House as Metaphor

I bought my house in October of 1990. I had lived a year in Columbus in a rental duplex, and wanted something permanent. I planned to stay here awhile. It was a good investment and a tax write off for the interest. So I sifted through many choices and decided on the one I’m still in.

But you need to know a little about me as a person. I’m the shapeshifter, the chameleon, the effervescent spirit that comes and goes with your dreams. I am the hippie, the loner, the floater, the non-conformist, the rebel, the starving artist. None of these persona are supposed to own homes.

But, good sense and the pressures of well meaning society along with parents, and my own desire to belong, to solidify, nudged me along the acceptable and responsible path of buying a house to own, cherish and love, for ever.

While I looked, I struggled with the decision, agonized, labored, floundered, waffled and waffled. I might as well have taken a butter and syrup bath for all the waffling I did. I had migraines for days during this time. I hated it.

But I reduced my desires to a list of requirements. The house I bought had to have: a porch, a circular flow pattern on the first floor, double French doors to the street on the fist floor, a sun room on the sunny side, a decent garden, a wood burning fireplace and not to many updates needed (move in condition). At least I knew the area I wanted to live in: an old, 1920’s suburb where many OSU professors and several musicians lived.

I had all but given up, and I’m sure my Realtor was about to make me disappear. I was seriously afraid he’d pop while I looked at and rejected yet another house. (my mother was a Realtor and I now understand why she hated it at times)

One house appealed to me, at least from the street. I had driven by it several times, and loved the setting. Tucked among many trees, you could barely see the house. It had a third floor dormer window which made it look bigger than it’s 2 floor size. The cedar shake shingles and boxy shape gave it cottage charm. And the yard was beautifully landscaped with soft curvy lines.

I decided to walk in one day during an open house, without my Realtor. It had double French doors over looking the front porch facing the street. There was a wood burning fireplace, and the circular floor pattern I wanted. The kitchen was good sized, with a breakfast nook over looking the back yard, which was not so nicely landscaped. The second floor had the usual three bedrooms, a decent sized bathroom, and a sunroom off the bath, with three sides of glass facing South. I fell in love.

I called my Realtor, who commanded me not to breathe until he got there. (the Realtor who had the open house would have been happy to sell it to me) Over the next 48 hours I bargained them down 12% from their asking price. The house was mine!

That was 15 years ago. Now, a hundred thousand in renovations and additions later, plus thousands (really, I think it’s true) of hours gardening later, the house is all me.

Or is it?

10 thoughts on “House as Metaphor

  1. Like any artist, you have so much versatility in your writing. It’s such a treat for me when you choose this storytelling voice. It pulls me into what you’re saying intimately and makes me feel like we’re having a personal conversation. You always fill your storytelling with such lovely imagery.

    Is the house you? My answer can only be a guess based on what you have written and the man I’ve come to know. But I think the answer would be a qualified yes and no. 🙂 You said yesterday you change with the season, so I suppose that the house is a part of you. You cannot help become a part of it after 15 years of renovations. But I would think in this metaphor the house might be the you the outside world see.

    My bet is on the garden as being more the you that is your soul. Fifteen years of gardening–gosh it must be spectacular–of digging in the dirt, of seeing things grow, of enjoying the splendor and seeing it die, of knowing the moments of human neglect we give our gardens, and of watching the animals come and go freely that would be my bet for what is all you. I’m guessing that only friends get to see the garden view.

    What a lovely metaphor David. Thank you for starting my day so beautifully.

  2. Is it you? No more than mine is me, although at moments here and there it’s been very close. I have lived in mine since 1972 and it has been in continual renovation and redecoration since then. It has evolved with me but always maintained its own identity.

    One of its strongest points for me is its 145 year history. I have often felt the influence and sometimes the benediction of the former owners and inhabitants as I have preserved the house and its simple, warm, sheltering embrace around me and my daughters. When they moved on to establish their own lives, the house closed a little more tightly to keep me safe and comfortable living alone and when my husband is with me. I actually relish the fact that it retains some pieces of its own identity always. When I work on it, it’s as if we have a conversation about where WE are going to go this time. It has its own soul.

  3. Liz- right on. The house is my external expression, an outfit I wear for the world. The garden is more flamboyant, chaotic, rich and varied. It started out as a very controlled project, but has evolved into a wild, free, spontaneous project.

  4. Will- it’s so nice of you to stop by regularly. And your perspective is one I hadn’t properly considered. My house is only 80, but old enough to have history. I feel that history, it nourishes me. The old wood spindle bannister has felt countless touches, only a fraction of which are mine. However the new addition is more self-conscious. It needs time to develop its own character.

  5. Round house-owners unite!

    Did you ever hear the idea that when we dream about a house – especially if it’s a recurring house/dream – it is a metaphor for our own soul/psyche? I’ve often felt my real-time home-making is very linked to my dream-time home stuff, and you write about that beautifully here.

    Gaston Bachelard, a French philosopher and lvoer of poets, wrote a beautiful book called ‘The Poetics of Space’ about this sort of thing. It includes this quote (which your post brought to mind) about designing/renovating/living in physical spaces in an emotional/spritual way:

    “My research is devoted to the domain of intimacy, to the domain in which psychic weight is dominant. I shall therefore put my trust in the power of attraction of all the domains of intimacy. There does not exist a real intimacy that is repellant. All the spaces of intimacy are designated by attraction. Their being is well-being.”

    Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

  6. Wonderful quote Jessamyn. I’ll have to get the book. You also reminded me of a recurring house dream of mine. I added it to tomorrows post.

  7. HA! Personally, I like being a starving artist! It adds to my bohemian charm… tho, every now and again, you’ve got to be able to caugh up a tennis bracelet, or at least dinner for two.

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