“Rather than trying to coerce the house to do something new, we tried to reawaken it.” (New England Home)
Despite the unfamiliar reference, Bodah’s terminology is precise, accurate and familiar. In the case of Rosslyn, reawakening is precisely how I too describe our renovation process, though I didn’t understand this at the outset.
One of the joys of homeownership lies in expressing ourselves through our surroundings… Most of us can hardly wait to put our personal stamp on our living spaces. It is, after all, part of the process of turning a house into a home. (New England Home)
While “turning a house into a home” is a topic for a future post, and although I’ve frequently joked that no detail of Rosslyn’s rehabilitation escaped our fingerprints, much attention was paid throughout to preserving the buildings’ unique heritage. My bride and I were far less preoccupied with our own personal stamp than we were with finding Rosslyn’s personal stamp, her DNA, and reawakening it to guide our renovation.
In fact, I wanted to move into Rosslyn after six months — after the most critical infrastructure had been upgraded — so that I could discover the house by living in it. I wanted to understand Rosslyn from the inside out. Remember my coffee-in-the-morning pipe dream? My bride thought I was crazy at the time, willfully opting living in a full-scale renovation project. No doubt here judgment was sound, but it turns out my instinct wasn’t so unusual after all.
The couple who bought this Boston-area Victorian [described above]… lived in their house for a full year, noting how they used the space and how the light flowed (or didn’t), thinking, planning and discussing before undertaking any serious renovating or redecorating. (New England Home)
There’s a certain intimacy, a depth of familiarity and knowledge, that is only possible when you live in a house. When you fall asleep listening to its sighs and creeks mingling with the soft breathing of your bride and dog. When you wake up and navigate your way to the bathroom in the dark in the middle of the night. When an avalanche of snow slides off the roof, startling you early in the morning. When you wake up but stay in bed with your still sleeping bride because the room’s so cold, the comforter is so warm, and you can’t imagine feeling this cozy ever again. When Griffin, your Labrador Retriever, licks your cheek and stares at you pleadingly so that you slide into your robe and slippers and shuffle down the staircase to take him outside for a crack-o-dawn potty break. When you crack a pair of eggs into a sizzling skillet next to the popping bacon and wait for the house to smell like Sunday morning. When the ferry boat landing at the nearby ferry dock vibrates the house. When you step out of the shower onto the worn floorboards. When you inhale a nostril-full of moist brick after a summer rain. When you gather family together for a celebratory meal in the dining room with the smell of crackling fire mingling with the the aroma of roast turkey and pumpkin soup…
These are the caresses and whispers that you miss when you renovate a house from without, when diagrams and computer-assisted drawings and conversations are the only firsthand contact you’ve experienced with the environment that will nurture and protect and inspire you for many years to come.
Several years of interior design school underpinned my bride’s confidence that living in a home to understand it was unnecessary, that carefully calibrated (and much debated) drawings were more than adequate to understand the best orientations for bathrooms and kitchens and beds and desks. She was comfortable forging ahead.
I was not. I wanted to touch and smell and hear Rosslyn in order to understand her. I agreed with my bride that it was critical to renovate our home according to the needs of our own lifestyle, but I wanted to ensure that we weren’t imposing our own will haphazardly onto those of the house.
Perhaps this sounds contrived? Perhaps it hints of New Age-y pseudo philosophical blather? I don’t fully disagree. But it’s an honest accounting of our differences as we plunged into Rosslyn’s renovation.
For a long time I struggled to admit to myself, much less to my bride, that I considered it arrogant to impose our dreams upon Rosslyn without first trying to understand her dreams. I was obsessed with reawakening and listening to the old house, trying to hear what she was trying to tell us.
At first we strained to hear, and then it became easier. Her stories, her dreams flowed, and before long we lost the ability to mute Rosslyn. We were inundated with her past and her hopes for the future. Before long it grew virtually impossible to distinguish between Rosslyn’s will and our own.
And so the scope of our project mushroom and the timeline extended. And mushroomed. And extended. We joked that we had been kidnapped by Rosslyn, and in a sense we had.