The very first house we moved to, all together with Granny and Grampa in 1993, was referred to as ‘The Big Brown House on the Top of the Hill’ in every original, on-the-fly bedtime story that I told a very young Mac, then Sam, and then much later (wHoops) Gabe. As in, “Once upon a time, in a Big Brown House on the Top of the Hill lived a little girl named Mac, and a little boy named Sam, and an even smaller boy named Gabe-y Baby.”
And, yes, Gabe might have a problem with us still referring to him as that. And so, of course, we do. Usually in front of young ladies we have never met but happen upon him speaking to. (And we have to happen upon him speaking to them because he no longer brings them to the house because we call him… well. Vicious circle really).
The Big Brown House on the Top of the Hill was a great house, and I actually got to design it.
Using Mac Draw.
Do you even remember Mac Draw?
It was one of the first drawing programs for the Mac. It let you make lines and circles and, gasp, ovals on a grid (or you could totally choose to not ‘snap to grid’). And that is what I used to design our first house.
Sure, our builder, Dick, took those rudimentary and only sort of to scale drawings and made big, giant, house-y type drawings to bring to the building inspector who may or may not have laughed at my versions. But I didn’t care! I came up with the ideas and did all the research and spec’d the materials right down to the hand hammered square-head nails that would go into the pine floors in my reproduction, eighteenth century saltbox house.
We were so stretched on budget, our first ‘this-or-that’ question was, “Do you really want a center chimney or do you want, like, an attached garage?”
Of course we went with the center chimney… totally practical.
Our friends thought we were nuts.
JoHn has never bucked one design decision (and I have to say that this fact contributed so much to his Nearly Perfect Husband status). Honestly, how many guys would fork over their imaginary garage and workshop and years of minimized shoveling for a center chimney?
I’m keeping him.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but that house, from conception to the day we left, was like a living canvas for me (everyplace I’ve lived or inhabited, I realize, has been). I changed colors constantly, patterns constantly, moved stuff around (sometimes small stuff, sometimes really big stuff) constantly. I learned to garden, which flowers attracted which birds and bugs, and which plants survived dog tussles (and which did not).
JoHn and I balanced two careers there, and I actually left mine while we lived there, to stay home when one of my cherubs was diagnosed with some pretty serious stuff.
In the card game photo below, you will notice the wall is sponged (behind the glass of the French door). On the first day JoHn went to work and I did not, I had so much freaked-out energy that I went out with baby Gabe when Mac and Sam were at school (2nd grade and kindergarten), got paint and all the tools, and had the entire kitchen sponge painted and cleaned up by the time JoHn walked back in the door that night. His response, “Okay. NOW I’m worried.” :))
When we decided to move in 2003, for a bit more inside and outside space and privacy, we bought some land and I set about designing a new house (this time with experts and not with the then defunct Mac Draw).
It was a very different style of house (based on a hundred year newer shingle style… I did my research), and I got to consider things I’d learned from my first ‘hey let’s build a house!’ rodeo. I remember focusing on some very practical things…
Don’t skimp, quality windows…
The more fireplaces the better (we love them)…
We want to be able to see the football game from the kitchen…
Grampa gets his own garage (to prevent him from mucking with ours)…
Stuff like that.
And when it was all done and built and people came to see it, I remember being so proud of how it looked and fit all of us and our dogs, and our silly holidays and gatherings. It was too big – way too big – for us when the kids grew up and we became a smaller full-time family for the house. We named it ‘The Disposable Shack’ right then and there, knowing it would not be a forever house for us (but not yet knowing we would purchase a run down, nearly 200 year-old house in Maine a little over a year later).
So family and friends would come in and look around and, inevitably, ask me what my favorite part of the house was. And I’d smile and turn and motioning them to follow me back down the long hallway to the laundry room.
And there, I’d point to four switches on the wall, and they’d look at me with question marks in their eyes.
Those four switches on the wall control every single electrical outlet that sits below a window in my house.
So that when I plug my window candles in, each December…
I can turn them all on, and all off, from one place.
Why? What would you put into your next house, if you had the opportunity to design one?
The Christmas kind.
A gal has to have her priorities.
Don’t tell JoHn, but I did it in Maine too (when we renovated).
Thanks for readin’.
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