Time to Take My Own Advice, Home Edition

As my ball-peen hammer made contact with the nail head, bits of the wall began to spread along its pierced spot. This was no ordinary drywall. Having bent once, I tried again, successfully, and mounted the frame on the wall, minutely adjusting it to a level state according to my eye. I stepped back to admire the work.

I hated it.

Hanging frames alone proves difficult when creating a “moment” in design, a small space where the eye rests, all coordinated, meant to draw the eye around in a moment of delight, a space of beauty.

My mind recalled a text message I sent that afternoon to a young woman I know who aspires eagerly to the state of a “finished” home. I told her many times the home is a work in progress, to allow it to unfold, to take your time and let the path to completion meander a bit. That is how you get the finished project: by taking risks, yes, but more so by being willing to wait. With paint cards and magazine clippings laid out on my coffee table, I photographed the scene and sent it to her, to reassure her that my process is a process, too. She never saw my former house in its process.

What happened there, among the bent nails and the chipped paint? I forgot to follow my own advice.

Wait for it. Do not rush it. Do not feel you must race ahead to get to the state of “finished.” Our last home felt finished. I was unruffled the holes in the wall from changes on the scene, the crack in the door, the spots where the paint smudged the ceiling did not bother me. The home felt complete. Sometimes, perhaps, a little too much so. I seemed to add and never delete. When we staged the home for sale, the bare walls were fodder for my imagination, but even then, in its scarcity, if it can be called that, the furniture, the rugs, the countertops all felt cohesive. They belonged together; they had grown together.

We are now settled in our home built in 1942. Its history reveals itself to us and stirs my heart to know a generation lived in this home before us. The features are personal to a way of life, a mode of living and a skill set developed in one person, not a company. There are redwood windowsills, sensible shelving, more cabinetry than we can fill, and really terrible tile countertops.

After months of languishing in a project-less space, where my job was to clean and touch up and prevent my four-year-old from expressing her artistic drive on the walls, I find myself painting, planning, arranging, and mowing a space with unbridled potential. I want to bridle it. I want to remodel it. I want to go after it with the full force of my being.

I want it done.

What was the advice I always gave? We look at finished spaces online, in other’s lives and in our own memory and think, that is what I need.

Yet the home has a heart like that of the people in it. Are we ever complete? Even the most finished home requires cleaning and touch-ups if it is actually lived in. Pipes will burst in winter, ants arrive in summer, new appliances make their way in to replace the old, requiring, possibly, new fittings.

The environment evolves as the feet running down its hallways outgrow their shoes. We can feel frustrated to keep making mistakes, to find after a couple of years we do not love that paint color as much as we had hoped or to learn that perhaps we are not as noble and patient as we first believed. Should my mind be a finished project at the age of 33? Should my home after two weeks, two years or twenty?

When it is finished, perhaps we have stopped living in it. Thus we sometimes strive for the wrong things. We must, rather strive to live in it, strive to grow in it, strive to take one small step at a time, and enjoy the process. It is time to take my own advice.

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