Lana's The Little House
Press Kit - Publications
A STEP BACK IN TIME
Once upon a time there was a little house ...
By Mary Bailey, The Hamburg (NY) Sun
Published March 4, 2004
by Mary Bailey
Tucked into the gentle hillside, with lofty old trees standing guard and hugged by thick perennial gardens, sits a little house with hand-hewn beams, a peaked roof dotted with gables and dormers, and a magical wooden door that opens to welcome guests in -- but shuts out time once its black iron hinges close tight.
Once inside, time stands still. The hustle and bustle of the world is shut out, if only for just a bit, in the one-of-a-kind bungalow.
Like a cozy cottage right off the pages of a fairy tale book, there’s nothing ordinary about this little house nestled in the country hills of Forestville.
Inside the steep roof and stucco, there’s leaded windows of odd sizes, hand-painted artistry on coarsely plastered walls, nooks and crannies full of quaint knick knacks, dried garden flowers atop doorways and windows, corner cupboards stocked with flowering country dishes, a stairway whose rails are a curious row of tree limbs, and hand-hewn beams stained with a mixture of tobacco juice, ammonia and beer. A stone fireplace graces the cozy living room and nestled on a little landing, there’s even a baby grand piano.
It’s a “once upon a time‚” house where perhaps Goldilocks has just finished the last spoonful of Papa Bear’s porridge.
But for Lana Lewis, it’s not a fairy tale.
She owns “Lana’s Little House,” as she calls it, and the enchantment has caught on.
Once an undiscovered summer getaway, Lewis is the first owner to live year-round in the quaint “Cotswold Cottage,” and has just recently began guided tours, even offering homemade scones, butter tarts and English tea.
“I found it listed in Business First,” Lewis remembered. Born and raised in Buffalo, Lewis lived half her life elsewhere. Her work, employee benefits consulting, brought her back to the area 20 years ago.
“My husband died fifteen and a half years ago,” Lewis said, “and I lived in lots of places after that, but I wanted to stay put in Western New York. I started looking for a special place and looked for a good ten years but I just kept holding off.
“In July 2001 I saw the ad and I thought it would be a great place for one or two people,” Lewis said.
She remembers telling her mother she was going to look at the house. “I was kind of down in the dumps that day,” she laughed. “But my mother urged me to go.
“It was so hot that day you couldn’t breathe,” she recalled. And never traveling the rural roads in the area, Lewis lost her way.
“I got so lost and nobody I asked knew where this house was,” she said.
“I got off at the Silver Creek exit and remember pulling over and calling my mother. I was still depressed and down in the dumps and asked myself, “what am I doing out here? There’s nothing out here!”
“My mother told me to keep going. You’ll never know what you may find.”
Following her mother’s advice, Lewis persevered and finally found the address. The driveway was closed off so she parked on the road and walked, saw the view and started crying.
“I fell in love immediately,” Lewis said. “It reminded me of when I met my husband, a lightning bolt struck.
“I came up the stairs and asked the realtors, what do I have to do to buy this house, because no one else is going to have it but me!” laughed Lewis. “They thought I was a crazy woman.”
But fate was also working in the background. “The man that was selling the house was the same man that brought me back to Buffalo for my work,” she explained. “He was my boss from years ago and this was his little getaway house.”
There was never a doubt in her mind that the house was to be hers.
“The realtor had the house listed in law journals up and down the east coast,” Lewis said. “Calls started coming in. People were waiting for my deal to fall through. But it didn’t.”
Then the realtor asked her a question Lewis couldn’t say no to. “Do you want it with or without?” she laughed, not quite sure what they were referring to. “Do you want it turnkey or not turnkey?
“I’ll take it with!” she responded quickly. And so the little enchanted cottage, totaling about 1,400 square feet was hers --complete with furniture, decorations, dishes, antiques, pictures - everything.
“I was the first person to live here full time,” she explained. The cottage was hand built by two craftsmen, one a self-taught designer and builder. It took the pair from 1980-1983 to complete the storybook house.
Even the nails are handmade. The house was built with timber harvested from clearing part of the 21-acre property and was milled in a nearby Amish community.
“The two had a love for English cottages, gingerbread houses, and fairy tale stories, and they just put it all together and created the house,” explained Lewis.
“The two men would travel around then come back to work on the house,” Lewis said, explaining parts of the house came from many different places. The locks on the front door, for example, came from Istanbul, Turkey.
The two men kept the house until 1987 when the president of the old Buffalo Savings Bank purchased it. He owned it for a couple years then sold it to the people Lewis bought it from. “It was always used as a getaway house,” she said.
As Lewis started interacting in the community, people began to visit the little cottage. “Nobody even knew it existed,” she said.
Never even owning a lawn mower, Lewis now rides a tractor and mows the rolling grasses herself. She shares the rural enchantment with Sophie, a stray cat she found, Specks, the bird and Sebastian, a little furry terrier.
“It is a lot of work, but it’s joyful work. I used to have to sit in my car three hours a day in New York City, battling traffic, getting $80 tickets if I was parked one minute late.
