When I was a young my sister and I complained of boredom and heat as my grandmother drove my mother and us around the San Fernando and Simi Valleys into dusty new subdivisions to tour model homes. We stepped into airconditioned foyers and the chemical smells of fresh paint, carpet, and linoleum. Everything inside the model homes was clean, neat, and perfect. My sister and I raced upstairs to pick out our bedrooms. At home we shared a small room and a bunk bed set. In the models, we chose our own room by reaching it first. My sister seemed to claim the girl’s room with pastel colors, frilly canopy bed and lots of pillows most often, leaving me with the office and its imposing desk and wall-to-wall bookcases, or the boy’s room decorated in navy with wallpapered borders of sailboats or trains.
When my mother and grandmother would finally mount the stairs after their exhaustive inspection of window coverings and upholstery in the rooms below,
I’d whine about “my bedroom” and my mother would remind me that our family lacked both the intention and finances to move. She reassured me we were there simply for ideas. If I was going to pick a pretend bedroom, why not imagine décor I liked?
I was still literal and visual, unable to exercise my architectural and decorative imagination until high school when I pictured myself as a newlywed graduate living in a Victorian house while I attended college.
|our first home after the remodel|
I didn’t marry my high school boyfriend or buy a Victorian. Five years after I did marry and pregnant with our first child, my husband and I cobbled together a down payment. Our cabin was originally built in the 1940’s as a summer home and added on to twice before we took possession. Our house expanded along with our family. We built a basement with a master suite and remodeled the upstairs, turning the hodge-podge floor plan and eras into a unified, modest home.
|my stepfather built our lovely maple cabinets|
|dream home ready for occupancy|
Thirteen years later, we bought land and built our dream home with the latest in energy efficient vinyl windows, Pergo floors, Berber carpet, and Corian countertops.
|kitchen island and latest conveniences|
Today we live in a house midway between modest and dream, marketed by the selling agent as Mid-Century Modern, a fact that meant little until we met our neighbors and learned that the same architect designed and built two other houses on our street in the 1950’s. They complement each other with simple lines and angles, large windows, wood siding, and nearly flat roofs. No bay windows, gables, Craftsman trim, or sharp peaks like the newer homes nearby. Inside, our mid-century homes have open living spaces, wood paneling, fireplaces, and small bedrooms.
|our mid-century home, exterior view of the Writers' Retreat|
Now that my husband and I have done the immediate work of replacing the appliances and toilets with energy efficient models in our price range, the array of aesthetic choices for cabinets, flooring, countertops, wall coverings, lighting, and plumbing fixtures is––if not endless––daunting. Other than price tag, how do I narrow my choices? Do I try to match the dresser inherited from my grandmother, which doesn’t match bed frame? Do I coordinate with our farmhouse table and chairs, even though they’re out of scale and style with the dining room?
My parents, despite the model home browsing, decorated our home with antiques found at garage sales, paired with modern colors—bright pink and green—wall paper, shag carpet, creating their own style in our small suburban home. Like them, I’m drawn to antique for my new home—no longer Victorian, but from the 1950’s and 60’s ranch homes of childhood.
We’re not replacing everything we own with period pieces, but with one room at least, our Writers’ Retreat, history is my guide. I purchased Mid-Century Modern a guide to interiors, furniture and design, and subscribed to Atomic Home to familiarize myself with both original and renovated homes. It helps as we navigate Home Depot to ask if this cabinet style or that light fixture would’ve belonged in my home when it was built.
“Is this in character?” The question appeals to me as both renovator and a writer.
I can imagine dozens of scenarios, scads of details for the worlds I create in fiction or pull from memory. Of those ideas which ones are in keeping with character? What will bring my writing to fullest expression and authentically reflect my intentions?
As in writing, I am learning that much of remodeling is revision. My husband and I stand in the gutted room that will become our writers’ retreat and brainstorm. Metal or Melamine, plywood or underlayment? Which ideas will bring out the best features of our home’s mid-century bones and enhance our guests’ comfort and inspiration?
|my husband and our "blank canvas"|
My mother and grandmother toured model homes for fun. I understand now how they looked beyond floor plans and décor. The houses were muses, frames for their own imaginative leaps.