Sunday, April 13, 2014

Houses and Homes

The house in Montrose, Alabama, where I grew up.

I've been thinking about houses a lot lately. I'm renting a condo and quite comfortable here, but I planned to use the money I had left from the sale of my condo in Hoboken to buy another dwelling of some kind. I didn't think it would be a house. I've lived in a lot of houses, owned many myself, and I thought I pretty much would live the rest of my days in a downsized, compact space. Since my move from Alabama in 2007, I've divested myself of much stuff--but the closets here are still bursting, and I still miss certain pieces of furniture, certain books and objects. I love New Paltz, but I haven't quite made myself at home.

The first house I owned looks a lot like the house I grew up in. It's the Southern style called a Creole Cottage, which dot the landscape of Lower Alabama and always spell home to me, in capital letters. Creole cottages have been redesigned from the original center hall, equal sized rooms on the side, high ceilings, comfy ambiance. I think this house was built somewhat later than the old family place, and it did not have the classical floor plan. I loved living in the house and might have stayed on indefinitely had not life changed in ways that made that impossible. We sold this one at a handsome profit and I went on to buy and remodel a 1950s bungalow for myself, then sell that and build a modified creole on a piece of land behind the house above where my mother still lived. It was exciting to add my own details to the design, buying a huge front door from a nearby architectural salvage barn, and choosing all the cabinet hardware, counter top surfaces, wallpaper--I insisted on yellow wallpaper with magnolias on it for that front hall, as that had been the choice in the house I grew up in. Yellow was my father's favorite color, and now that I think of it, I realize it's quite likely he chose that paper.

This was before stainless steel appliances--I still dislike them--and granite countertops. I did quite well without them, although I did have one piece of granite on a kitchen counter and broke one of my favorite pitchers on it, which still upsets me.
The house I built, in 1999
The house was scene to many parties and a couple of Thanksgivings, but for some reason I decided to sell it and buy a Craftsman bungalow where I spent several happy years. By then Mama was in the assisted living facility which was just a few blocks away.

I can't say I love moving, but I do love being in houses new to me that I can put a personal stamp on. I write all this to sort out the houses in my head, and reconcile myself to the reality that I've put in an offer in a charming Victorian in Kingston, NY. If all goes well, before the end of June I won't be in New Paltz anymore, but fixing up another beautiful old place, replacing the furniture I discarded in my moves, and gearing up for yet another phase as I face another birthday.
"The Captain's House" An airplane bungalow built in 1914 by a bay boat captain


  1. I really like your observation on how our houses reflect who we were and what activities directed our lives at the time of each association. I love the Creole Cottage architecture, remembered from my time in Louisiana, and the Craftsman bungalow style is very common here in my northeast region.

  2. I love this piece. The houses are all charming.

  3. You have lived in some wonderful houses.

  4. “We shape our buildings, and afterwards, our buildings shape us.” Winston Churchill It's really true. Love all your houses!

  5. I love this post! You've inspired me to do one on the houses I've lived in -- from the "demountable" house in post-War Oak Ridge, Tenn., to my present San Jose home, which went from great to fantastic after an extensive remodel. (Hope I can find pictures ... else today's Google StreetView will have to do.) My siblings can surely add their stories, too. Thanks for the inspiration.

  6. I love deep & wide front porches. And the sound of the word bungalow. And yellow is my favorite color! Can I move in with you?

  7. Best offer I've had in many a moon--I'll bet you're a tidy and noiseless roommate. Can't wait until the deal is done on my new place and I'll write blog posts about it!