What Makes a House a Home?

Have you ever walked into someone’s home and felt immediately at home? It’s as if the house itself embraces you in a warm hug when you walk in and says, “Welcome.”

What  about the houses that, although they’re decorated tastefully–even professionally and expensively–still seem to lack that sense of warmth and coziness? Personally, I always feel sort of sad for the occupants of a house that isn’t warm and welcoming. I imagine the lives of such a house’s occupants are missing something crucial for their personal well-being. Living in a house that is cold and lifeless is like being in a loveless marriage–you’ll survive and your basic needs are likely to be met, but you’ll never thrive there.

Personally, I’ve lived in every sort of house you can imagine: old/new, modest/extravagant, house/apartment/mobile home. My first place in Alaska was a sorely neglected little one-bedroom mobile home that had mushrooms growing in the hallway. I was flat broke and starting from scratch to rebuild my life after leaving everything I ever knew behind in Colorado a few months prior. The rent was $300/month, and the owner was willing to let me clean the place up and make repairs in lieu of the first month’s rent. I’m pretty handy, and the one thing I did have the sense to bring with me to Alaska was my (rather large) collection of tools, so it was a really good deal for me. Within a couple of weeks, that neglected little singlewide was clean, dry, warm, and cozy. I only lived there for six months, but it was my first real home in Alaska, and I adored it.

About three years later, I’d managed to get back on my feet financially, and I bought a three-bedroom, two-bath house in Anchorage. It was an eighties tract home that had been built during the tail end of the Alaska Pipeline boom, so it wasn’t built well, and it was one of those houses that lacked any hint of warmth when we first met. Still, that house spoke to me. It wasn’t the nicest house I looked at, and it was in desperate need of TLC and some expensive repairs. It needed a new roof, and it had some serious drainage issues. It had been neglected for a long time, and its most recent residents were heavy smokers, so the entire house needed to be deep cleaned and repainted. Yet, there was something about it that compelled me to make an offer on it anyway. I felt the strangest sense of camaraderie with that sad, neglected house. It was as if we were long-lost friends.

A couple of months later when I moved in and started working on the place, it slowly revealed its secrets to me. That house, much like my childhood home, had witnessed terrible acts of violence and substance abuse. As I stripped the walls in the bedrooms and living area, I discovered dozens of fist-sized holes that had been patched over. When I tore out the drywall in the second bath, I found piles of dirty hypodermic needles that had been stuffed through one of those holes. When I finally stripped the walls in the room I chose to use as my home office to the original wall covering, I discovered pale blue walls that made me think it must have been a little boy’s bedroom originally. That room, too, was scarred with fist-sized holes, and even a few boot-sized holes above the base board. I cried for that little boy one night while I worked to smooth over the poorly patched holes, and I cried for the little girl that I once was.

That house, much like me, had an awful lot of healing to do. We sort of healed one another as I worked, room by room, to infuse it with the warmth and love that was missing when I bought it. I sold that house in 2006 just before I moved back to Colorado, and I’ve often wondered if the house retained its warmth. I hope it did.

As I mentioned in a recent post, we recently moved to Colorado Springs. We’re living in an apartment for now. The complex is brand new, and it seems to appeal primarily to young, single professionals, though there are several families living here as well. I look forward to owning another house soon because I miss having a dog, and I’m anxious to grow a garden. Our apartment will be our home for at least the next eleven months, though, and now that all of our furniture is in place and our artwork is on the walls, it’s starting to feel like the sort of warm, cozy sanctuary that every home is meant to be.

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