Terry Dresbach

Outlander Costume Designer

An 18th Century House




I continued to live in our lovely flat. Ron came and went, so there was a lot of alone time. I like alone time. I didn’t get married until I was in my 40s and there is a lot to be said for a single life. Mainly a lot of alone time. As I mentioned earlier, when you work in such a high stress business you have to figure out how you are going to manage that. People manage it in all sorts of ways. Drink, drugs, sex often become out of control as they can help to numb all the stress. Especially if on location, where the openly accepted attitude is that whatever happens there does not count.

It became clear as I got older, that those methods were dead end solutions. After a long search, discovered Sanctuary and threw myself into all things to do with my home. Cooking, gardening, baking bread, and of course my art work. I chose to live in a small, beautiful town outside of LA, where no film people lived. And tried to live an 18th century life. I did everything from scratch. It was marvelous, like a living meditation.

So, there I am so many years later, starting over, living the life of a young single graphic designer, alternating between mind numbing stress and complete boredom. Working my ass off all day long, coming home, eating a bowl of corn flakes and going to bed. If Ron was there, I would drag along with him to some restaurant and fall asleep over mediocre food. Not me.

I decided that there would just have to be more to my life than work and sleep. I needed to move to the country. Ron thought I was nuts, I suspect, as he likes routine, simplicity and above all predictability. For me predictability is one step from the grave. But together we are balance. He enjoys the adventure of life with me, and I appreciate the grounding he provides. At some point I will write about our relationship when I figure out how to make something intimate, public, but suffice it to say that we adore each other. We indulge each other in all things, both of us taking great care to make sure the other is okay.

So I announced that I needed something more. I always say to him “I’ve been thinking”, and he says “uh oh”. I said that if I was going to live on another continent from our family and our pets, I needed to create a real and full life. I needed a home and a dog/companion. I just cannot tell you how much he did not want a dog. He said that this was his pet free zone. I pointed out that this was my everything free zone, and he gave in.

(I will write more about the puppy in another post.)

I started looking for a house., spending my evenings perusing online listings. But it was a laborious endeavor as I had no idea where any of the listings actually were. So I went to our locations manager ( the crew member who finds all the shooting sites), and asked if he knew of anything. He did, and told me about a 700 year old house near a place we shot. I remembered the house, it had been the original germ of my idea.

Arrangements were made to see the house and the next thing I knew, I was climbing all over this crazy house, perhaps better described as a museum. It was ridiculously large, with 6 bedrooms sprawling in a mad hodgepodge. Rooms clearly added on over the millenniums, stairs everywhere, a major task to get from one place to another.

But I fell in love. It is an actual fortified house. Many of the windows on the lower level are made to shoot arrows out of. The original bedrooms are built into a tower with a circular staircase so that the resident had the advantage during a sword fight. There are secret passageways. Mirrors and walls that pop open revealing tunnels from one part of the house to another. The house was a Jacobite stronghold used to plan the uprising of 1745. Appropriate, considering I am doing the costumes on a show about  the Jacobite uprising of 1745. Even more appropriately a show about a modern woman who travels back to 18th century Scotland and builds a new life. At the time, the similarity did not strike me. That has grown more obvious as I actually live this new life.

There was no central heating, every room had a wall heater or a fireplace, it was out in the county, in Scotland. Not exactly the south of France, with constant rain and cold, and it was a 20 minute drive from anything!!

But it was completely furnished, filled with antiques and art. An incredible crimson dining room, pantries stacked high with gorgeous china and silver ware. Parlors and music rooms, deeply set windows with shutters to lock out the cold, looking over acres of countryside. Not a modern anything to be found anywhere.

Ron gave me only two requirements. It had to have a shower and internet. It had neither. 

I took it. I thought at the time it might be an enormous mistake. Would I be able to manage this monstrosity? What about loneliness, isolation? The owner actually asked me, “won’t you be scared here by yourself??”. GULP, YES !!!!!  The list of challenges seemed insurmountable. Maybe I was finally going to bite off more than I could chew in life.

I took it.

Remember when you were a kid and the first time you actually went off the high dive? You stood in line, waiting your turn to go up the ladder. Once you were on it, there was no turning back. You COULD NOT be that kid who turned and climbed back down, humiliated in front of all the other kids. You walked out to the end of the plank (yes it was a plank), and stood there looking down at the pool, feeling like Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo. You knew that you were going to die, what madness could have driven you to do something so stupid.

But you jumped anyway, because no one had made you climb that ladder, you had made that choice yourself and there was no turning back now.

