Jane Green, author of the bestsellers Jemima J and The Beach House, is building her dream house with a man who seems to have walked out of one of her own romantic novels.
Bestselling author and one of the creators of the “chick lit” genre, Jane Green has known phenomenal success. But professional success did not translate to
Jane Green and Ian Warburg
personal satisfaction. Three years ago, Jane Green found herself living in a house she once loved but no longer did; in a failing marriage; and at a crossroads where she could either stick with the same, old misery or choose an exciting—yet scary—fresh start.
She opted for the fresh start and, for Green, that meant leaving the old farmhouse she had spent years renovating and decorating and moving to a small, old house by the beach. She longed to go back to Westport, Conn., the first place she had lived when her husband’s job brought her to the U.S. in 2000. In Westport there were many old friends, and what Jane needed most at that time were sympathetic ears and dry shoulders.
Green saw an ad on posted on the Web site Craigslist for a house she knew would be quite small for her and her four children—the then-two-year-old twins, her five-year-old daughter and her six-year-old son. But the idea of a cozy cottage, and the closeness that would create, appealed to her.
When Green called the number on the ad, she didn’t immediately recognize the man who answered. But it took only moments for Ian Warburg to recognize the smooth, warm sound of Green’s unmistakable English accent. “Jane, we know each other,” Ian said. The pair had met several times during a mutual friend’s
Jane Green and Ian Warburg got reacquainted after she rented this small Connecticut beach house.
Christmas parties. Green soon took the trip to Westport to see the house she describes as “tiny, only 900 square feet. But we squeezed in for the summer. I fell in love with Westport all over again. I fell in love with living by the beach and fell in love with my landlord shortly afterward.”
Romance had been the last thing Green thought she’d find in Westport, but her instant chemistry with Warburg was undeniable. “From almost the get-go, being with him felt like I’d come home,” Green says. “He is very kind and very gentle. He puts a huge emphasis on family, which I do as well. This relationship has brought me a tremendous sense of peace. We communicate very well. Of course we have our arguments—everybody does—but we resolve those arguments incredibly amicably.”
Green and her children soon moved to a larger house up the road. And as Green and Warburg realized that their lives were merging, they started talking about a house of their own.
“I didn’t want a McMansion,” Green recalls. “Maybe because I’m English, I’m very attached to the charm of the old. There was a house I loved, an Italianate Victorian house one street over from our house. It turned out to be the house Ian grew up in.”
That house was not on the market, so Green and Warburg decided to hunt for a similar home. But house hunting proved depressing. Homes they loved for their old-fashioned charm were run-down and required costly renovation and maintenance. Discouragement set in. But then Green and Warburg realized that their new lives together required not a look back to the past but a new beginning.
“We suddenly thought, ‘You know, we could build something,’ ” Green remembers. They found an empty lot on a hill, with weeping willows, a weeping cherry and two huge old maple trees. “It feels very special,” Green says. “We thought this would be the perfect place to build a home of our own.”
Plot where Jane Green's house will be built.
Green and Warburg hired an architect, Brooke Girty, an expert in New England architecture who had worked on Katharine Hepburn’s house. They decided to base the home’s design on that of Ian’s childhood home, the Italianate Victorian. “We wanted a sweeping, huge, wraparound porch and an almost flat roof,” Green says.
The interior of the home is being designed to fit the modern needs of a family with six children (Green’s four plus Warburg’s two). A large kitchen will open up to an everyday dining room complete with large tables where the kids can do homework and art projects. The dining room will also double as a library, with bookshelves lining all of the walls. A cozy, inviting living room will give the kids a place to go when they want to read or listen to music. And, as Green’s gift to herself, there will be a room off the kitchen that will double as pantry and office space. Green will be able to look out on her English garden while she works and there will be enough space for the children to work on their crafts, “If they ask permission very, very nicely,” Green says with a laugh.
“I like houses that are comfortable,” Green says. “I like houses that you walk into and instantly feel at home. I go into so many houses these days that are absolutely stunning and I don’t want to sit down. It all looks so perfect and there’s no clutter and there’s no art, there’s nothing that people have collected over the years. We have kids, we have friends, and we have the kids’ friends. There are always people in our house and we have collected stuff over the years. I do all the decorating myself because I want my house to feel like it’s mine.”
Once construction is complete, the house will measure 5,000 square feet with five bedrooms and a master suite. Green building techniques will be incorporated throughout. Design plans are being finalized, permits are being pulled, and Green and Warburg hope construction will begin in mid-2009.