This is David’s story about buying a condemned tudor mansion in Akron, Ohio and re-building it — brick by brick and stick by stick — and making it a home for his growing family. Built in 1913, the home had been neglected for decades. With barely any roof overhead, the house was filled with rodents (of unusual size), and 55 roasting pans used to collect water. No plumbing, minimal electricity, and walls that literally crumbled upon touching, David and Gina took on a challenge that no one else would dare dream of accepting. Certainly not a journalist with minimal construction-skills, except a life-long passion for re-purposing everything from couches to driveways.
“This was my custom: instead of learning the right way to do something, I applied arrogance to my ignorance, forging ahead despite my self-created obstacles.”
I will admit that it seems odd to feel at home in a book — especially in regard to a book that is written about renovating a home that you have never seen. But that is exactly how I felt reading All the Way Home. Perhaps it is because I used to live within a mile of this house during a recent one-year tenure in Akron, and unknowingly drove by it a thousand times. Or perhaps it is because, as I was reading David’s story, I could imagine myself having a beer with him at the local pub we frequented when we lived there.
Regardless, reading Giffels’ book was like putting on warm, fuzzy slippers and nestling into my favorite reading chair. His writing is witty, charismatic, and captivating. I found myself laughing out loud to myself, and then looking around for my husband to share the funny anecdote. David is also painfully honest as he describes the trials and tribulations that they endured — the strain on his marriage; his guilt at missing his son’s toddler years as he slaved over the house; the numerous miscarriages his wife suffered; and his own ignorance at the enormity of the project. The story is as magnificent as the house itself.
David had to literally kick out the prior owner — an elderly woman carrying a 1972 Avon catalog with her as she walked out the door for the final time — one week after he took possession of the home. He used his vintage amplifier and electric guitar to try to evict a family of squirrels camping out in the attic above his son’s bedroom (note: it didn’t work). He wrestled with an over-sized raccoon growling in the space above the master bedroom. And he found $14,000 of wrapped bills minted in the 30s, buried and forgotten in the space between the walls. He endured endless uninvited strangers meandering through his house, curious to see who was crazy enough to tackle this condemned nightmare. And courtesy of a local psychic, he discovered the melancholic ghost of a previous owner, roaming the halls upstairs.
But more than all of that, David Giffels discovered what it means to find peace amongst the chaos. He learned that a home is not defined by a roof overhead or the walls that enclose it. Home is the love you build with your family. And like all renovations, love is messy, complicated, always a work in progress, and incredibly fulfilling.
Even if you don’t have ties to Akron, or if you have never renovated an old house, you will find yourself charmed by David and his hysterical stories. It might not be easy to find a copy of this book, but swing by your local bookstore and I bet they would be happy to order one for you.