Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The magnificent, cheap, tacky home

One of the more famous homes in the neighborhood where I grew up

Space has always been the spiritual dimension of architecture.  It is not the 
physical statement of the structures so much as what it contains that moves us.
~Arthur Erickson

I grew up in a neighborhood where architectural gems stood side by side, flaunting their unique and glorious facades.  The homes were built in the early 1900's, when Cleveland was a town of deep prosperity, and no one built a mere shelter.  Instead, homes were fantastic displays of craftsmanship, wealth and power.  Each proudly showed off its assets: slate roofs of gray, puddy, and burnt red colors, shiny copper gutters, intricately carved stone entrances, heavy wooden doors with golden, lion- shaped door knockers, chimneys shaped like stars, stretching into the sky.  

My mom doted on our house like it was one of her children.  She searched all over town for just the right cleaning supplies, those that would bring the wooden floors, carved banisters, and paneled library to life.  Once a year she polished the copper grates covering the radiators, making them shine with splendor.  She wrung her hands when considering modern upgrades, like central air, because she did not want to sully her home's stately character.

I always had a sense of the magnificence of our home, and I knew I wanted one of my own one day.  I had the good fortune of owning two: one in Boston and, several years later, one in New Jersey.  These homes had such large personalities, made such grand statements about living, that they seemed to shape their inhabitants.  When I entered them I became the royal mistress.  I felt privileged to enter each, my oasis from the sometimes harsh world I operated in.  

But, in 2009, a job loss made keeping our magnificent house impossible.  My husband and I moved our family into a townhouse built in a cluster, its architect clearly more concerned about making money than beauty.  The doors were hollow.  The cabinets in the kitchen and bathrooms were particle board.  The moldings were press on.  It was a shelter and nothing more. 

We moved in with heavy hearts, saddened about our loss.  But, to my great surprise and relief, I found we had the power to shape our home. The townhouse was unable to make a statement about itself: it was both boring and unassuming.  And so, somehow, the space was easy to mold and shape, allowing me and my family to become its ornament.  We placed our big leather chair, my favorite spot for reading books to the children, in the living room. We hung the children's artwork on the refrigerator.  We displayed Grandma's glass candy bowls in the dining room. We topped the children's beds with fluffy comforters and decorated the pillows with teddy bears from Grandpa.  Within a day the cheap and tacky construction of the townhouse was obscured.  

I'm not going to lie.  I hated that house, and I want to buy a beautiful home again one day.  But I've learned that beauty can be made anywhere.  Truly, it is what happens inside the home that makes it magnificent.  

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