The famed designer Bunny Williams wrote a book titled “An Affair with a House” about her beautiful New England home. She wrote poetically about the rooms, the furnishing…every detail of the stunning house, the barn and its gardens. The photos were lush and gorgeous. Somewhat self-consciously, I suppose, she included mention of her philanthropic work lest her passion for a house meet with readers’ disapproval.
I get her.
I love my house as though it were a breathing, living being. I’ve felt guilty about that too. What a materialistic and shallow thing it is to care so much about a house. But I do. We built it 12 years ago. I bought the empty lot one day when my husband was out of town.
Trust me, I said. I was never so certain of anything. The twins were in diapers.
I grew up in a mid-century modern house with terrazzo floors, low ceilings and three bathrooms, each with a bathtub of a different color. I dreamed of my own little play house in the backyard with wood floors and a porch. Every year, it was the only item on my letter to Santa.
Of course, my sensible (and wonderful) parents, raising five kids, had no way to deliver such an extravagant gift. They had better things to do than indulge my early house love. As a kid, of course, I didn’t understand.
Get lost, Santa. I’ll make my own house.
And I did. I imagined every detail of how this house would look and how it would live. And then I set out to create it.
It has both a front and a back staircase. There’s a cool little attic room with pine floors that an artist came down from Jacksonville to paint in a checkerboard pattern. It has a laundry chute that we use every day. I bought the hanging pendants in the kitchen from Urban Archeology in New York.
I picked the Calacatta marble for the kitchen counters, over the objections of the installer, Giuseppe, who told me it wouldn’t hold up to daily use. It has.
The limestone that forms the pool coping was delivered by a sweet kid who drove it from Indiana and unloaded his truck in our backyard, wiping the sweat from his brow. You weren’t kidding that it’s really hot here in June.
Every feature has a story. A few years ago when the real estate market shook the economy and with it our certainty that we could afford to live in this house forever, I readied myself to sell it.
Right after my mother died, I floated the idea to my realtor friend. What the hell. It’s just a house. Life is short. We can be happy in any house. There’s no reason for so much financial stress.
Within days we had an offer. We accepted it. I promptly fell apart. I can’t quite explain the irrationality of my overwhelming grief in those days after we signed the contract. But I went off the deep end. Too much loss.
My mother won’t know where I live, I cried to my bewildered husband. It was supposed to remove a burden and instead it felt like it had ripped out my core, leaving me a slobbering, babbling puddle of incoherent, broken-hearted mush.
On a technicality, we managed to get out of the contract but not until lawyers got involved, lawsuits were threatened and one particular realtor hated our guts. My dear friend, thank God, graciously supported us. The buyers, not so much. They ended up in the house across the street. Needless to say, they don’t have us over for barbecue.
My salary these last five years, before I stopped working, helped us hang on to the house I love so much. I’m really proud of that. It matters to me. It is my work of art. How many times in life do we continue to adore a thing long after we get it?
It is the backdrop of my best life. It is the house that routinely attracted neighborhood kids on hot summer days to jump in this pool. My kids learned to ride bikes and skates and scooters on these sidewalks.
Our big extended family started the corny Christmas talent show tradition in this family room. We rode out Hurricane Charley with my mom and dad in this family room. My elegant mother, having forgotten her nightgown and wearing my husband’s oversized black t-shirt emblazoned with the words “El Guapo,” (the ironic nickname for Boston Red Sox pitcher Rich Garces) nearly peed in her pants, laughing so hard upon glimpsing herself in the mirror in this guest room.
I brought home a trembling eight-week old puppy, thrilling the kids who came home from kindergarten to find him on this back porch.
Our neighbor, J.P., beginning at age six, made himself right at home…answering our phone or grabbing a Gatorade from our fridge in this kitchen. Countless blanket forts were erected during sleepovers with cousins in this playroom.
At least eight kids ran up the stairs to watch a magnificent nighttime space shuttle launch from this balcony. We’ve thrown some great parties here. Giggly second graders dropped into the water in a rented dunk tank, squealing with delight in this driveway. Darting boys wearing eye black and shooting air soft guns, played Man Hunt after dark in this backyard.
I set the table on fire when I knocked over a candle during a dinner party, recovering nicely, in time to serve dessert in this dining room. Curiously, that was NOT one of the two times the fire department was summoned here–first after the baby sitter left the gas on and another time after I forgot to open the chimney flue and lit a fire, filling the house with smoke. The 911 operator says to get the dogs out, my frantic daughter screamed as we escaped near disaster and certain embarrassment.
My next door neighbor brought his two young sons over to this house, their eyes wide with unimaginable fear, the night their mom would die after a long battle with cancer. My troubled Aunt Yara spent her last day, happy, watching a Gator game and eating dinner before suffering a stroke while sitting in this house. It is these walls that sheltered each of them on those two dreadful days.
Homebody that I am, there’s nowhere else I would rather be.
I know nothing stays the same. Those sad little boys next door grew up to be happy, great kids but the family just sold their house and moved away last week without saying goodbye. J.P.’s parents, who became our friends, divorced a few years ago and they too moved away. None of those kids who watched the space shuttle arc in the night sky live in this neighborhood anymore, except mine. Space shuttles don’t blast into the sky anymore.
Maybe we should still sell it. But I can’t think about that now. And I hope it’s not right after the kids go off to college in four years. I need this to be the nest that gets emptied in one fell swoop…this house that welcomes them home with their piles of dirty laundry and new friends.
I prefer to imagine a lot more living and laughing and crying…and growing old here. Someday I will be able to let it go.
I wouldn’t want to end up a ghostly figure peering ominously at future occupants from a window, like Nicole Kidman’s character in the last scene of The Others, defiantly whispering…this is my house.