Sunday, June 24, 2012
So what makes us fall in love with a house? What makes us incompatible? I got to thinking about that after writing that first post. It's true - I have been madly in love with a couple of houses, been seriously in "like" with others, and actively disliked a couple of places I've lived. I didn't stay long.
I fell in love with the place pictured here based on photos on the Internet when it was for sale. I did some investigating and discovered it had a wildly romantic history. It was built by a man who was in love with his friend's sister. She was a concert pianist. The friend, a well known artist, had a place right down the road. The unrequited lover built a fairy tale cottage with a garden his friend preserved in a series of beautiful, sun-washed paintings.
But the sister married someone else. The huge hall he built so she could hold home concerts went quiet.
This might well be the most romantic house I've ever seen. The interior had been destroyed by relatives in the sixties who thought dark paneling was the answer to all decorating issues. But I hope that whoever finally bought it has restored the dream garden to its original splendor and made the ghost of the lonely man who built it smile. I never lived there, yet I lived there for a very long time.
One of the houses I have loved dearly in my life was an old Victorian in a Connecticut tobacco town. I have no pictures -I lived there before digital cameras and computers were commonplace. This house was near it - our house was a simpler version with a similar front porch. It's where my kids grew up.
I learned the history of our house and our street, that nearly every old house on the street was built by members of the same family. We bought ours from one of those relatives. They'd covered it with delft blue asbestos siding, installed crank out windows half the size of the original double hungs and graced the dining room with a wagon wheel chandelier. It was hideous. But room by room, year by year, every inch of that house was reclaimed and restored, done within the limited budget of a young family with lots of energy and little dollars or sense. I have never felt more comfortable, safer or more at home in any house. The kids and I agree we should never have left.
But we did. To something like this.
This is a house I could not like, though I tried. I really tried. It was damp, it was cold, it didn't care if we were there or if we left. I grew to hate it.
This is not an old house vs. contemporary bias, though I will admit to having that. I'm living in a 1960s ranch right now that, though not lovable, is livable. I am not unhappy. I lived in a 1930's Cape with so much charm it drifted right up the street. It was difficult to live in. None of the rooms made sense and we never figured out what room to use for what.
But it is definitely a history of the house thing. There are happy houses, unhappy houses, depressed houses, angry houses. That Victorian farmhouse was a happy house. It liked families. That contemporary was depressed - even unhappy. There was no coaxing it from its blues. We moved from that house to a home that looked more like our beloved Victorian inside. It was a solid foursquare, but it, too, proved to be an unhappy house. Or perhaps it was unhappy because we were unhappy there. I believe it could be happy again.
After my divorce, I moved to a home that welcomed me. The little garden cottage had been a schoolhouse in the 18th and 19th centuries. My first night there, a group of friends came and we smudged the house, wandering the rooms with smoking sage like amateur witches.
"I think there's an old woman here who's happy you're here now," one told me.
There had been an old lady in residence, I later learned. Her name was Mary and she'd run an antique shop out of the house for years. She was, I heard, a lovely woman.
All I know is that I felt safe and comfortable, even when a blizzard howled outside. This house, like my old farmhouse, was hard to leave. But I moved back to Woodstock, New York, where I grew up. I had to leave my little old lady cottage behind. My life changed.
Now I'm selling real estate. I'm invited to wander people's homes, to help them find new people to love them. I have to try to stay detached. I learned when I was a starry-eyed teenager that there's no point mooning for the love you can't have. My job is to play matchmaker. It's not my turn.
I suspect there's one more move in my future before all moves cease. My goal is to find another happy house, a house that smiles when I see it. And it's got to be near the sea. That will make me smile.