Our house on Summit Avenue turned 100 last summer. My family — first my mother, and now my husband, my daughter, and myself — have owned it for more than half of that lifespan. It’s a house that we consider a legacy, for both its history and its hospitality, but the story of our home is not simple.
I inherited the house on Christmas Day 2006, just a few months aft er my husband and I married and his teenagers moved in. We decided not to make the home our primary residence, but to use the home to “do good.”
Over the past 12 years, we’ve hosted a variety of guests, whose stays have ranged from a few days to many months. We’ve hosted people who are:
• Between places — home for a time while otherwise living abroad, between jobs, between homes, while their home was being renovated.
• Building (or rebuilding) lives — moving to this country or this area to work, using it as a launching pad for building a new career or family.
• Coming to the area for specific milestones — births, deaths, weddings, reunions.
We’ve also had a number of sometimes spontaneous, wonderful events happen at the house, including intimate weddings, art shows, fundraisers, board retreats, and reality TV episodes. There was the family who came here for a transplant operation at the University of Minnesota and stayed for several months to heal. Often, the house is home to people who don’t know they need a place of respite until they get there.
In the summer, my family spends weekends at the house, inspiring a friend to say, “You are so Saint Paul that your summer cabin is in Saint Paul!”
We kick off every summer weekend with an open house Friday Night Pool Party, in which we never know who is coming and new connections are made.
The big question for me was, how do we make this sense of legacy personal? How do we create a sense of home so that people feel welcomed?
We focus on comfort: a tea kettle that always works, cozy seating on the front porch, fluffy comforters for winter nights.
It also means there are personal touches in the house, but you might have to dig for them. A family that moved here from Belgium right before Christmas was thrilled to find an attic full of ornaments they could use.
I also love that there are many wonderful people who have a sense of ownership in the house. People who come to a pool party and always know exactly where the wine glasses are, or notice how much the seasonal landscape is changing.
The sampler stitched by my grandmother Irene in 1910 hangs in our front entry and says it: “A home is more than residence. It’s love and peace and confidence.”