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Archive for March, 2010

Beigeland

I struggle with our current home. It’s like it has me in a headlock, which I hate, but it’s also giving me a playful noogie, which makes me laugh, in spite of myself.

Our last house was a 1924 bungalow. It oozed cozy. Now, anyone who’s looked at real estate descriptions knows “cozy” can be code for “small,” “cramped,” “teeny-tiny,” or “uncomfortably miniscule.” Our house was definitely snug, but also comfortable. At just under 1,200 square feet of living space on the main floor, it was three bedrooms, one bath, a kitchen, and a living/dining room combo. It also had a basement with unfinished area for storage and laundry, as well as a small studio apartment (though I would never, ever have rented it — and there are plenty of dubious rental decisions in my past).

We’re pretty organized folks, so we made it work and were really happy there. Even when our second child was born and we had to move our bedroom into what had been the study, which was lined with books. And was just over 11-feet square. Cozy.

When we decided to move to Olympia, so my husband could take a new job, we had one afternoon to look for a house (though Michael had already done some scouting). Why so little time? Well, even in the midst of a soft real estate market, our gem of a house sold almost instantly. We had five offers on the table after the first day. A bidding war ensued. We were so lucky. And then we were so panicked.

Olympia wouldn’t be so fortunate for us, real estate-wise. The charming old houses we loved just weren’t on the market; not in our price range, anyway. And truth be told, Michael was ready for a break from the constantly growing list of house repairs and neverending yard work. So newer construction seemed to make sense.

We found a development within easy walking distance of Michael’s job, and even though I don’t like a single finish in the entire place (aside from a bit of hardwood flooring on the main level), here we are. There are bigger problems in life. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with having nearly 3,000-square feet of living space, even if there isn’t much about the space for me to love. There will be other houses with different finishes and architectural details — any architectural details.

I miss being able to walk to the grocery store or downtown — or even a really great park. We had all of that in Bellingham. But what I’ve given up in accessibility is mostly made up for by the amount of fun the kids have in the front yard, riding bikes and scooters up and down the level, safe sidewalks. Cars drive by at a crawl in our little subdivision, as opposed to flying past at our old place, which was on a busier through-street.

I was worried about giving up our basement with all its storage, but the homes throughout Beigeland are absolutely covered in closets. Now if I could just get our walls covered in paint — the moniker “Beigeland” applies to the exteriors and interiors of the houses in this area.

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Because I just unearthed these old photos from one of my childhood bedrooms:

Apparently, I (or my mother) really liked Raggedy Ann and Andy. A lot.

This wasn’t in the home I consider my true childhood home; the house I posted about last time. This was a duplex we rented in Kansas City, Missouri, for nine months, while my dad’s job moved him there temporarily. I was almost three years old.

It makes me think about my own kids’ bedrooms now, and how I’ve decided to decorate them. (Though I use the term “decorate” loosely.) I mean, Clare isn’t yet two years old, and her room is covered in pink gingham and flowers. And I don’t even like pink. I blame the excitement over having a girl the second time around; I jumped straight into every cliché with both feet.

Judging by how Mom decorated my childhood room, I think I come by it honestly.

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Or maybe you simply shouldn’t.

This is my childhood home, just outside of Des Moines, Iowa.

This is not what it looked like when I lived there.

When my parents and I first moved in, in 1974, it was painted black, and eventually a brick red hue, until I graduated from high school and my mother (long divorced from my father by then) put it on the market.

Then, under several different owners over the years, its shell shuffled through the colors of the rainbow.

Who paints their house the color of an Easter egg? Apparently, these current owners, but no one else in the surrounding neighborhood. Before choosing this shade, they went with a shockingly bright pastel-tinged green. I guess they like to be the, ahem, unique house on the block.

I took this photo a few years ago, during the traditional drive-by-all-my-old-haunts portion of a visit to see my mom. It was a great place to grow up.

I hope the old place never goes on the market while I’m back visiting. The pull to see what the inside looks like now would be too strong. Surely the shag carpet is long gone; my room’s was orange, my parents’ white, and the living room avocado green (to match the brand new kitchen appliances). I wonder if the mirrored wall in the basement is still there? What about the dark gray paneling in the family room?

I prefer to remember it just as it was. The alternative, judging solely from the outside, is too painful (to my mind’s eye) to conjure.

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Our Fairhaven condo, which we lived in from late 2001 to early 2003, had a 20-foot ceiling in the living room. Now there’s a decorating challenge. Lucky for us, the owner (our landlord and friend, Michelle) had installed some simple Pottery Barn shelving which, although it might feel a bit too busy and knick-knacky for my taste today, I really loved filling up at the time.

I miss those shelves at times and think about doing something similar in our Beigeland living room (which has a vaulted ceiling).

Digging through these old photos, I also realize I miss having plants.

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Since graduating from college in 1993, I’ve lived in six places (I have no exterior photo of my first Bellingham apartment, so imagine an example of squat, sad, two-level motel architecture squeezed in as the third photo from the left). My first apartment, in Des Moines, Iowa, was fantastic simply because it was my own — but also because it had hardwood floors, tall ceilings, great light, and plenty of closets. Let’s not mention the closet-sized kitchen.

My next apartment was the former servants quarters in a massive home atop Terrace Hill, right next to the Iowa governor’s mansion. In fact, the same architect designed both homes. It was quirky and sprawling and my home base for less than a year, while I finished grad school and prepared to move to the Pacific Northwest.

When I landed in Bellingham, Washington, in August of 1996, I lucked upon an unremarkable box of a tiny apartment. Lucky because it was in a fantastic neighborhood — near the university where my boyfriend (now husband) would work and live on-campus — and had a giant picture window overlooking Bellingham Bay. For a girl from landlocked Iowa, enjoying seagulls, sailboats, and nightly sunsets from the comfort of her couch was a remarkable change of pace.

Michael and I lived together in that minuscule apartment for the first two years of our marriage, but in 2001 a friend offered to rent us her charming condo in Fairhaven. To a couple of young professionals with no kids, it was like living in a candy store: bars, bookstores, restaurants, and boutique shops were right outside our door. I lost my living room water view, but could climb up to our rooftop deck to take in the magnificent sunsets over the bay.

We bought our first home — the one mentioned in the previous post — in 2003. It was the dog of the neighborhood and the price was right. We changed every surface of that cozy cottage and, in perhaps our smartest remodeling move ever, hired a designer and construction team to gut and replace the original 1924 kitchen.

When Michael got a job offer in Olympia, Washington, in 2008, we felt it was time to move, though it was incredibly difficult to leave our first true home behind. Despite the faltering real estate market, we sold our sweet little house in just a couple days — we had five offers the first day it was on the market — and were able to move into a much larger home.

But here’s been the rub: our current home doesn’t really fit our style. In fact, it doesn’t have much style at all. We call the neighborhood “Beigeland,” and although I love having lots of space and a quiet, safe neighborhood to walk around with the kids, I still pine for crown moldings and my stainless steel range hood, among other much-missed details.

One of the things I want to do is post photos of all these old places I’ve called home, and also make a record of the homes my children have lived in. I often play a game where I try — and fail — to remember where every light switch was in my childhood home; I’d like to document those light switches for my kids.

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My first job out of college was at Better Homes & Gardens. I was an editorial assistant in their Special Interest Publications building and remodeling department. This was in the days before everyone had internet at their desks, so whenever I had downtime, I flipped through back issues of remodeling projects and building ideas. Before and after photos became my obsession.

It would be years before we owned our first home, but once it was ours I finally had the blank slate I began dreaming about back in that cubical. And I finally had my very own before and after photos.

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