Beauty for Ashes

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After a devastating fire, a couple rebuilds with a focus on simplicity and comfort

Photography by Josh DeVries

Nothing can prepare you for those paramount junctures in life when everything crumbles and all seems lost. However, it is in the moments when life hits the hardest that we draw closer to each other and learn what is truly important.
For a Bedford couple, their trial came in the form of a house fire that destroyed everything they owned. But Stu and Carrie Young’s resiliency through it all taught them to withdraw from tradition, embrace hardship and find contentment through simplicity.

“I came home from work one day and said, ‘I’ve got steaks, let’s grill,’” Stu said.

Not long after those words, the Youngs heard the grill explode and saw it go up in flames. The entire side of their garage then caught fire with flames shooting up to the ceiling. The regulator on the gas grill was apparently not working properly and was feeding the flames.

“It was unbelievable the amount of flames shooting out of the grill. We were very lucky nobody was hurt,” Carrie said.
The Bedford Police Department arrived on the scene very quickly, but by that point the fire had spread and burned the entire back of the house. The Youngs realized too late that the grill had been too close to their home.

Firefighters tried to cover some pieces of furniture with fire proof blankets, but only a few of their things were protected. They lost almost everything to fire, smoke or water damage.

“What the fire doesn’t really get, the smoke and water damage get,” Carrie said.

After the smoke cleared, the Youngs were tasked with sorting through the ashes.

“It was the hardest thing we had to go through,” Carrie said. “You now have to look and try to determine what this stuff is that is burnt to a crisp, then sift through it, [to determine]what it was and value what you paid for it. It’s not like you get your life back quickly. It takes a long time to get your life back.”

The Christmas before the fire, Carrie had asked her children to get her a fireproof safe box—a place she could place old family photos, important documents and mementos. She didn’t get around to putting things in it until the following March. But it was just in time—the fire occurred in May 2012.

“[The box was located] where the fire was the worst—upstairs where I had a crafting room,” Carrie said. “I dug it out of the fire—the box did its job. I’m really thankful I asked for it and used it.”

Nearing retirement, the Youngs found themselves in a unique position of starting over. They considered moving somewhere else and downsizing, but it took one of their grandchildren to change their perspective. (They have five children, 12 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.) One of their grandsons, who lived just one road behind them, said, “If you move Grandma, I can’t walk to your house.” So, they decided to rebuild on the same property.

“Our house is always full of kids,” Carrie said.

While they rebuilt, the Youngs lived in a 36-foot fifth wheel camper in their backyard. It took nine months to get the insurance settlement, which gave them a lot of time to think and design their new home.

“We had no experience building a home,” Stu said. “We had done a lot of home projects. We’ve lived in homes where we’ve remodeled a lot, but not professionally.”

Stu and Carrie sat with their builder and mulled over a half dozen designs before they found one they liked—a unique barn-style exterior with a tall center section and two shed roofs.

With the vision of a new house before them, the Youngs began to let go of the classic, traditional style of their former brick Cape Cod.

They chose materials that would hold up to children and dogs and decided they didn’t want anything too fragile that could break or stain. Simplicity was the objective, but with the comfortable elements indicative of a family home.

“We did not want to be afraid to put our feet on a coffee table,” Carrie said.

Known to hold up to spills and heavy traffic, the Youngs chose rustic natural heart pine plank floors. They also opted for concrete countertops in the kitchen and a concrete shower in the master bathroom for ease of maintenance. Instead of maintaining grout, all they have to do is wipe the concrete down when it’s dirty. As with most of her designs, Carrie tried to think of things that would reduce the burden of cleaning. Asking herself, “What can I do to make things easier?”

The Youngs knew this was their only chance of having their dream home, so to save money, they did a lot of work themselves.

“When you lose your house, you have insurance, but not an unlimited amount of funds,” Carrie said.

You’ll find an industrial farmhouse style throughout the home. One example of their budget-conscious, do-it-yourself spirit is seen through the old oak sliding barn door that leads into the master bedroom, which Stu made and hung himself. His handmade wood pieces are also found in the laundry room, master bathroom and other places throughout the house.

They used reclaimed wood as a focal point on the dining room wall, the center island in the kitchen and in the master bathroom. The unique ceiling fans in their living room alongside the exposed ductwork also add to that industrial aesthetic.

The stairs were constructed using wood from an old apple storage barn off Perrowville Road in Forest, which was repurposed into the treads and risers. They used rebar as spindles, and they didn’t even clean the railings since it just adds to the home’s aesthetic.

Even the pantry was thought through with great detail. Being shorter in stature, Carrie chose not to put upper cabinets in the kitchen. The pantry provides ample storage for her kitchen items and allows her to see everything easily.

“The pantry might be my favorite spot,” Carrie said. “It’s the size of a small bedroom. It’s a blessing.”

The couple had fun shopping for little touches and upcycling things along the way. For example, in the hall bathroom, they mounted a Habitat for Humanity Restore sink onto an old sewing machine base for a conversation piece that came together for around 50 dollars.

When they designed the house, one of their main objectives was to make it big enough for family get-togethers. With an open floor plan, they find they use every inch of space—including an entertaining area downstairs large enough for a large screen projector, a place to shoot basketball hoops and a dart board. The space designated for the dining room is also among one of the family favorites with a 10-foot custom built table, made from a standing dead oak tree in Amherst. It is so large it was assembled on site by local furniture maker, William K. Perdue Furniture.

One of their favorite pieces of home décor is found in an inconspicuous spot in the kitchen. Distracted by the 22-foot tall ceiling, warm reclaimed wood throughout the home and unique décor choices, you might not even notice it’s there at first.

But the Youngs pointed it out—a wooden sign hanging near their table that reflects the new philosophy they adopted during their tough journey: “There is always, always, always something to be thankful for.”

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