Thursday, March 12, 2015

At Home With My Home

     Aesthetics are important to me. Just like my writing, I like my house to reflect my style and my state of mind. When my mother, in what had to have been a fit of insanity, decorated our entire house (my bedroom included) in bunnies and tulips, I very nearly had to be committed. I am not a bunny and tulip girl, and for many years, I was embarrassed to invite people over, for fear that they might think I'd somehow agreed to it. I hadn't. I hadn't agreed to my pale blue geometric tulip wallpaper (shudder) or the candy pastel tulip quilt with matching canopy for my bed (double shudder). Remember me? The one with the inner bad girl? Yeah... that bedroom was totally cramping her style. By the time I reached high school, I insisted we do some re-decorating, and turned the It's A Small World-esque homage to The Low Countries into a dark green cave where I could revel in my Grunge Era teenage angst in peace.
   Since Tom and I got married, we have lived in four different houses. Each one has caused us no end of drama. The first novel I wrote was called How Home Improvement Saved My Marriage, but I stopped at house #2, and there was a whole lot more home improvement and marriage saving after that. I'll just add a little footnote here to say no, you can't read my novel. It's funny, but awful, as most first novels probably are. After I'm finished with 900 Miles (my current novel), I'm considering going back and re-writing Home Improvement as a memoir.
     Anyway, me and the houses I've lived in have had a long, sordid history. To be brief:
1. Greenville House #1 - Tom and I built this house before we were married. Moved in in September, got married in October, found out he was being transferred to Cincinnati in February, moved out before we so much as painted a wall.
2. Cincinnati House - a sprawling 1972 tri-level with dubious style. In addition to olive green bathroom fixtures, sticky blue and red carpets, and original I Dream of Genie-inspired ceramic tile, every room in the house (right down to the pipes in the laundry room) was sponge painted in three non-coordinating colors, over 4 layers of wallpaper. The original 70s era light fixtures, combined with hideous geometric monstrosities from the 80s, gave the house that last horrifying flair. We learned DIY in that house--stripping wallpaper, re-painting walls, and laying 900 square feet of ceramic tile from the moment we moved in til the moment we moved out.
3. Greenville House #2 - A boring spec home in a sprawling neighborhood. It had a few unfortunate paint choices, but nothing we couldn't tackle at that point. We painted and added another 1200 square feet of tile to this one.
     Which brings me to my current house. It was love at first sight, even though it was smaller than any house we've ever owned, was older by 50 years, and by far the quirkiest. You can see the pictures from when we moved in here. I liked the bright colors initially, but they drove Tom crazy, and he kept begging me to find another palette I could live with. Last summer, while shell collecting at the Jersey Shore, I began to notice all of the shells were the same. Beige and weathered blue/gray.  The sand was beige and the water and the sky were weathered blue/gray too. The beach looked just like this:

    Since the Jersey Shore is one of our most favorite places, it was a color palette that made us both happy and as soon as we got home, I started thinking about what I wanted my house to look like.
     Then, around the same time, I started watching Fixer Upper on HGTV and fell in love with Joanna Gaines and her sense of style. I love the way her color choices are neutral, relaxing, and yet so full of personality. I used to believe that a room's color gave it personality, but now I like to let the details tell the story. I'm still working on those, but I love the new feel of my house. Casual, warm, comfortable, a little quirky... I know blue couches are kind of a risk, but the minute I saw them, I knew they would bring the living room to life.
     I love the way Joanna Gaines mixes old and new. I don't have the imagination to do what she does, but I really want to figure it out. My family history is important to me. I'm the end of the line and the only one left to tell our story in the future, after all. Slowly but surely, I'm figuring out how to tell it through my house.
     The white pillows on my couch were made from old quilts my great-great grandmother made. Before you scream in horror that I ruined precious family heirlooms, these were the quilts that got used constantly, by six generations of my family, and although we kept them, they were falling apart. If you look carefully, there are whole squares missing, holes in the fabric, stains, etc. They were truly beyond repair, but  they feel like heaven--wash worn cotton over a hundred years old--and are filled with history. I don't care if they've seen better days. They feel like family and love and summer naps in humid North Carolina air. As pillows I can keep enjoying them, even if I can't keep the people who made them and covered me with them.
     Which brings me to my grandfather. I never realized how influential he was to my life until he passed away. Oddly enough, a lot of my style is informed by his whimsy. He loved to collect old, quirky things and find new uses for them. When he worked for the telephone company, it was old telephones. This one he converted into a lamp. I love its unexpected quirkiness, and with different lampshades, it has lived in each of my houses.
     The sideboard too came from my grandfather too. It my great-grandmother's. My grandfather was one of eleven children, and the boys got very little of their mother's things when she passed. When my grandfather found this, with a broken leg, in a burn pile at his sister's house, he rescued it, fixed the leg, and held onto it. Something about its story spoke to me, and when I needed furniture, it came to live with me. Up until last year, it had never been stained, and looked a lot like the unlovely, but functional, piece of furniture it was intended to be. Last year, my in-laws restored it for me, and now it positively shines. If the house ever burns down, I'm dragging this piece out as I make my escape.
     I have my grandfather to thank for my pie safe too. It was part of the contents of a long-abandoned Wisconsin cabin my grandparents inherited. The roof of this cabin had caved in at some point, and this piece was water logged and warped from years exposed to the elements. My grandfather rescued it anyway, brought it back home to North Carolina, soaked all the warped boards in his bathtub and straightened them back out with books. My grandparents loved this piece. When I moved to NY and my grandmother asked if she had anything I wanted, this was the one thing I wanted, and I still nearly had to wrestle her for it. It's rickety and temperamental, the drawers aren't exactly flush anymore, and it would probably fall apart in a stiff breeze, but I wouldn't part with it now for anything.
        I love a good metaphor, and I'm sure there's one to be had about a room full of gorgeous items that were once destined for the local landfill. Draw from it what you will. It's not the reason I love my house. What I love, and it's one of the reasons that I love living in Upstate New York so much, is that everything that makes me me, all the little things I love, fit so perfectly in this space. For me, that is what a home is, and this is what home looks like.


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