Friday, May 18, 2012

Going Home

I've lived in several houses and apartments over the years and while each was my home at the time, for me there has been and always will be only one Home (with a capital H), the house I grew up and lived in until I moved into 28.

As a child playing with marbles in the living room, racing Hot Wheels across the kitchen floor, or eating cookies from my sister's EZ-Bake oven in the attic, thoughts of moving away from Home were far from my mind.  Eventually, however, that day came.  For many years after, I'd return for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and birthday celebrations, very often for dinner and the subsequent viewing of Jeopardy with Mom, to replace a light bulb just out of her reach, or frequently for no reason at all.

I may have moved but Home remained.

But then things changed.

I skipped town for SF although I returned to DC often and Mom got sick and began spending more time at our one level family house on the Chesapeake Bay. The period between my visits Home grew further and further apart.  My interaction with the house amounted to an occasional stop to pick up the mail, to run in and grab something Mom wanted, or to take a quick look around to make sure everything was in order.

My Home was still there but it was empty.

One day in early 2009 an idea came to mind: since the house was largely unoccupied, let's talk to Mom about renovating it and moving in.  I spoke to her and she loved the idea.  We talked about the possibilities, from removing the wall-to-wall carpet and refinishing the wood floors (something she'd been wanting to accomplish for years) to renovating the kitchen.  A few months later Mom's health declined further.  Not long after that she passed away.  In the week prior to her passing we discussed a lot things, one of which was her continued desire for us to work on the house.

In the aftermath, it was hard concentrating on anything much less a major remodel. Things had also gotten complicated since it was no longer Mom solely calling the shots about the house as it was now jointly owned by my two sisters and me. Trying to reach agreement on the extent of the renovations and how they would be compensated proved to be difficult. After several discussions, we agreed that the best way forward was for me to buy their interests in the house.

Thus, a little over a year ago, we began remodeling my childhood home.  Fortunately, my wife has an architectural background and previously worked in construction management, so she developed the plans, dealt with all the contractors, and kept a very sharp eye on their work.  What primarily began as a major kitchen renovation and the addition of a master bath (oddly in what used to be my bedroom) grew into something much more and much better, including:
  • Triple paned windows throughout
  • Central air conditioning (whew!)
  • A second bathroom remodeled
  • Partial removal of a load bearing wall
  • Creation of a new archway (one of my favorite features)
  • Shifting a doorway slightly to the left
  • Hard wired smoke detectors and security system
  • Removing the wall-to-wall carpet and restoring the original hardwood floors
  • Hand-sanded refinishing of the 15 interior wood doors, all of the wood trim in the house (there's a lot!), and the built-in bookcases
  • Polishing the brass hardware on the doors to a shine
  • Removing ceilings and installing new lighting and wiring for internet and audio
  • Building raised beds for the garden
  • Planting a 15 foot cherry blossom tree in the yard. 
  • And last but not least, re-doing the basement which includes a second kitchen for me (potentially known as "The Lab") to experiment with making cheese, charcuterie, ice cream, bread, beer, etc.
There were hundreds, possibly thousands of decisions to make as we painstakingly moved forward.  At each step along the way we made conscious decisions to retain, re-imagine, and in one case recreate specific mid-century modern features of the house as I've always known it.

At times I'd have some angst about changing an aspect of the house I'd known my entire life.  However, during the renovation I realized that the house hasn't been nearly as static as I thought.  Whether it was finding remnants of the old brown carpet I remember from the early '70s, previous layers of paint colors I had long ago forgotten about, exposing the original hardwood flooring, figuring out that Dad finished the basement sometime around 1957 (thanks to an old Washington Star newspaper dated 9/1/57 found in a wall), or discovering that at one point the kitchen had an entirely different layout, it became clear that houses - just like people - should and do evolve.

I wish Mom could be here to see it. She was one to embrace change and I'm certain that she'd love the look and feel of the house as it is now.  Fittingly, we moved in over Mother's Day weekend (May 12th to be precise) and although she's not here physically I feel her presence throughout.

It's been a long journey punctuated by a few bumps in the road and a couple surprises - the discovery of an errant marble or Hot Wheels car that went missing decades ago - but it's been a true labor of love.  One that wouldn't have come about had it not been for the passion of my wife to get every detail precisely right combined with her immense respect for the house and its history.

It is a beautifully renovated and restored house. A house in which for me memories reside in every inch of every room.  Never in my wildest dreams as I child would I have thought that I'd grow up and one day own this house and live here.

But I do and am very grateful for that.

It's comfortable.
It's familiar.
It's old.
It's new.

It's Home.

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