A House Divided

When I was five years old, I was awakened early one morning and summoned to the first (and last) family meeting my parents ever had.  I stumbled down the stairs in my nightgown,  groggy and confused--I had had a fitful night's sleep, sensing that something was coming undone, something was changing in the house where I lived.  I was told that a decision had been made, and life was about to change in a very big way.... Divorce is a painful, sometimes ugly, always disorienting life event for all those involved. Some relationships are severed, others altered, belongings separated, addresses changed. Now as adult, I can offer that little girl understanding, support and the knowledge that things that are broken can heal...and end up better than they were in the first place.

However, the transition (please excuse my language) can be a bitch.

If you find yourself in the midst of just such a transition, you deserve to have a place where you feel at home, a place that is restful, a place that helps you picture and create the life you want going forward--and that place should be wherever you are living right now. This can be especially hard to envision if you aren't the one who wanted the change in the first place and your home now has one less inhabitant whose absence is deeply felt, or if you find yourself evicted from a home you never thought you would ever leave. Much like a caterpillar needs the safety of his or her cocoon to transform into a colorful, graceful butterfly, you are going to need a protected, comfortable place for yourself while in this vulnerable state, so that you too can unfold beautifully and prepare yourself to fly. Here are some ideas to help move you forward in a positive way and create just such a space:

1. Create A Vision of What You Want Things To Look Like –How can you arrive at a destination when you don't know where it is?  It is important to create a vision of where you want to end up--picture what you want your life to look like going forward now that this change has happened. This is a process that I call "drawing your map," and doing things such as collecting pictures that inspire you and writing down two or three words that capture the feelings that you want to create in a space are key steps to take. This "map" is going to be a very important tool in creating a nurturing, supportive home that supports and facilitates your vision for you and those you love.

2. Be Patient With Yourself– You aren’t yourself.  Things are going to be confusing, decisions hard to arrive at. The place you are living is in a state of flux. Progress with things may be slow at times, but any progress is good. Give yourself a loving dose of care and understanding daily and keep moving forward.

3. Life Transitions Always Create Clutter–Whenever we go through a change in our lives, there are things that we don't need or want anymore, and things that will simply be in our way. Whether you are anxiously looking forward to wiping the slate clean, or you dread having to sort through boxes and closets, this  STUFF has memories and emotions attached to it that can stick to us, just like the dust that settles on our clothes as we are cleaning out, and make us feel weighed down. These heavy emotions can make us want to avoid dealing with the clutter all together, but it is a very worthwhile undertaking that will make you feel lighter when you are done. Refer to tips #1 & #2 to first see if items fit your vision for your new life (if not, drop it like a bad habit), and then to remind yourself to be patient & kind to you during this process--this is hard work.

4. Revisit Special Places from Your Past:  In Winifred Gallagher’s book House Thinking, she writes of research connecting the recognition of meaningful places in a person’s past, and the ability to then create a “just-right home” that provides a “deep, gut-level feeling of identification and comfort.”  What could be a better description of what is needed right now?? So, what are the rooms, homes and gardens of your past–environments in which you felt truly yourself, truly alive? These are spaces that Gallagher refers to as your “best places.” Take some time to reflect, and you may find some clues to help you create a very meaningful, special, and comfortable place in which to live and thrive today and in the future.

A house divided cannot stand, which is why  I encourage you to create your own whole, complete, and nurturing home that stands on its own. This shelter contains the foundation for your new life within its walls.

Beautiful butterfly photo via

Adding On Vs. Adding More (Yes, Your House Is Probably Big Enough)

Do you lay awake at night dreaming of the large addition you want to put on the back of your house? Maybe you picture how grand and easy life will be, with sunshine streaming through new large windows, washing over the miles of new counter space in the renovated kitchen, acres of new closet space, and cavernous rooms that are large and impressive for family gatherings and holiday parties.....

However, there is the flip side to that  fantasy--there are the inherent costs such a space would, ahem, add on --since any new space starts, of course, with the building of foundation, walls, and roof...and tens of thousands of dollars. And there is the additional cost of heating, cooling, and maintaining added space  for years to come.  In my experience, there are a lot of reasons NOT to add on, the most prevalent one being that it is, in most cases, simply not needed.  If you feel that your house is lackluster and in need of more space, I challenge you to first make the most of the house you have so you can honestly say that more space is what is needed.  A lot of times we have rooms in our houses that are seldom used, and other rooms that are completely underwhelming in function & design. Without examining our feelings any further, we respond to our discomfort and dissatisfaction by thinking we need more space.  Creativity, good design, and the principles of living simply can make a "small" house live very large....SO, before  you pay a builder a hefty deposit, we should examine how you currently live in your house and make sure that each space works as hard as it can for you and makes you swoon with its abundance of charm, beauty, and functionality.

