Rachel Peters is a storyteller, through and through. When she first sent me a note about her home, I fell head-over-heels in love with its story before I even saw one photo. She also seems more than a little brave; Rachel and her husband starting building their house when she was very pregnant with her second child, and moved in while she was pregnant with her third. “It’s good to move pregnant,” she wrote to me. “Lots of people offer to help.” I do like her style, don’t you? Please enjoy the tour of the Peters’ storybook home.
Q: Who’s lucky enough to live in this home?
A: There is basically always a party in our home, and it’s mostly because of the inhabitants. My husband, Andrew (AP), and I built this house, and moved in on May 4th, 2011, the day before our oldest daughter turned three.
Cana, our three year old, is the official home tour guide. When you come visit for the first time, she welcomes you by presenting a single lit candle and singing “Happy Birthday” no matter what day it is, an idea she had to make all our guests feel celebrated. Our perpetually muddy son, Wake, is 18 months old, and our newest addition is Wren. She’s three months old, and at that durable baby stage that I can’t get enough of.
We are a multi-generational house. My mom, Charlotte, has her own apartment on the ground level, and is a critical member of our team. Finally, for about half the year, we have an incredible 15 year old girl named Ali who lives with us. Her parents run an inspiring organization in Cambodia called Transitions Global, which cares for minor girls who have been rescued from sex trafficking. When they’re on the other side of the globe, Ali is with us. It’s a full, fun house.
Andrew and I share a really satisfying life together. After I left advertising sales and AP sold his design/build firm, we somehow both ended up working together at a local church in Cincinnati, Ohio. In addition to that gig, we have a little copywriting firm called copy+writing. Telling compelling stories keeps us up late at night.
Q: I love the story of the land! I know you want to keep your location a secret, but will you please share its heritage? It’s honestly a love story, the way you tell it.
A: At the turn of the century, there was a group of doctors and lawyers who were friends in downtown Cincinnati. They wanted a place to get away from the heat of the city, so they formed a corporation and purchased 250 acres of a former dairy farm. The men dammed up a stream to make a three-acre lake and built a clubhouse. Local legend suggests there were some wild weekends of hunting, fishing, and crashing in that clubhouse. As the men met women who they would eventually marry, they desired their own summer homes. Lots were cast for one-acre plots of land around the lake, and each of the 26 men built their own place. They continued to share the 250 acres of beautiful woods and the lake. Today, the community is just a 10-minute drive to downtown, and the nearest grocery is about five minutes away. It’s a little piece of heaven in the middle of the city.
In 2010, when I was very pregnant with Wake, we got in touch with one of the daughters of those men. She grew up in an 800 square foot house that her father built brick by brick, and he had just moved out. She was holding out for just the right family to whom to entrust this magical place. I’ll never forget standing in that cabin on a chilly spring day. We listened to stories of childhood hikes in the woods and canoe race birthday parties at the lake. She explained how she knew, 60 years later, that the cabin wasn’t much, but it had served their family well. Everyone shed a few tears as AP told her our dream to build our family a modern lake-house that tempted our kids to spend more time outdoors than in, and he imagined Cana, 18 months at the time, explaining to someone 60 years from now a similar story. The original owner’s daughter gave us a great deal on the land, and every day we are grateful for her generosity towards us.
Q: It’s a daunting task to build a home. Where did you start, and what were the certainties that you wanted in the house? Did you experience any missteps along the way?
A: We started by asking our very creative architect friend to come see the land. I told him we wanted the house to showcase the surrounding woods, and our non-negotiable was a big great room that all of our friends could fit in. We love people, and creating a space that people feel comfortable in was very important to us. He came up with the idea to forgo upper cabinets in the kitchen and to put the main living space on the top floor, giving it an idealistic Swiss Family Robinson vibe. We found the three giant windows above the kitchen sink at a local closeout store for $80 each (total score!) and designed the house around them. Having no upper cabinets allows an incredible panorama of the treetops and lots of space for our friends to sit on the counters as we cook together.
Our strangest request during building was to have limited storage space and small bedrooms. The American way is to collect stuff to maximum capacity; we fell into that trap in our old house, filling up every nook and cranny. This house forces us to live with only the things we really need and love. Small bedrooms are cozy for our tiny kids, and it will encourage older kids to get creative with space and spend more time in the surrounding woods.
We didn’t have any major missteps during construction, but there were a lot of steps. Literally. We’re legendary with the moving company that moved a Sub-Zero fridge and a 700-pound Wolf range to the third story!
Q: I find it so interesting that you’ve chosen words to be your art! What are your favorite sources for prints, and how do you know that one belongs in your home?
A: AP and I knew this house would be the perfect setting for our family story. We chose words that are the theme of that tale. Most of the prints around our home come from Etsy. We are also big fans of Arian Armstrong, a local artist who we befriended, and who is just as lovely as her work. We frame things that we want etched into our kid’s hearts when they aren’t here someday.
