We fall in love with houses. We can’t stop looking at them. We want to be with them all the time, and miss them horribly when we are away. Only we can’t Skype them to see them and tell them how much we love them. At least I can’t, because all the houses I have lived in are dumb, not smart, like the wired, imaged, Alexa-controlled domiciles of today. Houses that can grocery-shop while you’re away, call the cops if someone breaks in, clean themselves and have a cup of espresso ready for you when you get home are not my style.
I’m talking about quite ordinary houses. Maybe the furnace is programmable, if you can figure out the instructions. The fridge and the oven work and there’s even a microwave and motion-sensor lighting. But there’s more to these ordinary houses than analog cooling systems such as ceiling fans.
There are happy houses and sad houses. It’s more than the smell of unwashed dogs or mold in the closets, and more than the smell of baking bread and great blocks of sunlight on honey-colored maple flooring. It’s something about how a house feels when you walk in the door.
Call it a sixth or seventh sense. The place may be dingy with closed drapes, a taste of neglect on the tongue, a dripping faucet, but the back deck looks toward a river. The place may be newly kitchened with granite and polished wood, crisp new paint, and two bathrooms, but it’s on a street of sameness among ranches from the 1960’s and 70’s, with sad glass sliders looking out into a box-square fenced yard.
I have loved houses through the years, when I lived in them rather than apartments. My first memory is of the stone-flagged patio of our house in Pleasanton, California, with each tile just right for hopscotch, and a bricked-in grill. The view was of our five-acre property and the grassland hills beyond, wind sweeping across them making silver ripples. I loved that house, but then, I was four years-old. It was really a tiny house with two bedrooms—one of which I shared with my two sisters. We each had our own window, though. But to me is was a paradise, with a great bay window and a kitchen with a dishwasher.
Money and water issues forced us to move into town, though, and I disliked that house the entire 10 years I had to live there. It too was small—I later learned it was 1400 square feet for a family of five. Sharing bedrooms again, but at least there were two bathrooms. My parents chose a place in a court—quiet and private, the way they liked things. We had an impressive row of Monterey pines. I hated that house then, but oddly, when I started to live in my own houses, I chose similar ones. Even smaller.
The first house I bought was a 750 square foot bungalow with a full basement. I loved the bungalow, with its capacious front porch and high ceilings. We banished the carpet and brought to life a fir floor. There was a ceiling fan in the living room. There was mold in the closets. Only one bathroom. We tried some amateurish remodeling and failed. We had been looking for another house to buy for four of those eight years.
The next house I never took to. It was a rebuilt bungalow style with front porch not quite as large as the first bungalow. It was 1100 square feet with a full basement part of which was the garage. We bought it for the land, banished the carpet again and restored the fir flooring throughout. Added a side deck and French doors. Remodeled more successfully. But I didn’t like the house. The bedrooms were bungalow-small. The ceilings were low and the windows small—except in the living and dining area, always sunny and bright. Only one bathroom. I yearned for space. I yearned to move.
We were twenty years in that place. In twenty years a house can acquire a patina of living. We were handy at building layers of impact but not so handy in removing them.
Now, I am comfortably living in a house that I love. I followed the realtor and walked into a place of charm with its quirky rooms lit by skylights. This house is—ahem—3400 square feet. It’s a bungalow, but an uber-bungalow, impishly remodeled long ago by someone with lots of imagination. Not a cookie-cutter baked item but a big rich scone of berries and nuts and crunch.
I love it. I walk around in it and can’t believe it’s mine. And it has two bathrooms.