 

Read the following statements and see if they are accurate truths about you and your house currently:

  • I (or someone in my family) uses each room in our house at least once a week.
  • I feel proud of the rooms I have and feel good when I spend time in them.
  • The rooms in my house relate well to one another, and there is a sense of flow throughout.
  • I think my house is beautiful and reflects who I am and how I would like to live my life.
  • Accomplishing tasks in my house is easy, since the spaces are well organized and well designed.

 

If you feel that all of the above statements are true of your house, and you are still ready to build on, then I would say it is the right choice. However, if you can't say they apply to your situation, then I urge you to rethink things. It is easy to believe the lie that bigger is always better. Much like fine dining can be a wonderful, memorable experience compared to a button-popping, forgettable all-you-can-eat buffet, having a smaller amount of house that delights you with its attention to detail and fine materials can be so much more satisfying that a lot of house that bores you and costs you a lot of cash. Invest the money you were considering using for the addition to thoughtfully and intentionally improve your existing house, and you will have something of beauty, value and quality when you are finished.

 

Feeling cramped and uncomfortable in our current house often has little to do with the amount of space that is there, but rather how well the space is designed and appointed. Remember, you can only be in one room at a time--make the rooms you are in beautiful and satisfying to you, and your life will be the better for it.

Thinking Outside the Box

There are many ways in which to think of your house. When frustrated with the flow and function of the interior spaces, sometimes it is helpful to envision the building as a large rigid box, with many smaller somewhat flexible boxes inside that can be shifted around and fit back together inside of the whole. The result can be a completely new relationship between the rooms, and a great improvement in the function of the home. In the whole house renovation that I participated in starting this past summer, that is essentially what we did to allow for a modern kitchen to be created, and maintain certain things that the homeowners did not want to change about the original floor plan of the house. You may remember this house. I have written about it here and here, and I am very excited to show you the end result of the kitchen renovation, which did indeed include moving the space from one front corner of the house to the other.

What we started with was a mid century gem of a house that had been lovingly designed by its original owner, an architect himself, for his family. The house was conceived during a time when the kitchen was for those who worked in the house, not for the lady of the house herself, and the kitchen was not the hub for family gathering that it is today. The pictures of the kitchen it its original state say it all:

The kitchen had an awkward L-shape to it, and on one end was an exterior entrance which had always been used as the main way to enter and exit by the family. You can see it at the far end of this picture....

When I proposed closing this door up, and instead turning the opening into a window so that we could have a workable kitchen layout, the response from my clients  was a polite but firm  "Hell No."

So, we were temporarily at an impasse.

Because I didn't want the owners to go through a costly renovation to have a pretty kitchen that would essentially function no better, I went back to the drawing board.

In our conversations about the house, I had learned that while the kitchen door had not been intended to be the front door of the house, visitors interpreted it to be just that. If they had not visited before, or weren't instructed to do otherwise, they often came here to knock, since it was the most visible door when you approached the house. The true front door was hidden from this angle, and therefore very seldom used.  In the picture below you can see the kitchen door as seen from the driveway....it is the one on the right, propped open in this picture taken during construction....

Since it was unthinkable to have this door not be a door (for functional and sentimental reasons), then why couldn't we then solve two problems at once and create an entry/foyer to be just inside of this opening, and then shift the kitchen down the front wall of the house, so that it would absorb the space that was once the entry hall??  The kitchen could then encompass a much larger and more functional space....

The answer I got this time was a resounding "YES!"

Victor Burgos, our so very knowledgeable, always patient,  favorite general contractor, was there to assure that the changes could be done, and we started working out all of the details that would need to be addressed. It is amazing to me that the view of the original front door went from this:

To this (a great but sadly blurry picture of Victor and me going over details during the demolition)....

to this:

Wow.

And here are some more......

Before:

and after:

(The curtained window above in the "before" is the very same window here in the upper left of the frame.)

Before:

and After....

I am so pleased with the way this project turned out. The craftsmanship and materials are just beautiful.

What was once the "front" door to the house is now a beautiful kitchen door, complete with a new light cut in it (asymmetrically placed to be true to the vintage of the house) to allow more natural light to enter the space.

And the staircase, which wasn't able to be fully appreciated before in the dark front hall, now adds so much architectural interest to the kitchen.

So, don't allow yourself to be boxed in! Creative thinking and not being married to the way things are, can help you to look forward to the possibilities of what could be!

 

 

 

Rented!

Today the papers were signed and it is official! Our project house that has been sitting so pretty for so long will have someone new to love her. We are so excited!

I was there today going over the paperwork and working out some details....had to snap a few pictures.

I am so proud of the work I did on this house. If you missed it before, you can see a lot of it here and here.

It seems strange that I won't be able just to pop over just to say "hi" and enjoy all of the pretty sun-filled rooms..... but what a happy ending for what was once a forlorn little cape cod so down on her luck.