When a neighbor left her a fortune, she didn’t buy a bigger house. She turned her cottage into a place where Marie Antoinette might have felt at home.

Bonnie McIlvaine has lived in three homes in San Diego County, all on the very same spot.

The first was an unheated concrete-block house she bought in 1973 for $32,000. A newly divorced schoolteacher, Ms. McIlvaine wanted a break from urban living. She found herself in a small, hilly town with stretches of undeveloped brushland and woodland, not far from the coastal city of Carlsbad, Calif., where she worked.

As she cast her eyes lovingly on the frumpy little building — or, more accurately, on the half acre it sat on — her real estate agent told her, “We can do much better; we’re going to look at tract houses.”

But all Ms. McIlvaine could think of was that she had always wanted a horse, and maybe that could happen here.

Bonnie McIlvaine, with her dogs, in front of the building that was once a modest bungalow.John Francis Peters for The New York Times

In 2001, the year she retired from teaching, she invited her mother to come live with her. The women pooled their money and replaced the concrete house with a two-bedroom bungalow that had a gabled roof and central heating.

Today, that building is quite another thing: a place where Marie Antoinette might have happily kicked off her slippers and flopped on a chaise longue.

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