So you jumped. So I jumped.


38 thoughts on “An 18th Century House

  1. MandyT

    Love this glimpse into how you found your Lallybroch. Thanks for sharing with us. I’m in my early 40’s right now, so maybe I won’t give up on finding someone to love just yet.

  2. eeebailey

    I’m loving reading this! You are not only an artist you are a writer!
    I am left with a few questions.
    Still no shower? You clearly must have gotten internet access, yes? And as far as I’ve seen from pictures, it seems to me that Ron has fallen for that adorable puppy, am I right? The owners of this house…where are they or what are they doing to have a fully furnished (and as far as I’ve seen, nicely furnished) home that they are not living in? Lastly, I’m dying to see more pictures of this amazing and fascinating house/home!
    Thank you for sharing this experience with us!!

    1. terrydresbach

      I am turning this one over in my head. Is it better if we are all together? I am not sure this hasn’t asked all of us to get out of our comfort zones and step up to life. Ron made Hollandaise sauce for breakfast for our daughter yesterday. (eggs benedict on a school day) I have been cooking for most of my life and I don’t mess with hollandaise sauce. If I was there, he would be reading the paper while I made breakfast for everyone.
      Another topic to look into here.

  3. Susanne D (@dennasus)

    Thank you so much for sharing something of your personal story with us. After I read this I remembered all the times in my life where I “jumped” into the unkown and new and it often seemed soooo scary (and sometimes continued to seem scary), but there was no turning back and I never ever regretted jumping in the long run. And what a inspirational post to read on International Women’s Day 🙂

    I also absolutely can relate to your desire for some sanctuary. My worklife isn’t nearly as stressful as your’s, but on my stressful days I’m still glad I come back to my own apartment, filled with my personal stuff and things I love, where I can just be myself and recharge. I guess, that’s rather hard to accomplish that in a hotel room or corporate rentals. At least I would have a hard time, I think…

    1. terrydresbach

      Almost thirty years ago, when I was trying to decide if I wanted to run away and join the circus, a wonderful therapist told me, “sometimes you will find yourself standing on a cliff surrounded by fog. Is it a cliff, is it a canyon? Is the other side close enough to reach in a leap? Sometimes you just have to gather your courage and have no choice but to leap, and hope that there is another side”
      It was a life defining piece of advice.

  4. Moireach (Martha) (@mp_eddy)

    Thanks for sharing Terry. At first I had forgotten I signed up for your blog (LOOONG Week) and then once I started reading, I fell in love with your life. Carving time and space for yourself where you can be authentic is very important! Congratulations on doing that!

  5. jbaillie88

    Hi Terry, thank you so much for taking the time to write this. Like Tanya, I am living my dream life vicariously through you. I am in love with the house you describe, even though I know there is no practicality about it whatsoever, and my friends will tell you “practical” is my middle name. Well, romance is the other middle name and I am captivated. I am so looking forward to more pictures. Thanks again!

  6. outlander roundup

    What a beautiful story! We may not live in the same physical world as each other but we all can relate to the emotional journey. I understand completely that feeling of standing there and not wanting to be the kid who climbed back down the ladder. Been there, jumped off and never went off the high dive again. But I did it! Once! Growing up, I think I had an over abundant dose of “step back from the edge, chick” in my makeup, so it took a lot for me as a 38 year old single mother to sell most everything we owned and move halfway across the world. After years of trying to leave a very toxic situation, it was a “now or never” scenario. I have had no regrets and I began the process of rebuilding me, a process that is always ongoing. Life isn’t perfect but it’s MY life now. I’ve come to realize that you don’t always get the life you think you want, but you will always get the life you need. I have an Autistic daughter and even the simplest of life’s situations cause such anxiety for her, it’s like stepping off the high dive on a daily basis. If I hadn’t had that experience in my life, I don’t know if I could have ever helped her through those difficult moments. We’ve had such triumphs in raising her and watching her conquer her fears and it’s given me such strength and perspective in my own life.

    Thanks for writing this post. I hadn’t thought about my high dive experience in years and look how far we’ve come!

    Luanne xx

    1. terrydresbach

      My mother used to say, “life is a struggle”. As I was young and idealistic, I was appalled at that. “how can you say that, it is so pessimistic!! That’s horrible”
      Now as an adult, a fully functioning adult, I understand. (I wish I could tell her that once again that she was right). It is a struggle. There are lows and highs, I think more lows than highs, in truth. For me, that means I have to grab the highs and shake every moment out of them, because they are fleeting.
      I wasn’t so happy about having to accept that life isn’t what we are taught it is supposed to be. It seemed so dreary, and it greatly saddened me. But on the other side of that realization is that I am finding a life more textured and nuanced. Perhaps reality is richer than fantasy.
      I am still working on this one. The last ten years have been challenging as I tried to balance self and family, and now here I am, flung onto another continent, far from my loved ones.
      I’d better make this something incredible, or I will be consumed by loss. And maybe I have an opportunity to teach my kids this when they are still very young.

