… on an old house and a sign maker named Tim

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from Tim Kearns.

I’ve never met Tim, but it is no longer rare to do business with folks you’ve never met – and not just because you are buying a book, CD, or your husband’s underwear from Amazon (don’t ask).  I love that the Internet is now leading me to individuals, many of them creative and running their small business mostly – if not entirely – on-line.  It’s pretty neat.

In 2005, my nearly perfect husband and I bought a nearly 200-year-old house on the coast of Maine. It is a very cool place, and as we worked to restore it…

Aside: Does that not sound like the most romantic thing on the planet to do? Ah (as in gentle sigh), to buy a 200 year old house on the coast of Maine with the love of your life. Ah (sigh again), to work side by side, endeavoring to bring the tired house back to the vitality it once knew in its younger years…

AH! (as in post-restoration stress disorder scream).

No, it is not romantic at all.

Until you are done.

And have consumed a lot of wine.

Then it is sort of like after having a baby, when you forget all the pain and suffering of labor and, in many cases, you go on to have additional babies.

It’s like that.

Except we didn’t go on to decide to have additional houses.

We just stuck with the one that we rehabilitated, and looked back on the three years of restoration as if they were all romantic, everything went perfectly, nothing was ever done wrong or was more expensive than estimated or that I didn’t have a complete melt down to the project manager – in front of the very confused and uncomfortable old barn expert – near the end of the entire project, and threaten to walk away from the “whole thing” because the shower door that they had just installed upstairs was leaking. And I was so unglued over this incredibly ridiculous first world problem (not to mention that display being completely out of character) that the project manager arrived the following weekend with a dozen huge, live lobsters in a big styrofoam cooler, hoping to make me happy.  And then he was confused, because he kept taking off the top of the cooler to show off the live lobsters, but I wouldn’t look directly at them because I don’t like to see live things that I’m going to eat later (choosing, instead, to name them and toss them back into the ocean if I can find the ocean, and – since there is one, literally, in my front yard – these lobsters had a real chance at freedom and so they were pretty psyched and tried really hard to get me to look at them. But we did eat them later, so they weren’t so psyched about that.)

And, by the way, think about that scene for a second.

I have a temper tantrum, I get a lobster dinner.

Cause and effect.

Not the best way to train a client, I’d say.

Where was I? Oh.

So anyway, restoring a 200 year old house is sort of like having a baby in that you forget about the pain of actually restoring the house once you are done and enjoying the fruits of your labor (or, more accurately, the labor of numerous, costly old house experts time as well as expensive – and often necessarily custom – materials). Also, it is sort of like having a kid because, just like having a baby, it seems all sorts of great and awesome because the baby has finally arrived.

But then you have to take care of it.

Babies sometimes break, houses sometimes break.

And also, you’re never quite ‘done’ with being a parent.  Nor are you ever quite done taking care of, and occasionally fixing up, a nearly 200-year-old house on the coast of Maine.

Oh, did I drift again? Sorry!

So anyway, I don’t know if I ever told you that the house we bought in Maine was once an Inn? Did I? I can’t remember.

So the house has a really cool history that includes being the home of a business man who rallied other folks in the region (he needed six, I think) to sign up for telephone service, so that a line was run from Bath, Maine to the Boothbay region so that the owner of our house could keep track of lobster prices, etc. So for years, there was a switchboard in our front hall, where all the calls would come in and then be channeled to the right places.

Cool right?

And, also, we had the first indoor toilet in the area. And I don’t know what “…. pumped until the waste came out of the overflows in the attic” means, but it is written about that early septic-type system that used to be in our house and it sounds really gross so I have not investigated it further, instead choosing to focus on other, more romantic stories of the house being an inn, and our occasional ghostly encounters.

But mostly about the house being an inn.

Which brings me back to Tim Kearns.

So we were thinking, once we got the house ‘complete’ (insert belly laugh there), that we should name the house.

John, forever trying to avoid an Amityville Horror type incident, mentions that maybe we should name the house after Mr. Walbridge (a former long-time owner who we believe might still be a frequent visitor and whom John believes we should suck up to, often).

