How to Build Your Dream House

January 7, 2016 | 22 comments

Dear House-Builder,

This is the letter I would have written to you eleven years ago, when you started framing up the walls of our home, if I knew then what I know now.

Remember how I fussed over whether to lay tile or wood floors, whether to paint the kitchen that dark Georgia brick, or one shade lighter? We talked a long time about room dimensions, and light fixtures. Birch versus maple. All that.

Mr. House-Builder, we love our house, and we thank you for your good work, but everything you’ve done is starting to show its age. That’s not your fault. Like the Good Book says, “moths and rust will soon destroy.”

These wood floors are scratched now. I dropped a mayonnaise jar on the kitchen floor one Thanksgiving Day, leaving a deep groove by the refrigerator. The walls are in serious need of a paint touch-up.

We live on a farm, after all, not in the Louvre. We have actual people living here, not mannequins.

We had to replace the oil-bronzed knob on the backdoor this winter, all of us having opened and closed that door thousands of times as we dashed off to school, church, the backyard, the garden, to water the cats, to feed the baby calves, to go for a sunset walk, to get fresh air when we needed a break from mama-meltdowns.

The cupboard hinges keep breaking. And the overpriced carpet that I picked wears the wounds of a few dozen toddler mishaps and slumber parties.

You built us a lovely home, kind sir, but I have slowly begun to learn that you didn’t build our dream home. We did.

We are building our dream home, not with two-by-fours, but with love and tears and laughter and messes and sick days, and in the midst of winter doldrums and hurt feelings and kissed foreheads. We’ve built a house at the piano bench and the kitchen sink and that bedside prayer spot where we aren’t scared to ask for big things from an even bigger God.

This house became a dream home, not when you handed us the shiny keys, Mr. Builder, but over the course of years and memories, when it started to get dinged-up and loved-up.

This is a house that love built.

The bruises and scrapes are the souvenirs of a life lived fuller and messier and louder than we ever dreamed.

And that’s how a dream house is built: Somewhere between the spilled Fanta and the night we chipped the baseboards trying to smack down that crazy mouse with a broom.

The dent from the “Great Mouse Massacre of 2005″ is still there, and it makes me laugh every time, remembering how I wanted to scream at midnight, but my husband shushed me so we wouldn’t wake the baby.

I have come to appreciate the house for what it has become: a storyteller. This house carries a long-term memory all its own, reminding me of all the life I might otherwise forget.

Look. You won’t see our scattered socks on the pages of House Beautiful or Southern Living. But I find my dream home in these places where drawers yawn open, because I know that someday, the girl who made the mess won’t live here anymore.

We’ve got this table, you see, and it’s one long scratched-up rectangle where there’s always an open seat for someone. We love to have all of our feet under the same table. Here, the mid-morning sunlight slants in through the picture window, pooling in the nicks and scrapes and fork tines.

Years ago, our youngest daughter pounded in the wood; it was her first time using a “big-people fork.” I ran my hands along the marks this morning, each fork-tine holding a memory.

Our dream home has kept a running record of the important messes, like a spreadsheet of what really matters. We’ve made spaces where we can string yarn and beads, where we can fling paint onto canvas and where we stretch dreams onto young souls.

The house is a diary, and I re-read it every day, even as we add daily to its pages.

Dishes stay on counters longer than they should. Books are stacked high on bedsides and in baskets. I find a child’s fingerprints memorialized in dust.

Some of the decor has gotten a bit outdated, and yes, we do “messy” well. But that’s OK. Because it won’t be long until the rooms echo an old, unrepeatable story.

When that day comes, you might find me standing inside the echo, reading the diary of an old house.

I’ll be looking for the fingerprints and the fork-tines and the dreams on which a house is really framed up. And I will thank God for even the broken parts, because that’s where the dream came true.


The Happy Owner of a Dream House

by | January 7, 2016 | 22 comments


  1. Beth Richardson

    My “babies” are not both in college.. my oldest a junior and my youngest a freshman, and my husband and I have been talking about our house, which has always been too big for just the four of us, but it was cheap when we needed a house and we just love that our family was raised here. It’s cheaper to stay, in this house that will soon be too big for just the two of us, than to buy smaller and more efficient, which is crazy in many ways. So we talk about making these rooms work differently, and how it will be the same, but maybe different.. for just a few more years at least. Loved this post. <3

    • dukeslee

      Scott and I have had the same discussions that you guys are having. We’re thinking about turning one of the rooms into a music room, and another into a library!

