Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Houses That Built Me

It was not a good day in Real Estate World today. Two showings today. No offers. Even though they loved the house, it just wasn't as desirable as another one. Those are the breaks, I know. But even so,
I was about to come on here and whine about our house-selling woes anyway, because having a big pity party on Facebook wasn't sufficient... and oh, the irony... I log on and see that my friend Kelly has just written a blog of her own called The House That Built Me. I'm intrigued, so I go and have a look. You can have a look for yourself here.

I've been to Kelly's house. It's one of those house that you look at and just know--good things are going to happen there. It's got such a great vibe.

I aspire for that same happy vibe in my house. Although instead of the funky, beachy vibe Kelly has pulled off in Florida, I'm more into the Carl Larsson-Swedish-version-of-Norman-Rockwell asthetic. Never heard of him? Google him and look up images of his paintings. He paints pictures of houses I want to live in. In fact, if I could ever live inside a painting a la What Dreams May Come, I'd want to live here:

Or here...

Or here...

Or here...

I know it would be a logical question to ask me why? Why the ramshackle cottage? Loudly colored walls? Hideous wood paneling? The honest answer is "I don't know."

I suppose I'm a product of the houses that I've lived in, and loved, over the course of my life.

The first house I ever loved was my grandparents' house on Blake Drive. They had a wall where they'd recorded my height for years until i stopped growing in 5th grade. And I loved the basement, with its very own fifties-era wet bar (with glasses of girls in dresses--and when the glasses were filled with liquid, the dresses disappeared and the underwear appeared!), and telephone in an authentic telephone booth in the corner. Even as a toddler, I loved the quirky.

The first home I remember living in was our apartment when we first moved back to Asheville. I was a toddler then, so my memories of that time are dim--but I recall loving the drive to the apartment on a very wooded Sweeten Creek Rd, and the trees surrounding the apartment complex parking lot, and the fact that my bedroom was partially underground. Being hugged up against the earth made me feel more secure for some reason. And at that house, I loved my Snoopy toothbrush holder that was glued to the side of the sink. When we moved to our next house, I grieved over that toothbrush holder. It was the first time I had to leave something behind that I'd grown to love at a house.

When we moved, we moved to an early 1900s-era farmhouse. Of all the places I have ever lived, that is the place I miss the most. It was an odd, idiosyncratic, wonderful house with a wide, concrete porch that was inexplicably cool and shady even on the hottest summer day. And it had a barn on the property with a loft filled with old furniture. I loved to sit on the old leather sofa and read. I loved the house itself most of all though. An addition had been added to the back of the house at some point, but the old windows had never been removed,and the existing walls had never been changed. So it was possible to climb through the bedroom windows right into the family room. You could also go the long way, through the dining room and kitchen and mudroom and little unheated nook my mom used as a pantry. The kitchen was small, and narrow, but had an entire wall of windows exactly like those in Carl Larsson picture #2 that overlooked our garden. I loved those windows. I also loved the little three-season room off of the kitchen that I used as my playroom. It was full of windows too. I loved the rows of little panes. Inexplicably, windows like that make me happy. If I was Maria from The Sound of Music I would burst into song about kitchens with windows that looked like the ones in that farmhouse.

When my mother said we were moving--that she was buying a house and it would be so much better than our current old and crumbly digs--I believed her. But I do not have any fond memories of the ranch house we moved to, that I lived in off and on until I got married. In fact, I hated it. No nooks. No idiosyncracies. No wall of windows with little square panes. Just a boring house with a boring personality.

The next house I lived in was my host family's duplex in Holland. I loved my room with a walk-out balcony overlooking the canals. I loved the open floorplan downstairs and the little garden with a pond (complete with frogs).

In Hungary, my first host family lived in a brand new house built on the side of a mountain and I had another bedroom with a balcony. My second host family lived in a village in an old farmhouse. It had a beautiful living room with lots of original woodwork. My third host family lived in a large house in the city. My bedroom was in a turret. Yes, I was in heaven.

I hated living in dorms in college. There was nothing whimsical about a 10x10 cell.

But my apartment in grad school--Glorious! Those windows again! And this time in a 1950's era kitchen complete with red formaica countertops trimmed in chrome.

And then I met Tom and we bought our first house together. We had one built because we liked the floorplan. Some of the rooms had some funky angles and reminded us (a little) of the little garret rooms we'd stayed in in bed and breakfasts in Belgium. It had so much potential, but after we'd lived there a whopping 5 months, Tom found out we were being transferred to Cincinnati.

I don't even want to talk about our house in Cincinnati. It goes without saying that hell will freeze over, pigs will fly, and Hugh Hefner will take a vow of celebacy before I will EVER live in another tri-level. The thought of living in a split level of any kind turns me into a feral-fur-spitting animal. The only thing I liked about that house was the basement level. It was partially underground, and apparently, I still like that sensation.

Then we bought our current house. It's been a great house. I like the floorplan. I like the space we have. I love to sit out on the porch and stare at the woods beyond the backyard. But that said, I can't say I'm likely to burst into song about any one of its qualities. It's just too 21st century. It lacks idiosyncracies and touches of whimsy. There are no little paned windows, no parts underground.

And yet I will be saddest to leave this one.

We bought this house with kids in mind--bought it because it seemed like a great house to grow up in. We brought our boys home from the hospital to this house, and watched them take their first steps in the living room. I can't think of the backyard without imagining them playing there. First, being pushed in the baby swing, then climbing to the top of the swingset alone, and now, having dump truck races around the fence line. There's a red maple tree that only blooms for a week or so in the fall, and that is my tree. I wait for her every year. It's a straggly tree, not much to look at 51 weeks out of the year, but that one week in October, those leaves are the most beautiful shade of red I've ever seen. When Sam's bedroom was still my office, I sat there, staring at that tree, and wrote my first novel.

In this house, I've become a mom--and in too many ways to list--truer to myself than I've ever been. And I've made great friends--friends you only find once in a lifetime. The kind of friends who will drop everything at a moment's notice and come smell your carpets when its on the market and prospective buyers say your house smells. Those kinds of friends. Irreplaceable, wonderful, perfect friends. I will be so, so sorry to see this house, and all the memories it holds for me, go.

But at the same time, I'm looking forward to our next house, because hope springs eternal... maybe this time I will find my Carl Larrson house--that ramshackle cottage that I can paint loud colors, with little square paned windows from which I can watch my boys grow, with a little nook where I can read, or write, or sew, preferably with windows, or in a basement, with space for a garden, and a wide, inexplicably cool front porch--even on the hottest day of summer.

Because once I'm there, I'll be home.


  1. brittany, i love this. and of course it makes me want to respond with thoughts of homes i've loved or old details, etc.

    maybe i'll hop on this bandwagon and you'll see a similar post from me this week.

    if my kids ever aren't sick...or me. can't think so well.

    ok, gotta go read kelly's now!

  2. I love those paintings. They really show a lot of charm for each of the rooms.

    Good luck selling your house. We had ours on the market for a year back in 2006. It was a tough year, so I know what you're going through.

    BTW -- I've given you an award on my blog today, if you would like to check it out. :)


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