board, a vanity with marble-top sink, cheery paint, and travertine floor tiles make this a much happier-looking room.

Back hallway leading to master bath and bedroom.  Perfect space for a little desk and, in the future, a hall tree for shoes and jackets.
Did I mention the trees?  The beautiful, old, gnarly guardians of our land?  They provide a lovely amount of shade even on the hottest of Florida days and remind us to stay rooted and grounded to this new place we call home.  I believe we even have a few tree spirits or Ents watching over us.  I'll share some pics of those in a later post, but, for now, here are a few views from around the property:

We have four pastures on our property, all separated by wooden rail fences.
We love these arching branches...they are both welcoming and protective.

Walking with the family.

As my dad so perfectly said..."the sky is bigger in Florida." :)

Here you can see the side of the barn with its three stalls.  Former owners raised goats, rabbits, and a variety of birds.

My hubby in the riding ring.  I suppose there must have been horses here at one time...or maybe the goats were really big ones?  Ha ha...

Looking towards the back of the racket ball court and barn. 

My dad, the angler, trying his luck in our pond.  The neighbors, whose house you see in the background, own three beautiful horses that we enjoy watching as they graze in their grassy pastures.

Throughout the renovation process, these lotus blossoms were constant reminders of Thich Nhat Hanh's wise words: "No Mud.  No Lotus." 

We've decided on a name for our property.  After tossing around many different ideas we have decided to call this place "Arching Oaks."  It seems most fitting.  Everywhere you go on the land there are branches arcing overhead, in some places even creating a canopied tunnel to walk through. 

Today, we are slowly but comfortable settling in.  Boxes are almost all unpacked inside of the house and we are getting used to the new routines that come with a new home...Where are the towels? How do you work the thermostat? What was that weird noise in the middle of the night?  It's all becoming wonderfully day at a time. 

I mentioned that there were other major events that took place during the past six months.  One of the happiest being the arrival of my parents!  My sweet mom and dad are officially residents of Mount Dora now.  Dad retired from teaching in June, they sold the house I grew up in (in one day!) and left Pittsburgh for a warmer climate.  We couldn't be more excited to have them just ten minutes away from us.  Ava now has all four grandparents nearby to grow up with and that is a priceless experience.

On a very sad note, in May I lost one of my best childhood friends to cancer.  She was only 38 years old and left behind her husband and very young son.  I find myself thinking about her all the time and am reminded to treasure each day. 

As for my art-making...I'm gearing up for big things to come.  We hope to renovate the racket ball court by next Spring so that I will have a space in which to "properly" create and teach journaling and mixed-media workshops. I also hope to reopen my Etsy store very soon. Stay tuned to this blog for more info or follow me on Facebook! 

Now I think I'll go and unpack a box or two and then settle in for a lovely evening here at Arching Oaks.  Thanks for checking in!  -Chelsey


Hughes Crew said…
Beautiful and charming! Enjoy your new journey and make beautiful memories in your forever home.
Hughes Crew said…
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jg said…
Oh Chelsey, your catch-up blog is amazing. We are so proud of you and Sabastian and all of the months of hard work you invested in your amazing "Arching Oaks". Dad and I couldn't be happier to be living so close to you. Your pictures give a real sense of the beauty inside your home and out on the grounds. Enjoy forever and ever !!!
Chachi said…
Congratulations!! Your Vision,perseverance,hard work, love and faith has delivered a great Fruit!! I wish you and your lovely Family many blessings, new memories and much happiness.
Great Job!! Your home is warm with love and beauty!!
Arching Oaks is a magical place!!

Bravo and applause!! applause!! for the vision and hard work that made your wonderful new home emerge throughout the summer...what a fabulous creative work of art!!
Unknown said…
Congrats, Chelsey! Looks beautiful! I look forward to coming down to see you and the property in person! And SO happy for you to have your parents....I think it is priceless- I am so happy my kids are growing up by both sets of grandparents - a blessing I missed out on! Love you!
Chelsey Velilla said…
Thank you, everyone, for your kind words of support. It has truly been a labor of love. We look forward to what the coming days, months, and years here will bring. :)
Chelsey Velilla said…
Thank you, Donna. I have to tell you that your weekly "trail-rides" were something I never missed...even in the midst of heavy renovations. They kept me grounded and left me feeling peaceful when things seemed overwhelming and heavy. :)
Chelsey Velilla said…
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