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Friday, September 1, 2017

If I built a house

Three years ago this November, we sold our house. It was time to pursue a long held dream of finding our "dream" house. But we were on the multi-step plan. Sell, regroup, save, live inexpensively for a while (at least a year, maybe more) and figure out what we wanted.

We moved into Sandi's sister Tricia's basement apartment. It was a generous offer we were fortunate to have, one that would allow us to go where we wanted to go. Wherever that was. There was the fun of adored family members living together- one family up, one family down....we were our own sitcom- but it was hard, too. Kind of like stuffing a whale into a goldfish suit.

I'm a girl who likes to have a plan, or at least some sense of where I'm headed. (I will tell you, living with such uncertainty and diminished amount of control over my external environment has substantially cured me of that need.) Our move was a "leap and the net will appear" sort of moment. Except I was suspended in mid-air for a long time, looking down and not seeing a net. I was unmoored and unsettled. There was no destination on the horizon to point my ship toward.

A few months later, after stalking the real estate listings and coming up short, we started to explore building. I wasn't sure I was up for it- the stress, the cost, the waiting. But I was soon confronted with yet another tenet of adulthood: delayed gratification. Do you want something mediocre now or something amazing later?

I cursed adulthood and jumped aboard the house building train that Sandi had long been on.

House building requires a few essential things: money (more than you think), mental fortitude, flexibility, rigorous organizational skills and patience, patience and more patience.

The only one of those I possessed at the onset were organizational skills.

I soon learned the other thing you need, pure and simple, is a vision. I lacked that as well.

In the first couple of meetings with our builder he would rub his chin and say, "I guess I'm not really sure what it is that you want."

We were equally bewildered. We were all over the place. We had the ADHD of house building. We wanted everything and there was no simple way to distill it down into a buildable house plan.

We were like the kid in the wonderful Chris Van Dusen book If I Built a House. This highly imaginative boy dreams up a house with an automatic kitchen, trampoline and a ball pit in his living room, a car wash-style shower, an anti-gravity room, a race track room and a fish tank room where you can scuba dive with your favorite marine animals.

I sometimes cringe when I think of the internal eye rolling our builder must have done and the possible earful his wife might have gotten about these crazy ladies he was working with. I like to think manners went a long way to soothe minor irritations. That there is a big difference between,
"We want twenty more windows than you put in the plan" and "We would like to add twenty windows, please." And "We don't like the standard window trim you use" versus "Is there anything you can use that is more in line with our house style? Thank you."

At least in my mind there is.

One of the things we had was time. And while that placed an obvious stress on one of the essential pillars of house building- patience- it was well worth it. Because of our own timeline, we knew it didn't make sense to start building until the fall of 2016 and we started working with our builder the February prior, giving us seven months before a drop of concrete was poured or a single nail was hammered.

I honestly think it was those seven months that gave us a house I love so much it makes my belly flip over every time I pull into the driveway. We honed our preferences, whittled our taste, researched, changed our minds and created a more complete vision of how the different components of the house would come together.

One of the other assets we had working in our favor, and this will hopefully cheer many people, was that we had lived in a few sub-lovely places. We knew what it was like to live with cheap flooring, hollow doors, crappy layouts, not enough closet space. We knew how maddening it was to cook in a tiny kitchen with only a handful of cupboards and zero counter space, to have guests squeezed together for a party and to live in fear that our basement would flood if the power went out. We knew what it was like to dig cars out of snow all winter, to unpack groceries in the pouring rain and to have mice sneak through cracks you didn't realize you had.

Contrast creates vision.

It turns out living for forty years makes you a sort of expert on your life. We knew our rhythms, our needs, our wants, the flow of our family. We knew we wanted to make the kitchen our top priority, that we wanted our living space to open and spacious, that we wanted to have room for company- both to eat and sleep- and plenty of bathrooms for all the girls in our house. We choose our lot and designed our house with a walk out basement ready to be finished to provide a space for our parents should they need it.

