Our farm, in rural Ontario.
How did you discover it?
We bought it almost seven years ago. It was completely derelict – it had been abandoned years before, and the roof leaked badly, the furnace didn’t work, the windows were original and the wallpaper was falling off in strips, the plaster in chunks.
But this old brick house, built in the late 1800s, had belonged to a once-prosperous mill owner, and it had lovely old bones. And it was on 100 acres in the rolling hills of beautiful Northumberland County.
The old mill was still there, and there was a long, winding driveway in from the road, with a bridge over the creek and lots of trees, so it was very secluded. It had long been my dream to find a fixer-upper in the country, visit on weekends, and retire there eventually.
What first drew you to it?
One thing I loved about the house was the layout – it had a grand front staircase and then a second, back staircase for the servants. The back staircase led from the maid’s quarters (now my office) down to the kitchen.
The kitchen had a gorgeous tin ceiling. But the walls were painted lime green and covered in grease and tobacco smoke.
The living and dining rooms, with sliding pocket doors between them, had high ceilings and ornate little posts in the corners of the baseboards. It was very grand and squalid at the same time. We lost our minds and bought it.
What have been the biggest challenges?
There have been times when I’ve had buyer’s remorse. My husband and I have worked really hard on it, doing a lot of the demolition work ourselves. The entire house has been taken down to the studs and reimagined, but in keeping with its original character.
Our contractor is at least two years behind schedule. It’s still not finished. But we absolutely love it. We have a kitchen now, and one of the bathrooms is finished. I have the book nook I’ve always wanted, at the top of the stairs, with a rug we bought in Istanbul when I was there for a crime festival.
And I have my own office, as I mentioned above. It’s the first time I’ve had my own office because I’ve done my writing on a small desk in the bedroom all these years.
What do you love most about it?
The views are lovely. The quiet is lovely. There’s parking. And birds and flowers and butterflies, and baby chipmunks under our (unfinished) front porch.
The farm has been a godsend during the pandemic because Toronto has been locked down for longer than any city in North America. But we can go to our farmhouse and see no one, and not wear a mask outside.
What travel spot is on your post-lockdown wish list?
When travel is allowed again, I want to go back to Harrogate, walk around the lovely town centre and pop into Betty’s for tea.
Not A Happy Family by Shari Lapena is out now, published by Bantam Press, priced £14.99