On March 13th, 2020 I walked out of my classroom at The Woodstock Academy wondering when I would be back. How many books should I take with me? When would I see my students in person again? Everything was being shut down so rapidly because of COVID and no one knew how long it would take for things to go back to normal. I could not have imagined that the answer would be never. After a successful 22-year career teaching Latin to high school students, never would I be in that space or be a teacher, for that matter, ever again. Just a few months later, in July of that year, a state police officer arrived at my house late one afternoon to tell us that my husband was tragically killed by a careless driver while he was on the way home from a cross country motorcycle and camping trip.
I took a leave from teaching that fall and I decided to focus my energy and attention on making my home, my daughter and my pets comfortable and safe. I was anxious and scared out of my mind about running our household by myself and being a single parent. During these months of mourning and figuring out a new life for myself, I realized it was comforting and satisfying for me, and my little brood, to do various redecorating, remodeling and updating projects around my house. One of the first phone calls I made was to a contractor I hired to rebuild my deck and to remodel my master bathroom and bedroom based on my designs. Many of you have seen the photos on social media of my gorgeous new deck and the love affair that has developed between the contractor and my golden retriever, Phoebe.
The contractor and I realized that we worked very well together so I jumped into designing other spaces he was working on and even helping with demo, painting and other tasks I could manage. I soon began working for him as an intern and as his protégé and I’ve since helped with, among other projects, two kitchen remodels, two bathroom remodels and a whole house window replacement. The biggest challenge for me that I still face is doing physical work with another person who has more strength, agility and experience with adeptly using tools. But my determination and the hands-on experience of learning to use tools, equipment, and picking up new skills has been exhilarating, fun, exciting and humbling. Some days even a little humiliating. Not only have I acquired my own set of high-quality tools, but I’ve put to good use many of the ones that Alan left behind in his workshop. I think he would be pleased, and proud of me.
The most exciting part of this story is that my contractor, Ken, has now become my business partner, teacher, friend and mentor and together we have formed a real estate development company, K&M Villa-State, LLC. Yes, “Villa.” I couldn’t possibly cleanse myself of my Latin and Ancient Greek studies entirely. A Roman villa was a farmhouse or a country house which provided the best domestic comforts and luxuries of the republic and empire. Fully plumbed baths, radiant central heating and mosaic floors were common features of these homes. Catullus’s description of his villa especially comes to mind—a place which, for him, personified comfort, luxury and domestic happiness. This is how we want individuals and families to feel when they walk into one of our villas.
Out of all the things we have achieved so far, I am the most proud of the fact that Ken and I have both worked hard to be a true partnership through excellent communication, mutual respect and encouraging one other’s strengths and having patience with one other’s weaknesses. Our vision for the business is building single family homes, duplexes and apartments that provide value and comfort to individuals and families in Northeastern Connecticut where, according to statistics in these rural towns, very few new or affordable homes are being constructed. One unique business strategy that my partner and I have is that we will be doing 99% of the work on these homes ourselves instead of contracting out various parts of the build. We are especially excited about using ICF (Insulated Concrete Forms) construction on our projects, a product and technique that is both innovative and green. ICF construction homes are built with polystyrene blocks that are put together like Legos and are separated by plastic webbing. Concrete is then poured into the webbing between the blocks to form a concrete wall. This eliminates wood construction and the need for fiberglass insulation and the result is a home that is durable, energy efficient and requires a lot less upkeep. ICF construction combined with energy efficient propane boilers in all of our homes will lessen the economic burden of excessive heating and electric bills that so many have recently faced. In addition, bidet toilets will be installed in all of our homes which is not only green, but also saves anyone from suffering through another toilet paper shortage.
My biggest challenge has been working on my strength, agility and knowledge of different tools. In my previous career the focus was solely on the intellect so now instead of collecting classics books I’m slowly trying to acquire most of my own tools. And the plot of raw land we purchased feels like a fitting metaphor for my own life—there are so many possibilities for us to create beautiful things through our vision, enthusiasm and effort. A lot of effort.
Just as I never would have ever thought that my teaching career would end so abruptly, I also never thought I would ever own a business of any kind let alone one in real estate development. I’m eternally grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given in a profession that is largely male and the encouragement I have received to begin this new life, this new career. What motivates me most is the example I am setting for my daughter that success can be achieved even in the face of an awful tragedy. My partner Ken likes to tease me that my excitement comes from the three cups of coffee I usually have during our morning meetings. But the truth is that my enthusiasm stems from the prospect of providing others with the pride and sense of security that comes with owning a home that has value and comfort.
I’ll still be reading and writing and blogging, but with a new perspective.