“Houses are like people – some you like and some you don’t like – and once in a while there is one you love.”
Ever since I was a little girl I have been fascinated with houses. I liked to draw house plans, read decorating magazines, and tour other people’s homes. My favorite thing to do was “play house”. My cousin and I spent countless hours playing in our grandparents’ den with our dolls. We each had a corner that we would set up as our houses for our playtime. We would take care of our dolls, pretend to cook meals and visit one another’s “houses”. We also had a playhouse in the backyard where we spent many a summer day.
As a teenager, I helped my mom design and decorate the new house our family had built. It was quite large and reminiscent of southern plantation houses – an oddity in the California desert where we lived at the time. Helping my mom pick out carpet, tile, paint colors, bathroom fixtures, lighting and all the other countless details involved in decorating a house was an absolute joy.
Around this same time I began dreaming of my own future home with David. I had inherited my maternal grandmother’s cedar chest and began squirreling away household items. On my 16th birthday, David bought me a small, antique oak dining table – my first piece of furniture and a treasured item we still have. I spent many an hour daydreaming about setting up my own house someday.
Our first “home” was a small, one-bedroom apartment. The only furniture we owned were the dining table, three antique chairs my mom found at an estate sale, a rocker that had been my great-grandmother’s, a bed (just a mattress set on a metal frame, no headboard), some cheap bookshelves we bought at TG&Y, and the antique oak buffet seen in the graphic at the top of this post. We didn’t even have a sofa. I took one of those tri-fold outdoor lounge chairs, laid it out flat, covered it with a quilt and placed some throw pillows against the wall. It was only for looks, though, because unless you sat right in the middle, it tipped over. None of that mattered, though. I was just thrilled to have my own home.
Over the years we’ve lived in a total of five places during our married life. In each case I was grateful for our home and did my best to make it attractive and comfortable. I have a knack for making a space feel cosy and homey. I’m very much of the “bloom where you’re planted” type so it has never mattered whether the house was ideal or not. I would clean and paint and decorate and make a home for my family.
And then there was the house we bought right after I graduated from nursing school. We had looked at numerous houses but the instant I stepped in the front door of that 1930s-era cottage, I was smitten. I didn’t even have to see the rest to know it was the house for me. It wasn’t large – a little less than 1800 square feet – but it was superbly designed and laid out. Three very large bedrooms, one large family bathroom with original tile and fixtures, a second half bath in the master bedroom, living room, dining room and huge kitchen that still had the original metal cabinets and double porcelain sink with drain boards. There were 9 foot ceilings, an arched opening between living and dining rooms, cedar-lined closets and so many charming details which are almost impossible to find in newer homes. I absolutely adored that house.
We lived there 5 years but eventually had to move. I had developed severe asthma which was exacerbated by a perpetually damp basement and our proximity to the pollution of the local cement plant. We had started homeschooling so we decided a move to the country would be good for the kids, as well as my asthma. We found a place with 40 mostly-wooded acres, a pond, an approximately 2700 square foot main house as well as an 1100 square foot guest house. Initially we had no idea what we would do with the second house but it turned out to be perfect. When our son started college he moved into the guest house. This gave him the privacy and independence he needed without having to live in a dorm or rent an apartment. He still lives there which is a great thing for all of us. Cheaper for him and he is nearby to take care of pets when we are out of town.
Eighteen years later we are still in the same house. So let’s talk about this house for a moment. After living in our charming 1930s house, this one was a bit of, well, I don’t want to call it a disappointment. I mean, it’s a good house. Sturdy, plenty of room, lots of storage. And we’ve made a lot of changes which have improved its appearance. If you could have seen it when we bought it…whew! It was a sad mashup of 1970s meets rustic country house. Everything was brown or gold or beige or <shudder> orange. Many of the walls were covered with thick vinyl wallpaper in those “lovely” colors. We quickly stripped that wallpaper, repainted the walls, replaced the carpet and made several other improvements before we moved in. And then a couple of years later we gutted the awful/ugly/poorly designed kitchen and I was able to design a new one just like I wanted. We had taken the vintage stove from our former house and basically designed the kitchen around it.
So while this is a good house in many ways, the thing is, it simply isn’t one of my preferred styles. I can envision myself in a Parisian apartment with 15 foot ceilings and silk drapes. Or a beach cottage with scrubbed wood floors and sheer white curtains blowing at the open windows. Or one of several types of New Orleans-style homes (shotgun, Creole cottage, or something in the French Quarter). Or even a white farm house with a wrap around porch and red shutters.
This house? Well, it was built by the previous owners and to say they weren’t skilled in home design would be putting it mildly. In fact, it really has no discernible architectural style. They apparently made it up as they went, using materials they found or were able to get inexpensively. The bottom story is covered in local stone and the top was cheap blue siding. David has been replacing the blue with log siding which looks great with the stone. Again, it’s not really my style but it suits the setting and looks much better. Hopefully this summer he will complete the balcony. If you look at the graphic you’ll see that it currently has white railings. We will be replacing those with black iron railings. We are also going to replace the sliding glass door from our bedroom onto the balcony with French doors. So I’m hopeful that these changes will greatly improve the exterior appearance of the house.
And that brings me to the subject of this post. About time, right? It looks like this is where we will stay for the foreseeable future. Our plans to move to New Orleans look iffy at this point. I’ll talk more about that some other time but the point is, this is home. For the past several years I have been thinking of this place as temporary and dreaming about living in New Orleans. But now it’s time for me to embrace this house and love the home I’m in.
I was talking about this with my daughter the other day and she told me about a book called, Love the Home You Have: Simple Ways to Embrace Your Style, Get Organized, Delight in Where You Are by Melissa Michaels. It sounds like something I need to read! In fact, as soon as “No Buy January” is over this book will likely find its way to my house. In the meantime I am working on switching my mindset from seeing this house as temporary to thinking of it in a long-term sort of way.
I talked to David about it the other day and as soon as we have a spare hour or two together we are going to grab a notebook and start making plans. We will walk through each room and write down everything we want to update, change, or remodel. We’ll make a list of the items we would like to add so we can start keeping an eye out for them. We will then prioritize those plans and rank according to the amount of time and/or money required.
There will be big projects like finishing the balcony re-do and remodeling the bathrooms. There will be moderate updates such as repainting, replacing light fixtures, replacing interior doors, and new blinds. And there are a couple of audacious goals such as building a barn/garage/workspace or building a dock and landing on the pond.
However, there are plenty of smaller improvements that I can make myself with just a bit of time and not much money. Decluttering, organizing and rearranging accessories can make a big difference in a room. These are things I can do without David’s help and it’s time I get started.
The main thing, however, is a desire to look at all the positive aspects of our living situation and appreciate what we have rather than longing for what we don’t. Sure, I may dream of a totally different lifestyle occasionally. Sitting in a French Quarter courtyard listening to the sound of a bubbling fountain appeals to me at an almost visceral level. But there’s also much to be said for our quiet, country life. Perhaps it’s time for me to make serious plans to get some chickens again this spring and plant that rose garden I keep dreaming of.