broadsideblog

Twenty reasons I (still) love my home, 23 years later

In beauty, behavior, domestic life, life, Style, urban life on August 25, 2012 at 9:32 pm

I’ve never lived in one home this long. Ever.

Growing up in Toronto, between the ages of 3 and 30, when I left, I lived in three houses and four apartments, none of which I owned.

Between September 1982 and June 1989, I moved from Toronto-Paris-Toronto (different apartment)-Montreal-rural New Hampshire-New York.

Enough!

I moved into this one-bedroom suburban New York apartment in June 1989. It was the absolute most we could afford to buy, assuming we’d be moving into a house within a few years as my first husband’s income improved.

Not quite. Finally solvent after years of medical training, he left the apartment and the marriage within two years of our wedding. Sweet!

I stayed, damn glad I’d insisted on the pre-nuptial agreement that made sure I could.

I’m writing this on our balcony. The wind is blowing. A helicopter just buzzed straight overhead, low. I can hear crickets, and the low hum of traffic on the bridge a mile away.

Here’s why I’m still (surprisedly) happy to be here:

It’s been my emotional anchor. Since we moved in, ripping out all the ugly cat-pee-stinky carpeting, I’ve been married and divorced and remarried. I’ve had four surgeries, won and lost well-paid jobs, sold two books. Put my dog to sleep. This familiar space has comforted me with unchanging stability through it all.

The view. A tree is finally growing into our terrific view of the Hudson River. My next door neighbor and I are plotting how to trim it without having to plead hopelessly with the co-op board.

The breeze. On all but the hottest days, a delicious breeze blows through our windows, atop a high hill.

Top floor! 

The pool. I see its turquoise glimmer beckoning me through the trees. It makes me feel wealthy indeed to have access to a pool — and not have to take care of it.

Can you see it?

Wildlife. The other night a very large coyote stood barely 20 feet from me in our parking lot. Deer routinely graze on our lawn, and we hear raccoons often. We even have enormous wild turkeys on our street. All this so close to New York we can see the Empire State Building from our street.

Good neighbors. When you stay a long, long time in one spot, you get to know, like and trust — you hope! — a few of your neighbors. Here’s an essay I wrote in 2008 about my building for The New York Times.

A sense of history. I’ve seen tiny babies, once held football style in the hallways here, go off to college. I still remember, well, many of our older residents who’ve left, a few for nursing homes and far too many to the cemetery.

It’s my ever-evolving design lab. I studied interior design in the 1990s, and have changed the wall colors here many times. The front hallway began a brilliant lemon yellow, paled to a softer version, was coral for a few years and is now, best of all, a Farrow & Ball color, Gervase Yellow. My bedroom walls have gone from sponge-painted Greek taverna-wall blue to aqua to a soft gray. (If you want to make a serious, fantastic investment in your home, try F & B paint. It’s costly, but worth every penny.)

Our bathroom. Love it. I designed every inch of it — all 5 x 7 feet — from the curved wall-mounted wooden vanity to the mirror I had made by re-purposing an antique Chinese frame. Our new tub is 21 inches deep. Heaven!

Sunsets. They’re simply amazing, every one more beautiful than the rest.

An ever-changing weather movie. We see snow, hail, rain and even occasional tornados as they move south or east towards us across the Hudson River. Some mornings the fog is so thick we can’t even see our own parking lot. It’s a New York version of the classic 1857 woodblock by Hiroshige of a yudachi, a sudden summer downpour.

See what I mean?!

Low-maintenance. In the summer, our balcony plants need watering. But rarely do we need to spend for the plumber, electrician or a professional plaster and paint touch-up. I prefer having the additional time, physical energy and cash this allows.

Light! I thrive on natural light, and with large windows facing northwest, no tall buildings nearby and none ever likely to be erected, this is never an issue. Especially working at home, even the gloomiest days are not oppressive.

Less money needed for furniture/curtains/electronics/art. I’d rather own fewer, better things than inhabit a huge space that’s half-empty or jammed with junk. Living in a smaller space forces us to edit carefully, choosing only what we value, use and that truly delights our eye.

Seasonal decor. Our living room looks very different in summer than winter, as we switch out colors, designs and materials, (like a scarlet kilim rug for a white catalogne; red and yellow paisley pillow covers for white and emerald green.) It saves wear and tear on our things and gives us a fresh look to enjoy. We also move our art — photos, drawings, prints, lithos, paintings and posters — from room to room, sometimes (gallery style) putting some away for a few years so we can appreciate them anew.

