total environment

Now that My Sweetie’s long-honed gifts as a project manager are no longer being slurped up in paid-work (Dear Reader: he retired!), he’s giving his attention to a set of projects we’ve long day-dreamed about — overhauling our kitchen and our master bath. And also to completing couple of extremely overdue basic aesthetic elements — changing the wall & ceiling texture from prickly to smooth-ish, and replacing the 40yo carpet — but those, as projects go, are more or less tasks. The kitchen, and particularly the bathroom, involve thinking through the room’s layout, making changes where desired, and then considering all the particular choices of counters, tiles, cabinets, and, and, and.

I think it’s going well, even though we’re still in the designing phase.

And I’m sad. Because I’m about to lose one of the big reasons I fell in love with this house.

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I’ve been feeling my loss from the moment we sat down with the consultant, though I haven’t been able to wrap words around it.

I know there’s not a way to get to where we want to be (within our budget) without pulling out all the cabinetry and replacing it.
They are quality site-built cabinets from the 1970s, and they are also battered and faded, with worn handles and missing varnish… not to mention that one palm-sized burned place where I left an unattended candle during a ‘spa evening.’ To refurbish them would take more cash than replacing them, even assuming that in another 50 years others would find that labor worthwhile. Which truthfully seems like a stretch.

And why — why, why do these dang cabinets matter so much to me?

Yesterday, as I was trying to describe it to an architect I’d just met, I managed to express my wistful grief, but the luncheon was in a loud, narrow room, and there were other, more urgent conversations to have.

It was on the long drive home that I figured it out.

It’s tied to something else I mentioned to BB, the architect. I’m a lifelong fan of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work, even while staying fully aware of his, um, challenging nature as a non-collaborative artist (and let’s not wander off into his personal choices).

One of the many elements I enjoy when within Wright’s work — along with the skillful use of natural light and natural wood, and the way spaces flow from cozy to freeing and back — is the other side of Wright’s impressively controlling nature: everything in a Wright house is purpose-made. Windows are made-to-order, storage is built in, custom furniture is intended for the particular spots it occupies, everything, everything is part of the vision.

The house is a wholeness. It is fully itself in all details.

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In June of 1993 I fell in love with this house, my house. We’d seen several; we were ready to Stop Moving Around and to our March marriage My Sweetie brought the means to make that happen. They were perfectly fine houses. I’d’ve been happy in any of them — one of the gifts of a moveable childhood is that I’d had lots of practice being happy in multiple, very different, houses.
And yet we found this one.

The master bath sealed the deal for me.
Frankly, it’s shaped like a square-bracket, or a hallway, with a framed opening at either end. The double sinks with their long counter are along one hall-like side; the shower and the toilet-closet are on the other, with walk-in closets as bookends.
And as you walk in the right-hand doorway: a built-in dressing table to your right. As you walk in the left-hand doorway: floor-to-ceiling built-in drawers and cupboards on the left — a sort of double dresser with extra upper storage.

All in warm, dark-stained wood with subtly floral handles. Almost Art Nouveau, but quieter.

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Those cabinets are echoed in the built-in storage to the right of the fireplace in our living room. They’re the cabinets in the hall bath, the cabinets on the 3 1/2 walls of our kitchen. The warmth of their wood is the warmth of the parquet living room floor — at 17′ x 24′, visually the middle third of the house — the warmth of the living room’s paneled walls, the dining room’s wainscoting, the high skirting boards in both rooms.

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It was on the drive home, after I’d spoken aloud of Frank Lloyd Wright and of my sadness, that I put the two together:

My house has been a wholeness. One that I’ve felt as a kind of embrace and a kind of ‘rightness’, as in the Shaker hymn where we “come ’round right.” Its very economy — I’m confident that was the builder’s primary intent — generates its beauty. Even when it was dark, before we added the roof-windows across the front vault of the living room ceiling, it was beautifully harmonious.

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And now that will be going away.
As the quiet harmony of the house’s cabinets are replaced by room-specific makings, the house will become a lot more usual. The rooms will chat, just as they do in other houses, but there will no longer be this barely-noticeable unity.

It will still be a good house, a house that comforts and welcomes. It will be better in many respects — Formica ™ was never meant to last beyond 40 years; flattening the shower’s deep lip will help us in the long run — and I can’t deny I am really, really looking forward to unworn carpeting. I also know that, were we to sell this house tomorrow, the folk that would move in would almost certainly alter everything My Sweetie and I are considering, and likely even more.

And I will miss this house as it now is,
as I have delighted in for 28 years.

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