      1. outlander roundup

        You are so right! More lows than highs but it makes the highs that much sweeter. I have learned to relax a lot and chill about how I thought my life would turn out. I look back and laugh sometimes at how wrong I was. I couldn’t in my wildest imagination have thought that I’d be where I am. I’m not in the house I would have chosen etc.. but I have decided that life isn’t about how much I have but a culmination of experiences good and bad. When I get frustrated about things or even people, I ask myself, “Can I actually change it?”. If the answer is no, then I go about changing my attitude towards whatever “it” is. You sound like a very grounded earthy person and I believe your mother would proud of the person you’ve grown into. I count myself so lucky that my mother and father are still here and I have had that conversation with them where I’ve told them “I get it now!”. It may have taken a lifetime but I “get it”.

  7. sandyknc

    Hi Terry,
    It sounds like you have found the Scotland home you were meant to find. I love all the coincidences that led you right to the front door. I’ll confess to being a little bit jealous. 🙂 Not because I don’t have wonderful things in my life. I do. Your house is beautiful and Scotland sounds like a wonderful adventure. I know there is also a lot of stress included with this adventure, but I like how you approached with a “sactuary” attitude. You’ve got me thinking about my sanctuary. What is it? Where is it? I’m a happy person and my life is full of people I love and who love me back. There has been stress, but none that I have not been able to overcome. Still, I can’t decide what my sancutary actually is? I guess I’ve never thought it out. I love my quiet time. I love being at the beach. I love reading a good book. There are many things that provide sactuary, but I don’t think it has ever been my house. I need to think about this more. Thank you for sharing your story. As you can tell, it is getting me to think more about my own. Sandy

    1. sandyknc

      Unfortunately, I can’t edit my post. “sanctuary” – It doesn’t look like I know how to spell it, but really, I do… I can’t blame auto-correct, so I’m going to blame my new progressive lenses that seem to be making my reading world fuzzy. That works!!

    2. terrydresbach

      Hey Sandy-
      I think you make a really good point. I tend to think big (understatement). So my concept of sanctuary needs to be big in order for me to grasp that I have it. I have to close a literal door around it.
      I am working on “moments” of sanctuary.
      An hour or even twenty minutes here or there that feed and care for me. It might be a moment looking out the window, or a brief bit of laughter, but it is something real, and maybe does not need bricks and mortar.
      Hopefully I won’t always have to have a fortified house. 😉

      1. sandyknc

        I actually like the idea of a house being a sanctuary, especially for someone whose life is more public than most. It is comforting to walk through a door, shut it, and feel peace. Finding a place of “sanctuary” is very personal. I’m glad you found your place in Scotland.

  8. nanci712

    Love your blog, Terry. I have totally fallen in love with your 18th Century life in your 18th Century house. I, too have taken the plunge a few times. The first was joining an all-male volunteer fire dept. when I was 20 yrs old! The second was getting married when I was 23. We’re coming up on our 31st anniversary. My husband told a friend just recently that he will never let me go, because there is no one who would put up with him like I do. I don’t think that’s true. But, I took a plunge to stick with it when things were not going well. Later this year there will be another plunge. My husband’s job is being transferred across the country. He’ll be moving out first. I still have 2 years to go to get my pension and then will take an early retirement and join him. I’ll be leaving my daughters, family and friends. I see it as an exciting, new adventure, and a little frightening. Maybe we’ll find a home in the country and buy an Aga cooker for my kitchen!

    Keep writing, Terry. I enjoy reading about your journey and love the pictures you’ve been taking. Thank you for sharing it all with us!

