In October 1980, they moved in. But though the house was built, the interior was far from complete. Jim did a lot of the woodwork himself, as well as the painting and staining, for which he primarily used red and hunter green, Linda’s favorite colors. He designed and built the five fireplace mantels, and above the master bedroom fireplace, he carved five pine trees — one for each child.
It took Jim nine years to finish the detailing on the inside of the house. “I knew I was finished when my wife asked me to repaint a room,” he says.
Meanwhile, a few Christmases after they moved in, the Hobbins kids were delighted to welcome two ponies to the family. It was the beginning of the horse years. All five Hobbins children spent hours washing horses, grooming, braiding manes and tails. The dozens of ribbons they won at horse shows are still on display in their childhood bedrooms.
But it turned out the Hobbinses weren’t quite done. In 2003, they built a 1,900-square-foot guesthouse with two floors and a loft. Says Jim: “I did some math. We had five kids. They were grown, but would soon be coming back with boyfriends, spouses and children. Where would they stay?” He and Linda envisioned a little house with a couple of bedrooms, a children’s sleeping loft, a kitchen and a big gathering room with a stone fireplace and lots of windows.
Howard made a return appearance. He recalls telling them, “Let’s give your kids something that attracts them to visit, yet lets them have their independence and their own privacy.”
The new space would also allow Linda to have a studio to work on flower arrangements. After her children had grown, her love of flowers led her to join the Washington National Cathedral’s Altar Guild. She started her own business, Custom Wreaths of Potomac, where she crafts wreaths, hanging baskets, bouquets and centerpieces for all seasons.
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The Hobbinses are enthusiastic stewards of the 18th-century legacy. Says Linda: “You become part of the history of the house. I never feel like I am the owner. I love and treasure it, yet it has a life of its own.”
Susie’s three kids find their grandparents’ home magical. “They can’t wait to arrive here and go up to see how granny has arranged the loft room,” Susie says. “The world is so materialistic. It is wonderful that you can delight a child by creating a new feeling in a room. You don’t have to do it with new stuff. You can do it with old, special things that are telling some new story.”
Over the years, theories about the provenance of the frame have continued to evolve. Recently, Jim bought a book about Israel Putnam and thought, by piecing together facts and photos, that the frame might have been the home of the general himself. Then, a few weeks ago, Jim learned through the National Register of Historic Places that Putnam’s house still stands in Brooklyn, Conn. Furthermore, records show his sons’ houses were elsewhere. Jim is still investigating, but for now, the original owner of the 1790 frame remains a mystery.
In June, Chestnut Hill took a big hit during the derecho. The storm knocked down massive pine trees and a major branch from an old chestnut. Power was out for an entire week.
The discomforts of living without any electricity started getting to Linda. This was not a facet of the 18th century she wanted to re-create. She recalls, “I said to Jim, ‘What are we going to do?’ Jim said, ‘I want a shower.’ ”
They jumped in the car and escaped to a place they knew they’d be very comfortable: Colonial Williamsburg.
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer. To comment on this story, send e-mail to wpmagazine @washpost.com.
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