We also thought about just calling it “The Maine House” and creating a sign for the barn that says that. But then we saw a house with that exact sign on it, so we felt very unoriginal, and nixed that idea.

Then we thought, because it was once an inn called “The Southport Inn” that we should call it that. But then Number One Son Sam mentioned that we might end up with visitors knocking on our door to ask if we had any vacancies (Which sent John into a tizzy, thinking that if we didn’t have an Amityville Horror incident, we might have a Psycho incident. And no matter how many times I tried to explain that, in Psycho, the crazy guy was the owner of the hotel and not a potential guest, he would have none of it).

But the idea of doing something with ‘The Southport Inn’, especially since the restoration had turned up the original Inn sign that had once hung on a tree at the end of our street (it was being used as a shelf – hung upside down – to hold the garbage off the ground in the barn, awaiting trash pick-up day, and one day John went to sweep out the area under the shelf, looked up, and saw the sign painted on the underside of the ‘trash shelf’).

Because it is about a hundred years old, and a bit fragile, we didn’t want to hang the original sign outside. But we decided we wanted to commemorate that era in the house’s history, so I went on-line in search of sign makers. There are, as you can imagine, a bazillion of them, but I wanted to find one that was familiar with historic houses. I wanted the sign to fit with the house.  I looked off and on for two years (clearly I wasn’t in a big hurry, but nothing caught my eye either).

And then I found Tim.

Tim is an artist, and a sign maker, and he has a company called Hand Painted Wood Signs (which, by the way, is so plainly stated that I thought it was a perfect fit for Maine (or Australia, but right now we are talking about Maine)).  And from the second I landed on his site, I knew he could create exactly the type of sign I was looking for.

Per his instructions, I e-mailed him and he got right back to me. I explained what I was looking for and he asked me to e-mail him some photos of the old house so he could use them for inspiration (awesome!). We then e-mailed back and forth a few more times with design ideas (including one that would ensure that we didn’t have Norman Bates showing up asking about vacancy, late one foggy night… during a storm… while a neighbor is playing the theme music from Halloween over her newly installed outdoor speakers (These are the types of scenes my nearly perfect husband imagines will really happen. I am not kidding. Theme music included.)

So we agreed on the price and I eagerly awaited my new sign for an old house in Maine.

I was so excited the day I got my sign, carefully opened the box, and Tim had included a small, oval house number sign for free because it had taken him a little longer than he thought it would take to create my sign.


I hung it, and took pictures of it for Tim’s website and Facebook page. And when John arrived and saw it, he loved it. I actually caught him going out to ‘visit’ it a few times. We both agreed it was the equivalent of the cherry on top of a fantastically sweet concoction.

So that was it with Tim. Great artist and sign maker and someone I would absolutely call upon again if I needed a sign.

But then…

A couple of weeks ago, I got an e-mail from Tim with a link to e-bay. Tim’s message read, “Is this your house??” And I clicked on the link and it took me to an e-bay listing and, sure enough, it was the house in Maine – our house! It was an original post card from the Southport Inn, from about 1920 it said.

I bought it on the spot for $8.00.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI e-mailed Tim back to ask how he came across it.  He said he was getting ready to put our sign on his Facebook page and searching for the name of our town in Maine, unsure that the name of the town was actually ‘Southport’. He typed “Southport Inn” into Google and the e-bay listing came up. When he noticed that the house looked familiar, he’d e-mailed me right away.

How cool is that?

So thank you, artist and sign maker Tim Kearns. I loved doing business with you, and I can’t believe that doing so led to an original post card of my house in Maine.

Which John has carefully gone over to make sure that there were never any Amityville Horror-type windows on the house, and that there are no mysterious orbs hiding in trees, nor any creepy faces in the windows.

Except, he is a little worried about the lower right hand window on the main house. Is that a lamp… or a face?

Totally a face.

He won’t even get out the magnifying glass to be sure.

Thanks for readin’

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