Thursday, July 17, 2008

Renovation-Inspired Rambling

Modernist though I am, this article on emotional architecture totally resonated with me. Three years ago, when we bought our house (which is really half a house: the second and third floors of an old-school two-family), we hired an architect friend to do some designs for renovating the attic (god, this is one place where I have so totally dropped the ball--he is a childhood friend, and we signed a contract to have him do the plans and maybe even supervise the project--I'm in denial because we have behaved so badly--and then years passed, and we didn't see him, and we found a design-build contractor, and all I need to do is send him an email explaining what happened, and ask if we can pay him a kill fee, but I just feel so guilty about the whole thing that mainly I remember, like this moment, and then forget immediately, until I remember again and feel even more guilty...).

Anyway, we thought we knew what we wanted, and we thought he would just design it, but instead he had us fill out this questionnaire which was all about our lifestyle and aesthetics in a pretty deep way, and then he came up with a design that was totally different from what we had imagined (our idea was very basic and space-focused, not design-focused). There were some elements of the design that totally didn't work for us--like turning the 3000 LPs which are the bane of my existence into a design focal point, when I just want them out of my way!--but overall, he helped us to rethink our house in a way which has generated the renovation we are currently in the middle of.

I had a somewhat similar, though actually, really, quite different experience a few weeks ago buying the bathroom fixtures (look, if you're not interested, just stop reading, but this evening I am indulging my own consumerist emo-banality, just so you know what you're in for). I have a lot of shopping anxiety, and a lot of difficulty making big purchases, but also some very clear aesthetic preferences (back to the modernism thing) which don't really jibe with a lot of contemporary design.

First I went to Big Luxe Home Store (I do know what it's called, I'm not being coy, I just forget and don't feel like looking it up--the high end Home Depot, I think), and got completely overwhelmed and was not helped at all by the one surly salesman--there's more to the story: I did pick a tub, out of a catalog, and decided to go with the matching toilet, and then happened to see the toilet, when I was in the back trying to find faucets, and it was hideous, and I just had to leave the store.

At that point, I decided to go to the plumbing supply store up north that several people had mentioned, and there I achieved emo-design-plumbing nirvana. I walked in, and you needed to sign up with the receptionist, and I said "I'm hopeless, and I need someone really patient," and she smiled and brought out the perfect salesperson. (There's a connection here to emotional architecture, I know there is!). Basically, she was perfect because she was really patient, but also because she got really quickly who I was and what I was looking for--who I was, because there were issues like cost and convenience at stake as well as aesthetics. I told her vaguely what I was looking for, and she pointed out a few things, and I told her if I liked them or not, and from then on, basically everything she pointed out was something I liked, and she even helped me make the hard choices between different things I liked.

Hmm, this post may be even more banal than I think it is. Let's switch gears, though we'll stay on the same bike (oh man, maybe I should be writing my anti-bicycle rant instead...).

One of the things I'm thinking about, as this renovation emerges above our heads, is how it's going to change our family life. For the last three years, we have lived, essentially, in five rooms. There were two other rooms which mainly functioned as storage, and I'm fudging slightly in considering the living room and sunroom one room--they open onto each other with glass doors, but the sunroom is separate enough for a TV and for guests to have an iota of space for themselves. But basically there has been the living room/sunroom, dining room, kitchen, girls' room, our room, and one bathroom. This means a lot of playing in the living room, and my desk in the dining room, and hearing S grind his coffee while I lie half-awake in bed in the morning, and girls coming from their beds to ours without even waking up, and guitars all over the living room--no, that's a renovation consequence, which I am determined not to let drive me insane, as one point of the renovation is that the sunroom will become a music room and, as god is my witness, I will never stumble over a guitar again! But, you know, even though the clutter and the lack of space for me to work has driven me crazy, I also like how close we are, and the way everyone is right there and you always know what they're up to. It's been small, but it's worked for us.

Once we renovate, the bedrooms will all be upstairs, and the girls will each have their own bedroom. M is very much becoming a teenager, and while she likes to be with us, I suspect she may take to spending more time in her room, if not now, soon enough, given that that's what all the teenagers I know seem to be doing. We'll have a playroom, and I'm envisioning a wall-length desk in the new office cum TV room cum guest room. And then there's that music room. So where it used to be S in the dining room on the guitar (and the dining room also opens to the living room), me and M in the living room on the laptops, and E at the dining room table drawing, maybe we'll all be in separate rooms? And the renovation will be the death of family togetherness? And I'll long for the guitars on the living room floor?

My friend S emailed me today and said, at the end of her email, "Hope the renovation is going well--it will change the way you live and you will LOVE it." Ah, maybe we're back with the same old problem of my eternal pessimism, but she cheered me, so maybe I'll just end with that.


Jenny Davidson said...

Good thing you looked at the toilet! Hmmm, I want to hear the anti-bike rant...

Kelly said...

i love this.

we've been talking about a not-so-distant future renovation, and the idea of squishing in even closer while it happens gives me a huge case of the heebies, but it would be worth it in the end to have an entryway/mudroom and a separate office/guestroom and a bit bigger kitchen.

then the thought of having to shop for all of the bits and pieces makes me want to crawl into a hole and sleep for a thousand years.

Phantom Scribbler said...

I also want to hear the anti-bike rant.

But mostly I just love the phrase "shopping anxiety." Lord, does that ever describe me.

jackie said...

We experienced a similar shift when we moved from our teeny house into our current larger house. I do enjoy having more space, keeping our bedroom a mainly-kid-free space, etc, but I've been feeling nostalgic about our old house lately. I don't miss the house per se, but I miss the neighborhood--which is not the topic of your post!

Anyway, I liked this post, as twisty as it was.

Libby said...

We had a similar thing happen w/our renovation, since the main change was to move our M upstairs to her own attic space. Since that pretty much coincided w/her going to high school it's hard to know about cause-effect, but she is increasingly separate from us. That's her job right now--were we supposed to make it easier? I don't know! It seems to be working out OK all in all, though.