“My friends thought I had lost it,” Lewis laughed. “People would visit and ask if I had electricity. They’d ask if I had water. I told them I have a well and an excellent filtration system, but they wouldn’t drink it.
“So I would pour two cups of water, one with my well water and the other from bottled water. They choose the well water,” laughed Lewis, “because it tastes so much better!”
Lewis didn’t buy the little cottage with any specific purpose in mind. But as word spread of its uniqueness, Lewis toyed with the idea of tours.
“The first year I kept getting calls from people. They would say my cousin is in, can I bring him over?
“People just loved the place and were so happy to visit. I got so many calls from people wanting to visit it was getting out of control,” laughed Lewis.
“In January 2003 I made the decision to start tours. From January to June, I created my business plan, developed my own website, and my marketing materials. I opened the little house up for business on June 21.”
Tours average about an hour or two and no one stays overnight. “It’s a very personalized tour,” said Lewis, “and when we’re finished, we sit and have tea and I take guest photos.” Lewis charges a small fee for her tours.
“Teas were a big thing. I started teas near the end of November because I thought people would enjoy it during winter months. I had more business in December than in my peak summer months.
Guests started wanting souvenirs, so Lewis now offers note cards, stationary and a variety of other items.
“I never imagined it would catch on,” Lewis admitted. She’s already concentrating her efforts on new ideas, like special events throughout the year for people that have already visited so they could all meet each other. Brides even inquire about having their wedding ceremony on the grounds.
And she’s thinking of expanding her teas, tarts, scones and tea sandwiches to wine and cheese or desserts.
“Everything is very personalized, very private, and upscale,” said Lewis, who’s had tours as large as 20 come through.
“When people arrive, I meet them at car, and start the tour outside. The gardens are spectacular,” she said, “and people love them.”
There’s a wooden gazebo to relax and enjoy the outdoors under and plenty of bird feeders for all the winged inhabitants of the woods.
A pond offers just the right touch to the graceful and gentle sloping hillside and a little frame structure, first built to house chickens and a goat, has been remade into a children’s playhouse and sits just a stone’s throw from the circular pond and not too far from a wooden wishing well.
Grape vines and trumpet vines crawl up a side of the little cottage, and there’s wild roses thriving among a host of other colorful perennials. Narrow stone walkways, crafted with stones brought from the nearby creek, meander around the little cottage, with a stone bench or two offering up a welcome resting spot.
And just like in the old storybook tales, a crooked fence hugs the overflowing gardens, allowing stalks and leaves to poke their greenery through.
The chimney is even hand molded. The cedar shake roof has layers and layers of shingles, in spots piling up to 12 layers, creating a roof with wavy lines, which adds to the cottage’s quaint charm.
And if you look closely, you’ll see antlers here and there on the exterior, and everywhere there are whimsical touches, like the tiny red door, complete with a little wooden red heart, just to the left of the main entrance on its own tall post. Tucked inside, out of view, is the electrical meter, and inside the wooden post are all the necessary wires and phone lines.
One section of the cottage is two stories high, the other three stories tall. And there, a little wooden door leads out to a cozy balcony just off the third floor bedroom.
The glass for windows came from the hardware store in town. “They cut all the glass down there and then leaded all the windows,” Lewis explained. “Some are little squares, some triangles, some rectangles.”
Nestled in the hills and woods of Forestville, full of grape vineyards and country farms, neighbors are few are far between but always willing to lend a helping hand.
“I have more camaraderie with neighbors here than I had in any other place I lived,” said Lewis. “People just come and help. It’s the way things used to be.
“I’m good with computers,” Lewis admitted, “so if people help me out, I can help them out.”
Lewis recalled when a fierce windstorm came through and knocked the fence down, took off shutters and ripped hinges off the barn door.
“I found a blacksmith who hand forged new hinges,” Lewis said. “I got the shutters back up myself. But the fence posts were ripped right off and I didn’t know how to fix them.
“I called my neighbor and he told me about this particular farmer, whom I called. I told him what happened. He asked how many posts were broken and I said maybe six. He said, okay, I’ll see you later.
“I had guests from Erie that afternoon,” said Lewis. “The farmer came with new posts and within 20 minutes the fence was put back up and nailed together.
“Compared to other places I’ve lived, this is God’s country,” sighed Lewis.
Once upon a time there was a worldly woman who traveled in faraway places and lived in bustling cities from New York City to the Silicon Valley.
For that woman, her fairy tale story is just beginning. Lewis is now calling the rural countryside of Forestville home where she is turning back the hands of time in her enchanted little fairy tale cottage.
There, friendships are built, warm conversations are shared over a cup of tea, and life slows down for just a bit, allowing visitors to enjoy the spectacular beauty of God’s country and the peace and contentment of a house crafted with age-old skills that keeps time out -- yet holds inside the warmth of days gone by.
And who knows?
Maybe one of these days, Goldilocks will take herself away from snatching a spoonful of porridge and scrawl her name into Lana’s Little House’s guest book.
Lana’s Little House offers tours and afternoon teas
Those interested in visiting may call (716) 965-2798
or visit the website: www.LanasTheLittleHouse.com