The “Oh Darling…” print in the master bath was inspired by conversations we have when AP is trimming his beard and I’m putting on makeup. Lots of story-changing decisions happen in a master bathroom, and it is a great reminder of what we want our life to be about.
Q: Loving that table in front of the fireplace! Does it have a story?
A: When we were building the house, AP and I spent a lot of time on his family farm, exploring barns and searching for treasures. We walked into their bunkhouse, and I saw that butcher block table and gasped. It belonged to his great-great grandfather, Andrew Peters. When AP’s family moved from Connecticut to Ohio around 1850, it was one of the only possessions to make the move. After a life of axe blades and dead chickens, it’s enjoying a well deserved retirement in front of the fire, holding books that explain how to cook chickens. It’s a circle of life thing! Similarly, the wood on the fireplace wall is from a scale house built in 1880 that AP, his brother, and dad deconstructed during a snowstorm last winter on their family farm.
Q: Tell us your favorite corners and details in your home; the ones you can’t pass without smiling, even when you’re on your way to do laundry!
A: I have a special affinity for the light over the kitchen sink. During construction, AP and I each chose one non-negotiable that we wouldn’t cut no matter how tight the budget. His choice was the great room’s giant fan. Mine was the kitchen sink light. I refer to it as “the pretty light.” It makes doing the dishes a little bit romantic.
The powder room is also one of my favorite spaces. I enjoy helping guests find the door concealed in the fireplace wall, the sink-faucet combination works so well, and my long-term plan is to add a collection of something to the walls. I’m open to suggestions as to what that collection should be!
Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time nursing Wren in the master closet. We didn’t obstruct the views with curtains because the neighbors are all far enough away, so it makes a great private space. It gives me time to dream up new outfit combinations and organization strategies as I stare at my wardrobe.
Q: A lot of people have a love-hate relationship with IKEA, but you’ve used it to keep the costs of building your dream home within reach. How would you respond to those on the IKEA fence?
A: IKEA is like Legos for adults, and thankfully my husband and his friends enjoy a good building play-date. In my opinion, the closer you live to IKEA the less frustration you will feel with major projects. There is a great deal of pressure to get every tiny piece of the kitchen right the first time if returns are a six-hour drive away. They showcase fantastic designers, but we are careful to mix IKEA with some warmer pieces so the house doesn’t feel like a doll house.
Q: Tell us about the kids’ rooms. How have they influenced the decor in their rooms?
A: We have two kids’ bedrooms, a bathroom, a master suite, and a playroom on the middle floor of the house. The rooms are small, so we left the ceiling trusses exposed to give them a more spacious feel. Cana picked every item in her room, and she feels like she’s in a fort under that leaf over her bed. The other half of her room is relatively empty, because Wren is set to move in once their bedtimes match up a little more.
When Ali is with us, she sleeps in the playroom loft bed. She hung the bunting and helped us organize the toys and books in that space.
Wake’s room is still a bit of a blank canvas. When we move the crib out, AP has plans to build a bed from pallets or materials from the woods and start a collection of found deer antlers hanging from the ceiling trusses. You’ll have to come back and visit then!
Q: The part of the house where you all spend the most time together…
A: The kitchen. Cana is my mom’s baking assistant; she can shape rolls and make icing better than most adults I know! AP has perfected my great grandmother’s biscuit recipe: butter, lots and lots of butter! On Saturday mornings he pulls up Wake’s highchair and Cana’s step stool and they make brunch while I sip coffee and take pictures. The concrete floors are a breeze to clean up, so we don’t mind the mess that comes from having tiny sous chefs.
Q: Describe the perfect moment in your home, when it works best for you and makes all the sense in the world.
A: I love the thrill of coming back from a long hike and gathering around the table to rehash all of the bravery, discoveries, and laughs we had while we eat mom’s chicken enchiladas. We’ve made long hikes part of family celebrations. There are birthday hikes, a Thanksgiving hike, and a Christmas hike. It’s a great chance to do what we really enjoy on the most important days of the year.
Q: If you were given crazy amounts of money to use on your home, what would you change, add, or purchase?
A: We’d build a guest house, no question. We love having friends experience this hideaway with us. While the neighbors all share a guest cabin beside the lake, we’d love a little cottage that also has space for all of our kayaks, tractors, and tents. I’d love to set it back in the woods, and make it feel like you discovered a cabin from 1900.
Q: Please finish this sentence: “I wish I had known…”
A: I wish I had known that many of life’s great moments are missed because we are afraid of being tired, cold, wet, hot, hurt, or embarrassed. Push through those fears. Great adventure awaits.
Such brilliant advice for 2012, don’t you agree? I love the idea of wholeheartedly pushing through our fears; great adventures are so worth it! Thank you, Rachel, for the reminder.
I’m adding two more features to my ever-growing list of must-haves for a home: a hidden powder room and unobstructed views for as far as the eyes can see. Genius.
P.S. — If you’d like to share your home with us in my Living With Kids series, drop me a note. I’d love to hear from you!