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.
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.
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.
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.
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?