Each of us had our things that we went to bat for. High on Sandi's list were the audio system and  master shower. Mine were the three season porch and the windows. I am an outdoor girl and I require a lot of light. And so I kept adding windows to the plan. Yes, we need windows in the closets. Yes, we need windows in the garage. Yes, we need more windows in the basement. And while you're at it, can you add three more windows in our bedroom?


Keep in mind we also lived in a basement when we designed the house so there is a chance that plays a small roll in how many windows we have.

At one point during the framing, one of the guys said to me, "Gonna be a beautiful house. Lots of windows!" As we left, Sandi said, "Does it make you nervous that people keep commenting on how many windows we have put in here?"


Did I mention the need for patience?  Because there was a lot of waiting, sometimes patient, often impatient, waiting. At one point, Ella said to me, "I don't think we are ever actually going to move into that house."


Because it takes a long time to go from this:

To this.

And from this: 

To this.

(*A HUGE thank you to Marcy Whipple and the staff at Maine Stone Design for our perfect kitchen, bathrooms, counters and floors! No one should build a house without Marcy.)

Building a house is like baking a cake, the most important cake of your life, with no recipe. You can look at pictures of cakes, take the advice of professional bakers and taste every cake out there. You can study recipes of other cakes. But when it comes time to bake your cake, you must rely on your skill, your instincts and your experience. You cross your fingers, mop your brow and pray.

When it comes out of the oven and tastes like a piece of heaven, you want to weep with joy. 

When Josh (Hamilton) completed our long-anticipated fire place, Sandi and I looked at each other and said, "It is like our house finally has its heart." (Thank you Josh!)

The three season porch, a room made up of- you guessed it- windows. Sandi and her mom finished this room and they absolutely nailed it.

To watch the metamorphosis of a house from a scattered idea, to a sketch, to a 3D rendering, to an actual structure you can stand in is a wonder to me. We would wander the house and murmur, "I think we did it."

Time passed, as it always does, and our house neared completion. There was the typical stress of remaining details, inspections, appraisals, timing, mandatory waiting periods, etc. There was a week where we thought we might not close on the house in time to move during Sandi's long-planned vacation. All because of some dirt. The lawn needed to be seeded and there was no loam to be found in the wet, muddy spring we had in Maine. But at the eleventh hour, we got lucky, people went out of their way to help and our builder was very flexible with us.

Then we were signing papers and clinking cheers and marveling at all we created and sacrificed and visualized and worked for to get us to that moment.  I don't call our house our dream house because it has every last thing we want but because we dreamt it into existence. From nothing to something. 

That is a powerful thing. 

And so moving day was upon us.

Just what everyone wants to find in their stored belongings...Complete with the kids' cries of, "Can't we keep them??" And requests for droppers with which to feed them milk.

We relished our first night, our first dinner, (take-out Indian, or cereal if you're Maya) in disbelief that we were actually there.

Maya really loves the laundry window.

Nearly three years ago, just before we sold our house, we bought an extravagant bottle of champagne when Bangor Wine and Cheese had a champagne tasting. We bought it knowing the changes that were coming for us, knowing there would be reason for celebration. 

Sandi said, "How about when we sell our house?" I was reluctant. Selling our house was sad to me, a necessary step toward moving into a house we wanted, a rest stop not even half-way on a long car ride.

I asked her if we could save it until we moved into our next house. The house we had not yet created, not yet reached for. She wasn't into it (I think she just really wanted that mind-blowing champagne) but, through mercy or love, she graciously said yes. 

Finally, it was time. 

And now we live in this beautiful house that I fall in love with more each day. I love to come home and I don't like to leave. I love to fall asleep here, to wake up here, to cook here and dance here and sing. To play with our kids and our dog. To have people we love grace our space with their love and laughter. 

I just used love a lot in that paragraph. Forgive me. No other word will suffice.

We're home. 

1 comment:

Schoodiclk said...

It's beautiful! So happy for you all. Ann Sullivan

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