  2. Ally | The Speckled Goat

    This is precious.

    I live in a farmhouse (not the Louvre! – love that line!), that’s been loved and lived in since 1943. I think that’s one of the things I love about it most- the history that those old, cracking plaster walls have observed for nearly 75 years. May we be blessed with years of love to fill up those rooms, too.

    (Love and dents from where I dropped the can of peas yesterday on the hardwood floor. But if you don’t look close, you can barely see it. Here’s to the looking close and finding those storied, blessed imperfections!)

    • dukeslee

      Oh Ally! Your home sounds lovely. Do you know who the previous owners were by chance? Wouldn’t it be cool for homeowners/renters to keep scrapbooks of the life lived in a house — a scrapbook that stays with the house and is passed down to new owners?

      • Ally | The Speckled Goat

        Actually, yes! We do know the previous owners! We’re only the second name on the deed- “Jim,” who moved out right before we moved in, actually grew up in the house, himself. Such history, there.

        “Jim’s” love for the place is so evident- even after we purchased the house, but before we moved in, he was out there picking up sticks in the yard and caring for the property even though it wasn’t his responsibility anymore. There are so many quirks to the house and the land- water lines, how the well works, caution with the pond, how the old septic system is hooked up- that he gave us his phone number in case we needed anything or have any questions. They’ve been a blessing to us.

        I suppose they did leave a “scrapbook” of sorts- written on the subfloor in the bathroom, under the carpet (yuck, I know!) and the tile, were sweet little notes- “Jim loves Sue,” … “Cricket (their dog) loves everyone.” It was a fun discovery after all that hard work! =)

  3. Trudy Den Hoed

    Beautiful, Jennifer. I love reading of the nostalgic memories of your “dream home.” So very true! 🙂

    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Trudy!

  4. Martha Orlando

    “And I will thank God for even the broken parts, because that’s where the dream came true.”
    Our family, as messy as we might be, is ultimately what makes a house a home. This past Thanksgiving and Christmas when we hosted the families to dinner, I found myself wishing for just one moment that we had a wee bit more room, but the thought vanished as soon as it came. The smallness of space makes togetherness all that more real and intimate. Guess I have a dream home, too, Jennifer.

    • dukeslee

      I love your remarks about smallness of space. It creates an intimacy that can’t be duplicated with a sprawling home.

  5. Jody Ohlsen Collins

    That is positively lovely. Wow. How blessed you are.
    Makes me re think my views about ‘this old house’ of mine…it’s seen a lot. And been loved a lot.

    • dukeslee

      Do you have an older house, Jody? I grew up in a house that was built in 1902. The house we live in now was brand new in 2002, when we moved in.

  6. Sharon

    Jennifer, I love this post, how you bring your house to life and remind me to embrace the imperfections of not just my home, but my life. Yes, the broken parts are where dreams come true.

    • dukeslee

      Hi Sharon … Grateful for you reading along and commenting.

  7. Brenda

    Lovely, Jennifer. 🙂 My home is beginning to echo, and it puts into perspective the priorities that are important before my youngest leaves home. Boys turn into men so quickly. (And, girls into ladies. 🙂 ) Sweetly written, thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • dukeslee

      You are welcome, Brenda. Thanks for reading.

  8. Nancy Ruegg

    Precious thoughts here, Jennifer, illustrating the value of treasuring small moments–even the small messes (!)– that become warm, priceless memories. Praise God for the gift of memory, allowing us to hold close to our hearts those fleeting days when our children were young!

    • dukeslee

      Suddenly, it seems like the years are flying by. I know it sounds cliche, but cliches exist quite often because THEY ARE TRUE!

  9. Leah Adams

    I love this so much!! We, too, built our home and made careful choices about everything. We have LIVED in our home, and it shows. The most precious parts of our home are not the things and stuff, but the memories and people who have lodged here. Thanks for such a heart-warming post, Jennifer.

    • dukeslee

      So grateful for you, Leah. Thank you for your kind words.

  10. Hollyko

    Oh this was wonderful. Although our children were not raised here as they were adults when we built our house, it has become a home because of the time we have spent here, the friends and family who have eaten here, stayed here, prayed here and loved here. We have gathered here, worshiped here and been blessed here by the Lord in so many ways. Thanks for bringing to mind “our dream home” too.

    • dukeslee

      Hi Hollyko!

      Your home sounds magical. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Deborah Will

    Love your dream home. Beautiful Jennifer and so true.


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