The wonderful Belette asked if I would do a post on the topic of “home.” Her very helpful prompts in her email seemed, to me, to hint at her concerns about making a misstep with selecting a new home. Her list of questions, which I loved but that she didn’t want me to use directly, were well-structured to best help reveal some criteria for choosing a home. It struck me that where she might have some anxiety over selecting a new home, my home-related anxiety is squarely in my past, focused on a house I have left behind.
I grew up in a tri-level suburban house whose design was one of 9 or 10 options in the community we lived in. There was a split-level yard with a pool, a 2-car garage, sprinklers, cottage cheese ceilings, the tract-home works. I hated it, but not because of the wall-to-wall carpeting or the high ceilings that made it cold in the winter and impossible to cool in the summer, or any of the other things my mom complained about. I always felt fearful in the house, nervous of the sliding glass doors (there were 2, one on each yard level) and the types of criminals who would be able to open them – the very impotent little locks that I could never secure to my satisfaction before going reluctantly to bed still feature in the occasional nightmare where I find myself, horror of horrors, back in my childhood home. My over-sized imagination that went into high gear every night, conjuring up determined predators who would target our, truthfully, crime-free neighborhood, was fueled by conversations at the dinner table about my father’s workload as a public defender, or stories my mom had read that day in the metro section of the paper.
Since moving out of my parents’ home, but not including college dorms, I have lived in 10 different apartments. 8 were rentals and 2 that we’ve owned. They have varied in size and city, from the East Coast to the West Coast and back again. Incredibly, four of the apartments were in one small town, where we just could not hit upon the right formula. The move to a new city, where we now live, confirmed, for me, that the apartments weren’t the (only) problem.
The first apartment we ever owned was the first (and only) apartment that we looked at when we decided to buy in the aforementioned small town. By then we had lived in 8 apartments so we were not amateurs and knew, more or less, what we needed. The apartment met all of our criteria (elevator, pet-friendly, washer/dryer in the unit, wood floor, nice views, 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, parking and a balcony). A friend, a licensed architect with impeccable taste, dictated paint colors, doorknobs, window coverings, furniture placement, etc. It never felt like perfection.
What we learned was that renting and owning are somewhat different things. After living there for over 2 years (the longest time we had spent in any apartment), we discovered that what we thought were priorities were not. For one thing, I absolutely did not want a washer/dryer to worry about (the horrible banging when a load becomes unbalanced in the final spin, the potential for leaks or fires from clogged lint vents, that last one we experienced first hand). I also preferred just one bathroom – I like to clean my own home, but more for the self-reliance than for the thrill of the process. That extra toilet was discouraging, and the shower stall was never used. And finally, a 24-hour doorman would all but eliminate the small trace of concern for my family’s safety that is as much a part of me as the tiny beauty marks that dot my body, even if, unlike those marks, the insecurity is the product of nurture, not nature.
When we began our hunt for our current apartment, we were determined not to buy the first one we saw this time. In truth, it was the second one we visited, and we knew instantly that we wanted it, but we still made an effort to look at 2 or 3 others before making an offer. How did we know? There was just a feeling. It was not analytical. That is how my husband and I operate. We are fast decision-makers. It was that way with picking our child’s name – a decision that was resolved in the span of a crosswalk after exiting the hospital from the checkup that revealed the gender, before we even reached the opposite curb. I realize this haste has landed us in some dwellings that did not live up to our expectations, but so far, in our new apartment, so good. In fact, the things we love about the apartment are details we discovered/appreciated after moving in.
It is a 1 bedroom, 1 bath pre-war with leafy views and a separate dining area. The building is pet-friendly, in case we ever decide to have dogs again, has charming hallways, an ideal location in an-almost ideal city, is well-maintained and has a wonderful staff of extremely pleasant doormen who work in shifts around the clock.
Three people, nearly 750sq feet of space, and perfection.
There are rooms that do the bulk of the work, multifunctional spaces that you live in more than others. In our last apartment it was our master bedroom, but it always felt more like we were hiding in there. The tv was in that bedroom. When we moved, we got rid of our tv. In our current apartment, the kitchen/dining area is the center of the apartment (even though physically it’s not). The dining table seats 7 comfortably, but almost every meal it’s just us 3. It is also where we set up our laptops, where I paint, where we read, talk on the phone, you name it. Our daughter has the big bedroom, and we divided the generous living room with an Eames storage unit that we bought expressly for this purpose. I lovingly refer to it as “the unit” (eg “don’t lean on the unit,” “that better not be a cup I see on the unit.”). On one side, we have our couch, a chair, books, in short, our living room. On the other side, our bed, a dresser, bedside tables – our bedroom.
Furnishing this space is so fun, so personal, that I have slowed down and left many needs un-met, just so I can string out the process a bit longer. I hope it is forever a work in progress. Buying rugs was a ridiculous joy (to anyone in the NYC area, I cannot over-emphasize the treasures to be found in the d
iscount basement of ABC Carpet). I created a sitting area in our entry way just as an excuse to buy a small runner I fell in love with.
Friends are skeptical of the space/arrangement I have chosen for my family, until they come over and see it. Then they seem genuinely cozy and reluctant to leave. My mother has stayed with us for extended visits, sleeping on a fold-up futon, and repeatedly says how much she loves being in the apartment. My sister and brother-in-law laugh with amazement though that my apartment could easily fit on the first floor of their 2-story house, and yet the respective cost of our homes is the exact inverse of their sizes, relative to one another.
My daughter has one of the most amazing urban parks for her backyard, the best view in the apartment, and a protective building staff that seems charmed by her, yet after a succession of particularly rainy days in early Spring, I passed by the bathroom while she was in there and I overheard her mutter to herself the first and, to my knowledge, only string of poetry she has ever composed, “Jammed in this tiny house, waiting for the rain to stop.” She is 6. When she is in her 30s, she might find herself gravitating to homes of grandiose proportions. She might want a home with stairs and a yard with shadows. If she grows up to reject everything I have furnished my adult life with, at the very least I hope, more than anything else, her desires and dreams are founded on security and confidence. Ideally everyone’s home is a haven, but just from life, not from nightmares…
Editor is the author and artist who is the creator of the whimsical, smart and fabulous Up and Downtown. Up and Downtown “is a semi-autobiographical work of mostly fictional fashion, presented as individual cartoons, meant to be enjoyed as a continuous story that gets updated 5 days a week. It’s the story of a girl, who is no longer a girl, living in a city.” You may remember her work from the post “Find Belette“.