A good layout. I should be sick of the same four walls. But with six discrete areas in 1,000 square feet — seven in summer with the 72 square foot balcony — I very rarely feel cramped.

We’re not “underwater.” We’re not making out like bandits, but we have equity in our home and a fixed mortgage rate that’s decent. It’s deeply un-American to stay put, and not keep moving up into larger, costlier housing.  I do sometimes long to inhabit a house again. But knowing we can weather almost every financial storm and not lose our home to some toxic mortgage or sudden jump in property taxes offers comfort in these times of such financial insecurity.

Our stone walls. The property once belonged to a wealthy land-owner who built deep, thick stone walls with jagged edges facing the street. When covered with a layer of snow, they look exactly like a row of teeth!

It’s affordable. While our monthly costs, of mortgage and co-op fees combined, might seem high to some people, they’re crazy low for New York, where $5,000 a month or more is fairly normal for a mortgage, even some rents. I was single and freelance from 1996 to 2001, and could still handle the cost, with the added benefit  of never facing a sudden rent increase or forced sale.

How do you feel about your home?

  1. I’m a nomad, a Bedouin, so we have remarkably different outlooks on our spirit of place! :-)

  2. Our house in England has the same walls, the stone looks identical. It’s a Victorian big old house, never renovated, but well used. We are returning here after seven years in France, to reconnect with family and friends. This is the first time I will be staying put for a while in my life. Worrying really, I am at heart a nomad. For me the heart of the house is the people who populate it, owners and visitors.

    Jim

    • It sounds lovely! As I’ve written here, I dream of living in France for a while.

      We love having visitors, and have had many parties and dinner parties. If I had my way, we’d have people to dinner several times a month, but time/energy/$ get in the way of that.

      • We built a Summer house in the garden, and I love BBQ’s so even with English weather we can get social in the outdoor space. There is a real pleasure in being even nearly outside while the rain pours and you have food and friends.

        Jim

  3. I dream of feeling content and settled in a home, as you describe feeling. I’ve never owned a home (or an apartment, for that matter), but I love the idea of having a little piece of property that’s mine. That and a second bathroom.

  4. A second bathroom would be lovely, but luckily Jose, my husband, is extremely tidy. I feel very fortunate to have been able to buy a home and stay put while I cope with all the other chaos that’s showed up! Managing three recessions and four surgeries in the past 10-20 years was plenty.

    Ironically, I bought in a building always filled with much older people — when I was severely afflicted, fairly young, with hip arthritis, I understood the tremendous value of a building with no steps to negotiate!

  5. It sounds as though you have another advantage: no steps. I have seen instances where even one or two steps inside a living space can define when an aging person can no longer continue to live there, even with help.

    • Huge advantage. I’m strong, fit and athletic, so it never occurred to me that would be an issue — then with a very severely disabled hip, it mattered a great deal.

  6. We have lived in the Ozarks for 20+ years – the first half in AR in an old 1880s farm house and now, for the past 10, in a 60s lake house on Table Rock Lake in SW MO. The farmhouse was my heart ( I am writing about it on my blog – The Last Really Good Shack) but this house has been a home we can share with my 81 yr old mom, and many visiting friends and extended family. The most important room in both these houses is the porch. Our current home has a screened porch – 10x 40 – looking out on a cove. We live out there as weather sees fit to let us. I sometimes wonder if I could live in the city again – your home sounds comfortable and charming. Thanks for showing me around! K

  7. Your houses sound lovely! Jose and I dream of having a huge verandah/porch, esp. to sleep out in. I love how it allows you to combine the comfort of being somewhat protected with the sounds and smells of the outdoors.

    I wonder how much I would enjoy city life. We do tend to vacation in big cities, so I get my fix that way.

  8. I loved hearing about your home! I live in my current townhouse looking forward to what I believe will be two more homes in my lifetime. I’m in the city where I want to be, but on the wrong side of the river for most of my activities, so will be looking for a bungalow to share with my daughter. When she marries or otherwise moves out on her own, I will find a studio apartment downtown that I expect will be my place for the duration. So my place feels very temporary; it was nice to read about the permanence of yours.

    • I never thought it would ever be this permanent, that’s for sure! But glad you enjoyed this.

      And oh how I still dream of our house in France…whether we own or rent it. I would love a place where I have NO “house rules.” Weary of those!

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