Southern Romance Project Episode 1: Finding the Perfect House

In this first episode of the Phantom Screens Southern Romance Project, company CEO Esther de Wolde, goes house hunting in Mobile Alabama where she finds and buys a 1906 home in the Oakleigh Garden Historic District with the help of Realtor Chris King and home improvement expert Danny Lipford.

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Esther de Wolde: So we ought to start with introductions. I’m Esther de Wolde, and I’m CEO of Phantom Screens. I’m one of the people who founded our company 20-odd years ago in Abbotsford, British Columbia in Canada.

You may well be wondering, “What in the world is a Canadian doing in Alabama anyways?” Truth is, I fell in love with the South many years ago—more years ago than I care to remember. The porches; the wide, oak-lined streets—it’s just a wonderful part of the world. And the people, the people are so friendly.

I had my dream. It was bucket list item number 67: to take a neglected Southern home and restore it to its former glory. To make a long story short, I reached out to my friend and corporate spokesperson, Danny Lipford, to see if I could make this dream come true. So here’s my story, the story of my Southern romance.

Esther de Wolde: It all started with just the crazy desire, passion, whatever you want to call it, to one day restore a home. And I have this fascination with old homes. The old architecture just draws me in. I’m forever tripping when I’m walking on sidewalks, cause I’m staring at the houses.

And so it’s one of those things when you have an item on your bucket list, and I guess you just keep dreaming about it. And I find with myself, if I dream about it long enough, I’ll find a way. I guess that’s the fun of dreaming, right? If you dream about it, you actually make a way to make it happen.

Like a street like this, this is perfect—picture perfect. I wanted the sidewalk, and then a strip of lawn, and lined with these gorgeous oak trees that drape over the street. I mean that’s just amazing. And every house here has that kind of Southern character I was looking for.

So what do you call this historical area again?

Chris King: This is the Oakleigh Garden District.

Esther de Wolde: OK.

Chris King: Most of these were built in the early 1900s.

Esther de Wolde: That first day when we went out and started looking at houses, we had lined up, I think it was six houses to come see. And I had a wish list ahead of time—it had to have two stories, a beautiful yard or at least potential of a yard for gardening for sure. And no stucco—that was a for sure—and high ceilings was another one.

And so when we began looking at these houses, some of the exteriors matched just perfectly—just love them—and then you’d go inside and you’d find out, oh, it only has a eight-foot ceiling. The upstairs might have 12 feet or something, but it just didn’t suit.

And then we’d go on to the next one. We’d pull up and have a beautiful floor plan inside, but it would be stucco. And I could not get around stucco, there is no way my brain could go there.

Chris King: Hey, Esther, this is probably the last house we’ll see today. And this isn’t currently on the market, but it is a true diamond in the rough. And you keep saying you want something from the deep South and a diamond in the rough, 257 Rapier might be it. This is a great, classic cottage for Mobile.

Danny Lipford: And this was what? What year is this?

Chris King: 1906.

Danny Lipford: 1906.

Chris King: And it’s owned by one family for decades. And I know you originally said you wanted the history—that you would like to find as close to the original owner as you can—and this has been in their family since I think the 20s.

Danny Lipford: Well, you wanted a nice Southern feel to a home, let’s check out the porch up here.

Esther de Wolde: Wow, look at this porch! You don’t have these in Canada.

Chris King: I’m telling you, this is another living room here.

Esther de Wolde: This is the biggest porch we’ve seen, from every house for sure.

Danny Lipford: Yeah, it’s pretty nice, though. I like the way it indents here, and the angles there. I don’t know, when you walk up to a house—especially a Southern home—you want to feel welcome. And it’s got a pretty cool little feeling right here.

Esther de Wolde: This one screams welcome.

Danny Lipford: And then the…. It’s funny, as simplistic as this house is, then you have some decorative elements, like the corbels up there.

Chris King: And that’s probably original stained glass above the front door.

