When I go shopping I often have a picture in my mind of exactly what I am looking for, other times it is simply a matter of, I’ll know it when I see it. I was thinking the latter on another sweltering August day thirty-five years ago when I set out to find us a new home. I say new, but not new as in the model home projects I was decorating at the time, but different, more spacious from the house we were living in, yet remain in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
A real estate contact gave Jim the addresses of a few houses on the market. My husband offered me the choice of looking at them on my own, or going with him later that evening. Lacking the patience to wait I jumped in my car and began cruising the neighborhood.
The first two houses on the list held no interest since they were not much of an improvement over where we presently lived. I drove across Connecticut Avenue down a tree-lined street of typical traditional houses. In their midst one Mediterranean style home stood out from the colonial pack. The first time I laid eyes on Jim did not elicit the coup de foudre reaction I felt at that moment.
My elation turned into dismay when I realized there was no “For Sale” sign out front. I figured I had made a mistake in recording the address, especially after I noticed another house on the block with a sign in the yard. But that one had no appeal for me. I had already been seduced by my dream home. When Jim verified I had the correct address it was like finding out the stranger you just fell head over heels in love with was not a married man.
I had to control my emotions until the following weekend when we would be able to take a tour of the inside. The owner lived in New York and preferred not to inconvenience his renters with people traipsing around the property until Sunday’s “Open House.” In the meantime, Jim insisted on looking at every other house that met our requirements and was listed for sale within the Metropolitan Washington D.C. area.
All week long I kept driving by my dream home. Each time I noted the details that took my breath away; a circular driveway, the tall French windows, a pair of impressive front doors. I observed how the above level basement served to increase the height of the generous façade, the same way high heals serve to visually enhance a great pair of legs.
Enclosed extensions on both sides of the house maintained the informal Mediterranean style, yet promoted a sense of grandeur. To make matters even more enticing, the renters always had the windows invitingly open with sheer curtains breezily flapping outside the casement frames. It was as I imagined houses looked in the South of France.
On Sunday I made Jim arrive promptly at one o’clock. The interior was even more enchanting than the exterior promised. All of the high-ceiling rooms on the first floor opened up to one another across the front of the house, infilade style, a characteristic of the floor plans in many French homes. Large doorways led to the living room and sunroom to the left off of the center hall and on the right to the dining room and a library. An ample, but dated kitchen with a memorable red refrigerator was located at the rear of the house.
Upstairs there were three average-size bedrooms, and one luxuriously scaled master bedroom with a fireplace. When I learned that this charming house had been on the market for many months, I was astounded that no one had snatched it up. The fireplace in the master bedroom alone would have been enough to sell me on this house.
Prospective buyers had allowed miniscule closets, pitifully small bathrooms, no air conditioning, and the general deterioration from seven years of renters blind them to the house’s otherwise enticing attributes. I was selfishly grateful for everyone else’s inability to see the property’s merits.
I digress to tell you that even at a relatively young age I had the smarts to see the futility in anything, environments in particular, labeled impeccable, pristine or flawless, those terms so wantonly bandied about in shelter magazines. Perhaps it is my defense mechanism for not wanting to put in the time, effort and money required to contrive and maintain perfection. Imperfection’s appeal is that it is far less demanding.
At my insistence Jim made an offer on the house, but since he saw property solely as an investment, he made the bid lower than the asking price. “Carol,” Jim advised me, “Never fall in love with real estate. There will always be another house.”
“Not for me!” I pouted, implying the worst ramifications for Jim if his lower offer lost us my dream home. I was annoyed to put it nicely, but a low bid was better than no bid at all. By the end of the following day, the owner wired his representative that he accepted our contract.
I get a kick out of some people calling our house an ideal “downsizer”. Beauty and size is in the eye of the beholder. It’s true, it is not as big as the houses of a lot of our friends. We have never added on any rooms, or enlarged the kitchen, but for me it is grander than any home I ever envisioned owning one day. What I love about living here is that it is quite manageable whether you are in the junior or senior stage of your life. Plus I enjoy the deceiving appearance of my home. In true French trompe l’oeil fashion, the façade and high ceilings mislead people into thinking the house is much larger than it really is.
For thirty-five years whenever I pull in the driveway I fall in love with my house all over again as if I were seeing it for the first time.