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May 3, 2010

House Post 1

I just finished reading Megan Daum’s new book Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House, which I’ll be reviewing later this week. I wanted to read Daum’s book because I adored her collection of essays My Misspent Youth when I read it last year, but also because she was writing about houses– the ones she loved, the ones she’s loathed, the ones that got away. She writes about roommates, renting, renovations and running away. About MLS obsession, unfortunate apartments, and the experience if purchasing a home of her own. I’m obsessed with this stuff, and always have been, and just so you don’t think I’m jumping on the Meghan Daum obsessed with real-estate bandwagon, I offer you the contents of the journal I kept for school in grade 1. Keep in mind that this is most of the entire book, which means that my range of subject matter was awfully limited.

I’ve always loved drawing houses. This is significant because I’ve never much loved drawing anything else, but the basic details of a house were so well within my poor artistic grasp– square windows the t-frames, a door (with maybe a window for a garnish?), obligatory chimney and triangle roof. The possibilities for variation are limitless– curtains, shubbery, smoke in the chimney, shutters, a garage, curving path from the door. I loved illustrations of houses too in the books I read, particularly those of the whole house at work with the fourth wall removed, and you could see the staircases connecting all the floors, and each room fulfilling its own specific purpose, the life going on within it. (For some reason, the most fascinating houses were those in trees– I remember Brambley Hedge, and the Berenstein Bears in particular, and how I could stare at the cross section drawings of these tree houses and actually “play” with them for hours).

Houses in television are so important– I remain obsessed with the exterior shots of houses that always preceded any 1980s/1990s’ sitcom’s return from commercial break. These houses’ interiors too, and the ways in which they didn’t match the outsides, and the rooms we rarely saw (like the Keatons’ elusive dining room), and how the Facts of Life set was as familiar to me as my own living room. How none of these houses ever had actual foyers, and how staircases and such would get moved around between seasons and we just weren’t supposed to notice. Whole TV shows based around domicles– Melrose Place! And houses as extensions of their characters– Casa Walsh, and Dylan’s house (because he lived alone), and Kelly Taylor’s ultra modern nightmare. The layout of the Salingers’ house from Party of Five is indelibly etched upon my mind, and clearly, yes, I spent my teenage years watching terrible television. But still, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at Monica’s apartment from Friends.

But it’s houses in books in particular, which I had to imagine up all by myself. How LM Montgomery wrote about houses– Lantern Hill, Silverbush, Green Gables, Ingleside, New Moon. The English houses– Thornfield Manor, Wuthering Heights, Manderlay, Wildfell Hall. The house Isabel Archer came from in America, with no windows that faced the street, and the Ramsays’ house in To the Lighthouse, Gatsby’s house, Dora Rare’s in The Birth House, Howards End (which was ALL about real estate), Rose’s childhood home in Who Do You Think You Are?, Daisy Stone Goodwill’s house in Ottawa where she raised her family in The Stone Diaries.

Unlike Meghan Daum, however, I don’t own my own home. This is partly because paying a mortgage would necessitate me having a job (heaven forbid), but also because I wouldn’t live in my house anymore. Because I really love my house. Daum writes about the struggle of learning to be at home, to live where are you rather than always looking at where to go next. She thinks ownership is necessary to achieve this, but we’ve managed it without a mortgage. The house is home, and we love it because of and in spite of. The neighbourhood, redolent with blooms at this times of year and trees overhead. The tiles in the kitchen, and the how the sun comes through the kitchen door at lunch time, and how you can only run the washer OR the dryer if you don’t want to blow a fuse, and how the sun comes into the bedroom in late afternoon, and we can see the CN Tower in the winter (though the summer hides it with trees full of leaves), and my wonderful attic bedroom (which makes me sad only because I know every bedroom I ever have after this one will be a disappointment), and the trees and the breeze that keep us cool in the summer, and the huge living room windows, and how Harriet’s door doesn’t shut, and the backwards kitchen taps, and our en-suite that doesn’t have a door, and the deck and our fire escape, and the fireplace, and the wide hallway, the squirrels in the attic and the mice under the floor. I used to think that I wanted to buy a house, but then realized what I really wanted was a new apartment, and after two years in this one, I’ve still got no urge to go.

6 thoughts on “House Post 1”

  1. Maia says:

    This is such a great post — I found myself nodding in agreement as I read. And it’s so true that you don’t need to own your house (or apartment!) to love where you live and feel at home. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Gillian says:

    I like that castle in Toronto at the bottom.

  3. patricia says:

    Yes, the castle in Toronto really appeals to me. As does this marvelous post! Houses (and homes) are very important to me. In my travels I have become emotionally attached to just about every place I have ever lived. The toughest experience I ever had of losing a house was when my parents split up and the house I grew up in was sold. Still haven’t recovered from that. And of course, I still dream about that house. In fact, I dream about houses a lot. Do you?

    Anyway, I don’t understand people who purchase houses for the sole sake of flipping them to make money. I don’t plan on moving any time soon from our home. Just recently a real estate agent came to our front door and asked me if we were planning on selling ‘the castle’ any time soon. I said quite firmly, “No. Because it IS a castle.”

  4. Kristin says:

    This is a great post. I love the pictures from your childhood!

    I repeatedly dream of two important houses from my childhood. My grandmother’s house (a 60s style ranch) which is special to me because of her, not the actual house. The other house was my best friend’s house growing up. A huge, practically mansion-like home, old, sprawling, rooms leading into another, hideaway spaces, secret closets, a falling down greenhouse…it was heaven to explore.

  5. Kerry says:

    I *think* that was meant to be a picture of Casa Loma. I am not sure why it’s red.

    And yes, I do dream of houses I lived in when I was young. And for some reason dreams of those houses never automatically twig me to fact that I’m dreaming, as they really should.

    Also, that house sounds wonderful Kristen. Missing only a hidden staircase.

  6. Nathalie says:

    Can’t wait to read your review of Daum. Have you read Winnifred Gallagher’s _House Thinking_? It’s a great book on the history of the use of the various rooms in a house. She has also written _The Power of Place_, but I have not read that one yet. Then there’s Daniel McGinn’s _House Lust_….

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