Saturday, May 30, 2009

The House

Our houses are large, with our consumption of natural resources paralleling the super sizing of our existence. Closets the size of 1920 bedrooms filled with clothes and master bedrooms that dwarf 1920 living rooms are typical. How much is too much? When is enough, enough?

My second daughter and her husband have bought their first home. They have been waiting to move in until it is painted. It is a mid 1920 bungalow that has had only a handful of owners and very little updating. A 1950 remodel left the bathroom with linoleum floors and grey blue plastic tile over the walls. There is an original back bedroom that has a narrow staircase leading to two bedrooms carved out of the attic. These attic bedrooms look like something out of a 1930 ski lodge, floor to ceiling dark, tongue and groove planks. The homes original front bedroom’s interior wall was removed to become part of the living room. The remodel was complete with popcorn ceilings in the expanded living room.

The previous owner had not lived in the house for years. She is her mother’s caregiver and the house viewable from the backyard is the mother’s place. Not needing to sell, but pushed by relatives to do something with the bungalow, there was no effort to even clean the house for sale.

The front bedroom will be reclaimed. The wall paper removal in the pass through bedroom revealed the imprint of a plate railing that had been removed. My daughter’s popping off of the bathroom tile created off gases and revealed thick globs of adhesive that quickly dried out. Under doctor’s orders to stay away from the house until the remodel is done because of her pregnancy, my project is to make the bathroom look nice.

For weeks, I chiseled dry globs of adhesive off the walls. We speculate that the layout in the small bathroom is not original. I wonder about the 1950 tub along the interior wall. Maybe there was a period tub under the window with an outhouse outback?

As I patch cracks in the old walls and tear out the metal 1950 medicine cabinet that the new owners do not want, the old type construction of lath and plaster reveals itself. There must be stories in the walls. This blue collar house in a blue collar neighborhood must have seemed like a castle to the original owner. Closets were just being included in new housing in the mid 1920’s. These closets are the size of broom closets. The entire wardrobes of the working class probably fit into a large suitcase. These small, functional bedrooms are the size of walk-in closets in McMansions.

Over the years, families have gotten smaller and houses have gotten larger. A rural Southern anti-bellium plantation in MS I visited survived abandonment and even became a shelter for hobos for years. It was lovingly restored and miraculously handcrafted plaster wall ornaments survived, but size wise, we would not think of this as the home of a wealthy business owner. On a business trip in the south years ago, I toured The Palace, Tryon, in New Bern. It was an exact reproduction of the British governor’s residence before we became The United States. The Palace is dwarfed by McMansions.

What drives us? Why do we need more than is required to exist? Why can’t we enjoy what we have? I am not suggesting a return to the outhouse, I am suggesting that we should be able to live simpler. Bedrooms for sleeping and bathrooms for bathing. Modern master bedrooms boast sitting rooms the size of living rooms. Bathrooms with oversized whirlpool tubs and a fireplace. With natural resources being consumed at an alarming pace, with environmental issues facing us, what impact does over consumption have our future?

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