Thursday, March 10, 2011

But Before I Go...

I just had occasion to reread this piece I wrote for a home series hosted by La Belette Rouge almost 2 years ago, called "Home is Where the Guest Blogger Is". I loved every post in this series - I highly recommend that you check them out. I'm reposting mine here, in case you've not seen it and you care to know a bit more about me...

The House That Love Built and Kraft Dinner Paid For

Sometimes I think I may be the most change averse person on the planet. My friends and family tease me about it. I’ve been going on the same vacation for 8 years (well I rotate 2 or 3, but you get the idea). I mean, I request the same room every time?!? Mind you, it’s an awesome frame of reference. Which is how I see my own home.

We bought our “looks small on the outside, is big on the inside” downtown Toronto Victorian row house in 2000. My daughter was 3 months old. We didn’t so much have the money as we couldn’t, any longer, stand the closeness of the 900 sq foot condo in which we’d been suffocating with 2 dogs and a newborn. I’d always wanted a house. I’d always coveted the urban century homes I walked past on my way to work. This city is expensive though. We aren’t exactly trust fund people (or work-wealthy) so we had to look hard for something a) in the price range that b) wasn’t a rat infested hole. I think we pulled it off fantastically, actually. I saw 53 houses in 3 weeks and when I walked into the one we currently own, well I knew it was time to advise my husband about our new digs. Really, he arrived at the same time as the home inspector whom I’d “invited” in the guise of Uncle Bobby. I needed to know the place was sound, even if my methodology was vaguely sneaky. Get?

How did I know I was home? Well, the floors were straight, for starters. And there was dappled floor to ceiling light. The hardwood was buttery, the baseboards a foot high. It wasn’t perfect – let’s just say the bathrooms were, ahem, serviceable – but it clicked for me. And my husband corroborated this – to the extent that we put in an offer on the spot (after Uncle Bobby gave the go ahead). More practically, it was 5 minutes walk to a subway, 2 seconds to a bus and 3 minutes to 2 different streetcars. We don’t own a car. It’s really unnecessary here. The grocery stores and boutiques are plentiful and we’re 10 minutes from a dozen of Toronto’s more popular restaurants. (Someone might have told me, with an infant, it would be years before I’d ever check them out, but whatever…)

As luck would have it, the only reason we even looked at the place (which isn’t in a chichi neighbourhood – more bohemian artist-land than anything) is because the former owners, professors at U of T, both found tenure track positions at UCLA aka “needed to vacate the premises asap”. Thus, they dropped the original price by 30K, bringing the house into the nebulous range of “we might just be able to afford it if we eat Kraft Dinner for the next 5 years”. Luck is fickle though, and at the same time we placed our offer, two other bidders (former viewers from the days of higher price point) tried to beat us to the punch – with more funds.

I would not be beaten. The home had spoken to me and it would be mine. So I had my (rather sensitive) real estate agent call the then-owners to advise them of my obsessive love. I asked her to please tell them that I coveted the windows and the french doors between the living room and dining room and the 12 foot ceilings. I asked her to remind them about my cute little baby who would grow up in that beautiful, sunlit space. Speaking with the agent’s silken tongue, I promised to give care and love to the place they had heretofore called home.

Amazingly, it worked. The other couples bid more. Not much more, I imagine, but more nonetheless. Now we may have trumped them by offering to take possession whenever the fuck the owners preferred (which was a month later – and we hadn’t yet listed our condo, btw), but in the end, those lovely professors (the former owners of my well-loved home) gave the place to us.

Over the years we have had to fix many things. Some things outright broke; some of them lived a good life. We’ve renovated a bathroom and put in a back garden. It replaces the weed maze I gazed on hatefully for 6 years.

This home talks to me in quirks. The patio at the back of the garden sits on a spot that housed a coach house in the era of horses. Our recent garden reno was an archealogical dig. I know that people used to “pave” outer floors with coal soot because, a foot beneath the current soil, a ring of black impeded on the planting of a new tree. (The weed tree that occupied its spot till this summer was a one that, at the turn of the century, was known to metabolize soot to survive!) Even renos done at various times throughout the century, give me glimpses on another era. When our basement flooded with sewage (don’t ask, pure nightmare) before we replaced the 100 year old pipes with plastic, we discovered discarded lead piping sitting in the clay soil. Don’t worry, we removed it.

Our furnace gave up the ghost, and needed emergency replacement, one February (with a toddler); the roof leaked in my husband’s studio. Nothing has undercut my love for my home. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a nut when anything is out of place and I find decay everywhere (that’s the subject of a very different post). But this residence is a space where I see my own history unfold. Every change is reflected in its sturdy walls (now that we’ve replastered the damaged parts). Every occasion: a new memory in its gentle, world-worn gaze. When the winter howls outside, when the birds chirp in spring – this is the place that I have chosen. It cushions me. I stabilize it.

And so we support each other.


  1. What a beautiful story of your home!

    I think we are sympatico in the home department. Martin and feel this way about our own home and all of its quirks. And, we wrote a gushing letter to the former owners to get the house! There were 3 other bidders, 2 of them offering cash, but the owners said our letter moved them to tears and so we got the house.

  2. This was a beautiful post. My husband and I have been seriously thinking of purchasing our first home here in Toronto and your words really struck a cord as to why I want a home of our own. I like to think that we will be as lucky as you but in the end as long as we have a place that we love we'll be happy...even if we have to eat KD for a year :)

  3. Susan: Thank you! Home love is a great joy. I can see how you love your space - it comes through in your great photos.

    Nicole: Thanks so much! I hope you find a beautiful home in your neighbourhood of choice. Where are you looking?