  9. aliaslaceygreen

    Terry, why do I feel you have more than 24 hours in all of your days?
    This concept, sanctuary—solitude, quiet, just “there-ness” — I LIKE it. I don’t have it in a 700 year old home, but I do have a love of the things I surround myself with.
    I wish I were less lazy, more motivated, didn’t need so much sleep….something, because I find my days filled with loads of petty, can’t convince the DH that staying home has value….
    Thanks for this post. I really need to regroup and clarify the vision I want for my world…

  10. Katie Bonner (@bunnums)

    Thank you for sharing! I love the idea of ‘sanctuary’ – what a great way to start conversations and thoughts. I don’t, at the moment, feel like my home is my sanctuary, but that’s because it’s overrun by three small children. 🙂 But I do find sanctuary for myself – arriving 5 minutes early for preschool pick-up and sitting alone in my car with a book; when I’m out on the roads by myself on a run; hanging the laundry outside in the summer sunshine (I’m so eager to start this again!). For now, I find it in the moments of solitude that happen despite the chaos of life in general. And, for now, that’s enough. That may or may not be enough later in life, but for now it is.

  11. Koda Torres

    I found the sauce and now I found the house! I love this Terry. I did not know that you had secret pathways in your house. I am not commenting using my twitter because I was leary of the terms that wordpress was asking for but I am greenbirdspirit on twitter. Koda is my little pomeranian dog. Have fun with your house. I am glad that things worked out and you found it, Ron agreed and wee Cuilean showed up to light up your life. Once when my the kids were little, and my husband worked a night shift, I made the mistake of reading a book about aliens. Bad idea. My husband, who is from Cusco, gave me something to say during those nights and in some weird way it is calming. So here it is in case you need it way out there in your 18th century life; Oh God, surround me with the blue light of life, love, and unity.

  12. blackbirdmarsh

    I just came back and read your last post again. It gives me a mild case of goosebumps thinking about your ancient house and your decision making process moving into it. After living on the same small farm for 45+ years,I guess you can’t call me a risk-taker! I really hope it’s all working out and it IS your sanctuary.
    I’ve learned over the past few months what a generous spirit you have. I can’t even imagine how tough your job is. We all will benefit from it in a few months.
    ‘Looking forward to your next post. You and your pup stay warm and cozy…

  13. Kim Lovelady

    I need to jump more and not be so afraid to think big. I’m a timid jumper, but I’ve been rewarded when I have made small leaps. I just need to make some big ones! Thank you, Terry, for sharing your life and thoughts AND YOUR CUTE PUPPY with us. 🙂

  14. emac37

    Thank you for sharing Terry….. Love jumping into your house and life with you. The house sounds fantastic…. You did the right thing. We all need to JUMP at times…..

  15. Karen Govan


    I just read your post about your house. You are living my dream!!!! I traveled to Scotland in 1988 as I always wanted to see where my roots originated (my grandfather was born and raised inear Glasgow) and have always had such a strong connection to the country. When my feet landed on Scottish soil my heart knew it had come home!!! I have not been back to Scotland since (lack of finances) but oh how my heart longs to go there to live for a time or for ever!!!! If I was living there I would also choose to live in the type of home that you are living in. The modern life is not for me. I need a home with soul. My condo although not as old as your house was built in 1960 as a single family home but was converted in the 80’s to a 12 unit apartment condo. I love the oldness of it. Oh and I must mention that we have a resident ghost who likes to make an appearance every now and then. I don’t mind him as he is very friendly.

    Anyways I just wanted to thank you for sharing much of your life with us.

  16. Lori Ann

    Hi Terry,

    I’ve never written to someone I don’t know like this – but I want to thank you very much for helping Outlander come to visual life – the costumes are just breathtaking! – and for sharing your personal thoughts! I love this post – I have had a lifelong love for Scotland and it’s people – not sure where this began – when I was a child I believe someone mentioned that I had Scottish ancestors…. I have had the pleasure of visiting Scotland – and enjoy “visiting” there again through your posts! You’re 18th Century house is wonderful – what a lovely opportunity!

    My love for Scotland and for historical fiction – eventually led me to Diana’s “Outlander books” – and of course the the tv series! The Outlander team has brought Diana’s books to visual life – in ways that are beyond expectations! I am seeing the tv series as a wonderful extension to the Outlander books – I choose to be thankful for what fans have been given – and don’t read the nitpicking! I appreciate the personal thoughts and behind the scenes glimpses the cast and crew so graciously give!

    Most importantly, I want to say that I admire and appreciate (especially in this electronic “over-sharing” age) how you and Ron maintain the privacy of your family (not automatically putting your children’s names and faces all over the internet – I’m a real mama bear when it comes to my children! – and sometimes when it comes to other people’s children too!) – and yet still graciously (and humorously) share some of your private life with fans.

    Now that you have been living in Scotland a while – I would love to hear your thoughts about how living a more “18th Century type” life there works with (or not) your day job!

    Thanks! Lori

    P.S. Your pup is adorable! Hope he is feeling better!

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