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It is no coincidence that Loyola University writing professors Ron Tanner and Jill Eicher met in a consignment shop. They were both nostalgists with a penchant for collecting cast-off objects from the past (hope they go see “Midnight in Paris”). A romance bloomed and the vintage theme continued as Jill helped Ron scout out historic “fixer-uppers” in his quest for a new house. It was 1999 when the newly minted couple first spied the grand Queen Anne style townhouse in Charles Village. Jill loved it and Ron loved Jill. He now admits he bought the house hoping that it would lure Jill to move in, and they could work on the renovation together. Ron also admits he is a hopeless romantic and a rampant optimist. He is not lying.
The house, you see, had been abandoned for a year and perhaps that was a good thing: It gave it some time to air out. For 10 years it had been occupied by a fraternity whose testosterone fueled havoc had all but ruined the circa 1897 beauty. How can a group of young men do more damage in ten years than four whole families did in 100? Well, they used the front hall balusters for batting practice, clogged every toilet in the house, painted the walls with confederate flags and ingenious phrases like “duh!”, devoted whole rooms to the storage of garbage, used the doors for dart practice, nailed elevated bunks (remember them?) into the bay windows and supported a colony of rats. Check out the before photos, appropriately named “damage!” Ron paid $125,000 for the house “as-is” and he got to keep the 19 empty beer kegs.
Somehow, love conquered and Jill moved in, tools in hand. The first year of cohabitation can be challenging in the best of circumstances. Imagine doing it while living in squalor with a never-ending list of physically taxing chores to be done (I am certain that I would turn violent). Ron and Jill’s story (soon to be a book) is exactly as complicated and funny as you would think. There was his wanting to “get it done” juxtaposed with her desire to “do it right.” (Didn’t I just have that exact fight over the recycling last night?) There was the inevitable blame game. (“I have no idea where it is, I never had the hammer, damn it!”) And there were more serious complications, such as running out of money and getting lead paint poisoning. Of course, a lot of good things happened, too. When it came to outfitting the house, Ron and Jill found their love of the past quickly turned into a blissful joint obsession. The couple rigorously researched the most historically authentic tub, scoured reclamation yards for the perfect mantle, celebrated finding just the right moldings and splurged on period-perfect light fixtures. The renovation forced them to reveal themselves and the places where they were and were not compatible.
Over seven years the couple toiled to get the house into magazine-worthy shape (This Old House did a story on them) and the results are beautiful in more ways than one.
In 2003, the Tanners triumphantly married in their their lovely home. Today the couple continues to beautify and upgrade. They say they will never be “done” and have a website where they showcase their latest projects. Recently there have been improvements to the yard and the library and, while beautifully executed, you get the feeling that it is all just fun tinkering now. Much like Ron & Jill’s union, the hard work is already done.
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