Danny Lipford: Yeah, I would think so.

Chris King: Well, do ya’ll want to take a look at the inside?

Esther de Wolde: Sounds good to me.

Chris King: All right, as I told you, Esther, this was built in the early 1900s, and this is pretty close to original. You can see the plaster walls, and it is a true fixer-upper—a diamond in the rough.

Esther de Wolde: How tall did you say the ceilings were?

Chris King: About 11 feet.

Esther de Wolde: Man, it makes it look so grand.

Danny Lipford: Well, this is a good feel, though, I mean the original, this has to be the original molding included. It kind of has more of an, I don’t know, an upper scale look to it than you would think from the outside, because you would think these trim would be all smooth.

Esther de Wolde: Absolutely.

Chris King: You notice the transoms throughout the hallway for central hall for creating air flow.

Danny Lipford: Yeah, I love the whole dog run.

Esther de Wolde: Oh, and the double French and the dog run I wanted. It’s just gorgeous.

Chris King: This is a three bedroom, one bath. Your formal living area, dining room originally. Looks like original fireplaces.

Danny Lipford: Now, that’s a statement, isn’t it!

Chris King: Isn’t it.

Esther de Wolde: Wow, gorgeous.

Chris King: This house is really nice. And you’ve got these pocket doors, which everybody loves pocket doors. And they’re usually a little hard to open, so you’ll have to get Mr. Lipford there to fix that.

Danny Lipford: Yeah, I can fix that.

Esther de Wolde: No problem.

Chris King: You like that?

Danny Lipford: Easy, easy.

Chris King: The floor furnace would have been a source of heat at one time. In today’s time we wouldn’t have installed it there.

Danny Lipford: That has to go.

Esther de Wolde: Really? You can’t keep that for quaintness?

Danny Lipford: You can, but we have a different word for it down here. It’s kind of redneck. No, that has to go. There probably, if you decide to buy the house and depending on what you want to do on renovation, there’s bound to be a place where we can get a few of the original boards out of some of the other areas, lace them in here.

Chris King: And you weave them, and you won’t ever know it’s there.

Danny Lipford: OK, I see you looking at the antiques, quit looking.

Esther de Wolde: I know, I’m wondering what’s under here.

Chris King: They’re not for sale, just the house.

Esther de Wolde: So we meet Mr. Ford at the lawyer’s office. He was just telling his stories as Mr. Ford does, and they’re pretty funny. At one point he’s going on with his story, and he says, “Yeah, my Daddy always said, you can’t trust an Englishman or a woman.” And I think at that point he realizes Richard, my coworker, is from England; and I’m buying the house and I’m a woman. And he’s like, “But I’m sure you two are fine.”

And as we’re going through all the legal documents, suddenly thunder starts outside and lightning, and it begins to rain. And we’re from Vancouver of all things, where the rain rains; but I don’t know the last time I’ve ever heard rain pound that hard on a roof. We couldn’t even barely hear ourselves talk. And of course we’re making jokes about who’s going to get struck by lightning for saying the wrong thing.

It turned out to be this jovial afternoon in this lawyer’s office and one of those where you emerged from it and went, did that really just happen? First of all I just bought a house in Mobile, Alabama, and met the lawyer from the Andy Griffith show. It was just crazy. It was an awesome time and really enjoyed it and left the office a house owner.

Danny Lipford: Well, I’ll tell you what, the weather’s a lot different than it is in Vancouver. What do you think about it?

Esther de Wolde: Oh, I’m telling you I don’t mind the heat. I love the heat. But, oh, the mosquitoes. They make me madder than a wet hen!

I want to save one wall. I mean this wall here—pristine condition. Right?

Danny Lipford: Pristine, huh?

Esther de Wolde: Don’t touch that!

Danny Lipford: Oh, scared me.

Esther de Wolde: Thanks so much for watching. If you’d like to know more about the project, please visit us at or follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and my blog.


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