At Home in the Bay - November 2014
401 Main Street - The Bell Family
story and photography by Ellis Anderson
Brehm and Jenny Bell were all set to build their dream home. They owned a lovely lot in Old Town and architect Ed Wikoff had worked with the family to come up with plans for a house that would be their “forever home.” Final tweaks were being worked into the design. The stars seemed aligned for perfection.
Then Jenny, who was driving through Old Town in a rain shower, chanced to see realtor Amy Wood dashing to her car after posting a “for sale” sign in front of 401 Main Street. She stopped her own car in the middle of the street. She called her husband, Brehm, a local attorney, on the cellphone.
“Brehm, you know that house I’ve always loved?” she asked. “The pink one on the corner of Main and Necaise? It’s on the market.”
The couple booked an appointment for a showing that same day.
Jenny, a practical-minded woman, doesn’t think of herself as being clairvoyant, yet the week before she had specifically mentioned the house at 401 Main in a conversation with a close friend. She’d confided that if something wonderful - just the right thing - came open in Old Town, they might put aside their house plans and buy instead of building. It’d have to be a place we both really loved, she told her friend. Something like the Pink House.
However, both Brehm and Jenny went to the showing with open minds. They were prepared to walk away, although Jenny at least hoped to snag a few ideas they could incorporate into their own house plans.
She recalls, “We walked through the gardens first and then through the front door. It just immediately felt like home. And even though it'd been renovated, the charming character of the house had been left intact.”
After the initial walk-through, the couple sat in the outdoor pavilion and tried to absorb the situation. Did they love the house so much that they could ditch the idea of building? Later that day, they set up a second appointment so their four teenage/young adult children could take a look. The deal was cinched when they all expressed enthusiasm. The kids were especially excited by “the outside rooms.”
While the original house was built sometime in the 1890’s, the former owners, Jim and Lori Lewis, had constructed two outbuildings The first contains a large living area with kitchenette, a finished attic space and a workshop. After the Bells purchased the home, they made the building a complete studio apartment by converting a closet into a full bathroom. There’s even room in the studio building for Jenny’s office. The graphic designer used re-purposed historic doors to create a chic room divider between a guest bedroom area and her workspace.
The second outdoor building is just a few steps away, across an intimate courtyard garden paved with bricks. There's a pond in the center, where fish flash in filtered sunlight like slices of orange. The many-paned glass walls of the “pavilion” give it a charming fairyland feel. Inside the tiny cottage, the exposed rafter ceiling seems higher than the room is wide. The Bells have furnished it with a suspended television, comfy chairs and game tables. Jenny says it’s already become a favorite teenage hangout, while the adults have found it to be the perfect fair-weather spot to enjoy football games.
The overhang of the pavilion creates the roof for yet a third outdoor living area. A massive brick fireplace steals the show as the centerpiece. Two stained glass doors hang on either side to give privacy from passing cars on the street. On chilly nights when the winds are brisk, a thick canvas shade can be pulled down to make a "wall," turning the brick patio into a cozy place for conversation or simply watching the fire.
“The Lewis’s did such a great job of making the additions mesh architecturally with the main house,” says Jenny. “They really loved on this house. We’re blessed by all their attention to detail.”
The Bells are looking forward to putting their own stamp on the pink house as time goes on. But they’re not in a hurry. In the meantime, they’re settling into the rhythm of life in Old Town’s Historic District. They walk or bike to visit friends, go to church, eat out or just to take in the scenery of the beachfront.
“This is the place where we want to be for life,” Jenny says. “And that’s a good feeling.”
The Bells are seeking to learn more about the history of 401 Main Street. If you have information about this house's past, you can email them here!
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