What’s the best idea you’ve ever had? Regale us with every detail of the idea — the idea itself, where it came to you, and the problem it solved.
After visiting our alma mater, The University of St. Andrews in Scotland, to celebrate New Years in 1985 with friends, my husband and I were struck with how lovely the town of St. Andrews is. It’s kind of the complete package: a world-class university; a nice size — you can walk nearly everywhere; the North Sea skirting the town; the well-maintained buildings and medieval ruins; and nice people. Even the weather is better in this area of Scotland than in other parts. The county in which St. Andrews sits, Fife, is a lovely area, too, with old fishing villages along the coast, and a largely rural economy with rolling cultivated fields creating a serene landscape. Other hills are dotted with sheep or cattle enclosed by handcrafted low stone walls.
We hatched the idea of buying a property in St. Andrews that we could rent to students for 9-10 months of the year, and then use it ourselves for summer holidays. My husband is English, and after we started having children in 1978, we went to Britain annually for the kids to get to know their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins.
I went over to Scotland in April of 1985 determined to buy something suitable in a week. A friend of ours who lives in the area and works as construction cost consultant helped me by checking out tempting properties and giving me advice. Towards the end of the week I found a place that was perfect for renting to students, and for our large family, too. Quickest house buying on record! In June we all went over and readied the house for our first student tenants.
Our kids always loved their month in St. Andrews in the summers and usually we had cousins and other relatives up to visit and enjoy the Scottish sunshine. Sadly, everyone grew up, and after they started going to college, their visits became less and less frequent. Those were golden years, though, and ones that gave an added dimension to all of our lives.
Obviously, my husband and I owned the house jointly, but it’s always been my project. While our summers were always part vacation, they were a lot of work too. Our house was built in 1904, and like all houses, especially with 5-6 students for 9-10 months of the years, it’s needed a lot of upkeep and major upgrades from time to time. Our biggest project was turning a very small bedroom on the first floor into a nicer bathroom than we already had on that floor. (We turned the old bathroom into a laundry room.) Early on we replaced the kitchen, but it’s time to do that again. And the central heating has been redone twice.
On the bigger projects my husband’s advice has been necessary (he’s in the construction industry, too), but I’ve always done a lot of work myself — painting, fixing things, buying furniture (a lot of it used), hiring workmen, and even making slipcovers for some of the furniture (didn’t know I could actually do that!). I’ve even put together several pieces of furniture by myself, with pretty good success. I’ve learned so much by simply having to get tasks done (or pay to have them done). For the most part it’s been a labor of love.
And it’s been a very successful activity. We still love it, but miss having children around. As their lives get busier and there families grow, it becomes almost impossible for them to make the trip.