This is the story of a house that despite everything, became a home. A house that despite its squalor, started to creep into my affections.
We bought it cheaply, ridiculously cheaply. It was run-down, pokey and dirty. I’m not sure that I would go so far as describing it as “having a certain charm” but it did feel that underneath it all, it was a nice house.
I had great plans, great visions, for its transformation. I readily admit that I was somewhat swept away by the whole notion of the makeover, the before and the after. Even worse, having been trained as an architect, my ambitions were all the greater: the worse the before, the more potential for impressing with the after. The challenge of making a silk purse from a sow’s ear is one that never fails to seduce me. My endless optimism induces me to believe, among other things, that all spaces and places can be redeemed given the right care and attention, given love.
I have in fact a recurring dream that quite possibly embodies some hidden psychological significance although what I do not know. In this dream, I stumble upon a place I had hitherto been unaware of, a forgotten room in the house, abandoned yet full of potential. The spaces are different each time but the sensation is always the same, this feeling of potential, promise, a kind of pregnancy.
My visions for this particular house however, were forced to remain confined to my imagination while we attended to the more urgent matter of coping with the arrival of two babies, one shortly after the other, and all that that entailed. We moved in on what was thought to be a temporary basis. At first I rather liked it, viewing ones surroundings as temporary can lend them a sense of lightness, a freedom from baggage in all senses of the word. We painted it white and placed cheap white furniture against the shabby interior that momentarily looked almost chic. It was summer, the sun shone into the rooms, made them feel happy.
At some point, probably as the seasons changed and winter began to draw in, the lightness evaporated. The clean slate became marked. The house started to suffocate us. Its inadequacy to suitably contain us, the distance between reality and my dreams began to weigh somewhat heavily. The grandness of my visions served only to highlight the ugliness everywhere. The house demanded more attention than I could reasonably give and required constant cleaning for even the slightest reward. It sulked, emitted unpleasant smells from its drains and for some time refused to let anything down the kitchen sink.
It wanted things that I thought it was too shabby to deserve, things that I thought it should wait for until it had undergone surgery, been transformed, grown up, conformed to my ideas. It started to have bourgeois aspirations and wanted curtains, a linen tablecloth. One day it demanded that I unpack a mountain of books consigned to an existence in limbo within cardboard boxes since leaving their previous existence and place them on proper bookshelves. So I did, largely because I had run out of things to read.
Seeing the books, like old friends, and reading them, suddenly made me feel at home. It was I who had been in a limbo, waiting for work to begin on a dream. So I conceded the house new sheets and pillowcases, in beautiful colours that took me an age to decide on. By way of showing my reluctant acceptance of the unattractive tiles in the kitchen I bought accessories to coordinate with them in olive green and duck-egg blue. Luxurious towels offered protection in a stark bathroom. Cushions in delicious prints mitigated the effects of an unsightly sofa.
And now? This house, this house with its grimy corners, awkward arrangement of the rooms, not to mention the inconvenient ladder and trap-door up to the first floor, its cracks and unevenness and endless dust, its ugly fittings, rust stains that drip down the tiles under the kitchen tap, the greasy filthy age-old wood-burning stove that is the only source of heat in winter has, has what? Do I dare to say it has become a home?
I’m still dreaming, I’m still pouring over interior design magazines, I’m still making plans, making lists. But the house is grateful for my attention and is lighter in spirit. We’re thinking of buying it a new roof.
Perhaps it hasn’t grown into the future dream residence I planned for it – with a sleek kitchen, a modern fireplace, a luxurious bathroom with gleaming fittings and exquisite tiles. There’s a beautiful view from the bedroom.
I don’t know. We’re thinking of moving to Sweden, by the sea. I’ve been seduced by pictures of brand-new houses clad in white boarding.