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The Hippie House - Part 2

I have known Ross Sanders for nearly 20 years--he was my hockey coach and mentor growing up--so, I heard many a tall tale of nights spent skating the pond at his house. However, I had never met his father, nor seen his house of legend, so when he asked me to do a guest blog about his newest project: renovating his parents' home, I jumped at the opportunity.

We hear it all the time, there are always two sides to every story and this story is no exception. When I pulled up to the home of Bob Sanders on a recent overcast day, I was expecting to conduct a brief interview about home remodeling, but when I left five hours later, I realized that when a family has lived in a home for over 40 years, a remodel means much more than changing a coat of paint.

The Sanders’ moved to Alaska in 1971 when Bob took a job with the U.S. Geological Survey and they quickly settled into a house with, shall we say, a lot of character. Although their family home was built with whatever resources the previous owners could find and has likely never been up to code, it was home. 40 years later, after raising three kids and erecting a German Immersion program in Alaska, Bob and his wife are ready to make some much needed design upgrades to make the home more navigable in their golden years. The problem is, how does one say goodbye to the quirky elements that made this home, uniquely their home?

When I sat down to talk to Bob about his home, it was clear that he was struggling with how to best utilize the talents of his architect son while still maintaining his vision for the remodel. Ross, a huge proponent of Universal Design, had hoped to move the living essentials to the first floor so that Bob would no longer have to navigate the somewhat unstable staircases. The problem is, this would mean that the roof-line would have to change, as well as the overall design of the home.

In theory, Bob liked the idea but in practice, he hated the proposed roof and was vocal about it. Even though most adult children try to pretend their parents’ opinions don’t matter much, the fact of the matter is, they do. Not only was Ross frustrated by the rejection of no less than seven of his proposed plans, he was doubly frustrated because it meant that his father did not approve of his work. As an outside observer, it seemed clear that these two brilliant men were having a problem of communication and at the stem of it, was their varying views on what the house signified. While Ross was viewing the house as an object, Bob was seeing his home as a pseudo family member.

After talking to Bob for an hour, he decided to give me a tour of the premises and as he did, my view of his home began to shift. We scaled the crooked stairs leading to the first floor and as we did, he began to tell me about how the family bobcat--yes, you read that correctly--used to pounce on Ross in the mornings. While in his workroom, Bob began to tell me about building custom gun cases with his only daughter. We went into the backyard and he pointed out the man-made lakes that would freeze in the winter so the kids could play hockey. Then he pointed to the dock were they would sit and do their homework in the fall. Listening to him talk, I could picture these three adult children as kids again and I could hear their laughter as they chased one another through the backyard.

Bob had spent most of his life trying to provide a stable environment for his children to grow and this house was the physical representation of his sacrifices. At times, he would tear up when recalling a particularly vibrant memory of his children interacting in the environment he had created and I found myself lucky to be able to experience their childhood second hand.

As Bob finally breaks ground on his remodel, I look forward to seeing how Ross and his brother Stefan, who is the contractor, react to the changes made. If I learned anything from my afternoon with Bob, it is that an object can carry a lot of memories with it and it may be harder to make changes than they expect.

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