Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Woman and Her House

I bought my little row house on Capitol Hill in March of 2000 on somewhat of a whim. I had run out of space for bookcases in my tiny 1-bedroom rental in the Penn Quarter, so I decided to check out the Hill as a possible place to upgrade to something bigger. I figured that I had a decent shot of actually affording a house somewhere in that area (those were the days!), and I liked the fact that Capitol Hill was within walking distance of the National Mall and reasonable commuting distance to work. I was not in a mood to buy at that time, just to check out what the area had to offer with an eye toward buying in a year or two.

On a bone-chilling rainy Sunday in February 2000, a friend and I had brunch at Jaleo (an excellent bribe to enlist someone to go on a house-hunting mission!) and then drove up Capitol Hill with our list of open houses in hand. After spending a day trudging through one house after the other, I loved the feel of the neighborhood, particularly around Eastern Market, but all of the houses we’d seen were kind of blah – too small, too in need of work, too modern an interior for a Victorian-era building, too unappealing a layout, and so on. Just as we were headed to the car to go back downtown, my friend spotted a sign for an open house that wasn’t on our list but that was, conveniently, right around the corner from where we were parked. I reluctantly agreed to give it a look – I was cold, tired, grumpy, and ready to go home, but I figured that checking out one more place wouldn’t do any harm.

When I walked into the house that I now call home, I knew within about 15 seconds that it was “my house.” I immediately loved everything about it – it had been updated but all the charming Victorian details had been left intact, and it had a wonderful flow and a very comfortable vibration about it. As I climbed to the second floor, I saw a cozy den through the banister rails – it had once been the middle bedroom and narrow upstairs hallway, but a previous owner had removed the hallway wall so that there now was an open space in the middle of the second floor overlooking the staircase. This room featured a wood-burning fireplace flanked by built-in bookcases and a sunny window seat, and it was lit by a skylight above the stairwell. When I saw that room, I decided that I absolutely had to buy this house. I already was envisioning where to put all my things, which I knew would look just perfect in a Victorian house. A rapid succession of calls to The Bank of Mom and Dad, a realtor I knew from the Penn Quarter, and a mortgage lender immediately ensued. After stumbling upon this marvelous little house serendipitously on a Sunday, I participated in a 3-way bidding war the immediately following Tuesday and emerged victorious. I settled one month later, on the Ides of March.

Wow! Me, a home owner at the age of 29! Remembering how I felt when I turned the key in the door of my new home for the first time still gives me chills. This was my dream house, and my dream had actually come true. Man was I ever lucky! The movers weren’t scheduled to come until the day after settlement, but I was so excited that I moved the kitchen and bathroom stuff (there wasn’t much of it) over myself on settlement day, and Arthur the cat and I slept on the window seat that first night. At least I attempted to sleep, which was difficult in the face of Arthur’s endless serenade of sounds that were part meow, part howl. He didn’t settle down until the next day when all of our stuff arrived, and then he was fine until a couple months later when I decided that more space was an excuse to get him a new cat.

After a honeymoon period of a couple months, I found myself cataloging the flaws of the house. The wallpaper in the kitchen had to go, I wanted the walls to be a different color, the floors needed refinishing, the molding looked like it had about 20 coats of paint on it, the 100-year old windows rattled when they were closed and had to be propped open because they had no sash cords, there was lots of noise because of the buses and fire trucks zooming by, the deck was in need of repair, and the list continued. Whenever I fixed one thing I’d immediately notice at least two other things, so my home improvement list just kept getting longer no matter how much time and money went toward repairs. Now I knew why my parents and countless others called their houses “money pits!”

I found during the first few years that, as much as I really loved the house, I did not appreciate all its beauty and good attributes because I was so focused on what was “wrong.” I got so frustrated by all the perceived flaws of my home that I spent most of my non-working hours finding ways to stay out of it. Looking back on it, I see that this attitude toward my home in many ways mirrored my attitude toward myself during those years. I had long tended to focus on my own flaws to the exclusion of my good traits, and I always felt a need to stay in motion, to keep ahead of what I might find if I dared to be still for a moment.

These days, as I have relaxed into accepting myself as I am, I concurrently have been spending much more time at home. I now find myself really savoring all the good things about the house – things that I never fully appreciated before – and I marvel at how numerous those good things are. I see the lovely wall colors, the growing art collection, the updated kitchen in which cooking is such a pleasure, the lovely wonkiness of the original glass windows, and the furnishings that remain both pretty and comfortable despite the damage from cat claws. Although I still have something in the way of a to-do list, at this point I tend to see the items on it as things that will lend character and charm to the house until such time as they are addressed, which in many cases may well be never. So be it. Such is the beauty of an old house.

The newfound ability to pause, and to be comfortable with exactly where things are during that pause instead of grasping for something more or different, has blessed me with numerous benefits, not the least of which is the ability to appreciate the true loveliness of my home sweet home.


Reya Mellicker said...

Your house is beautiful, comfortable and inviting - a perfect setting for you. Wonderful description! Thank you.

Barbara said...

I would love to live on Capitol Hill. You are so lucky to have found such a great house!