America’s Dream House Ain’t Comin’

Monday, June 22, 2015 at 8:03 am

americasdreamhAlmost no Image holds as much sway over our romantic reveries as the dream house we will someday buy or build. Each of us has a vision of this dwelling, from the built-in kitchen pantry to the scented linen closet, from the window scat in the upstairs hallway to the rose-covered arbor leading to the backyard garden. Every woman secretly believes that someday she’ll cross the threshold of her dream house, whether carried by Prince Charming or walking on her own.

Several years ago, after my marriage ended and I started blogging, a good friend was forced to do the unthinkable: sell the beautifully restored, eighteenth-century farmhouse in which she had lived, loved, and raised six children over three decades. It was wrenching to watch her pack tip a lifetime of memories and go through the motions of moving on.

From the outside, the small suburban town house she settled into was as unassuming and plain as her former home had been imposing and grand. I remember feeling awkward as I rang the doorbell on my first visit. Besides enduring the pain of divorce and dislocation, was my friend living each day with the discomfort of trading down?

When she opened the door, her glowing face revealed that in many ways her life had been upgraded, I hadn’t seen her this happy and serene in years. Her new house radiated a warm hospitality that seemed organic: It was almost as if the walls, windows, ceilings, and floors possessed human qualities. As she led me through each light-filled room, the peace of this dear place was palpable. I had not been having a good clay; but here, drinking afternoon tea and basking in the benediction of a cherry tree blooming outside her living-room window, I remembered what contentment felt like.

As I took my leave reluctantly, I asked my friend to call me if she ever wanted to sell this place. It was a ridiculous request. The house can hold only two people comfortably, and I was married with a teenage daughter and three cats. But she declared that she had no intention of ever selling. She was settled here now. She was healing.

“Besides, there isn’t man alive I’d leave this house for,” she declared, If we hadn’t been laughing so hard, we might have heard the angels chuckling.

That’s because last May I watched my friend walk down the aisle with a wonderful man, who was so much in love with her that after they were pronounced man and wife, he flashed a victory sign to the congregation. Only a few weeks before, following a legal separation from my husband, I’d moved into her old place, and set about transforming it into my own personal sanctuary.

Now, when I glance back at my Gratitude Journal over the last year, I’m astounded at how frequently “my beautiful home” appears there. While I was stunned to be starting over in midlife, I now realize that my new home is coaxing me back into my own authenticity. As I glance around, I see glimmers of the woman I’ve always wanted to become, expressing herself in myriad ways-favorite quotes stenciled on walls, a soothing yet surprising color palette, fresh flowers in every room. Each day, in small ways, I am coming home to myself.

When I moved in, I refused to buy anything that wasn’t either useful or beautiful–and, whenever possible, both. If I didn’t love it, I lived without it. For weeks my living room had only one chair, an ottoman, and a silver tea service. I took very little from my former house-only those few things that had personal meaning, such as my mother’s antique desk. And since I wanted everything accompanying me on my new journey to have a reincarnation of its own, the desk was stripped down to its natural pine origins.

Passion became my interior decorator. Instead of seeing my empty rooms as daunting and depressing, I viewed them as full of promise and possibility. Now my house is a hodge-podge of all that I love, with furnishings from mail-order catalogs, thrift shops, and antique stores. It has evolved into a cozy nest that embraces, nurtures, delights, and inspires all who find shelter there.

Over the last 20 years, my dream-house fantasy has run the gamut from a Victorian gingerbread to a Frank Lloyd Wright manse. But I’ve discovered that when It comes to houses, as with true love, outward appearances are often deceiving. It’s what’s inside that counts.

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