Design Journal 1: The Weather Patterns of a New HouseThomas Beller
You move into a new place and gradually routes are established. Pathways and rhythms of movement. The children are like water in this house. They find their level and in doing so explain the place to us.
Upstairs, the children discover that there is a door between two rooms. Both lead into the vestibule–is that the word? It’s not a hallway, really, more like a foyer that you enter at the top of the stairs. The doors lead from room to room and form a kind of circle. It is like a weather pattern. Now and then, usually before bed, it grabs them like some unseen current in the house.
Suddenly two freshly scrubbed little bodies are suddenly dancing around chasing each other, playing hide and seek. The baby’s laughter is a burbling brook. Evangeline skips and dances away from him. He chases, or is being chased. Both. It doesn’t matter. Constant surprise and laughter. Then Evangeline stops. He stops. He peers around a corner. The look of anticipation on his face is shocking in its pure tension and joy. He sees her, screeches, turns and runs the other way.
I haven’t counted the steps, the actual steps that they take to complete one of these circuits. But each one is like a dance.
Downstairs, they gravitate to the living room, with its long rectangular shape, the play mat, the various balls and stuffed animals. And the kitchen, with its soft, slightly elevated linoleum floor. Or is it vinyl? It”s not wood, but it looks like wood. It has that whorling pattern shared by wood, dessert sands, clouds seen from above. Like Borges famous map of the world that is as big as the world, the floor of our kitchen is like a photograph of a wood floor that covers the whole floor.
Just beyond the kitchen, the sun room, as we call it, is off limits. The sun room is an anomaly. What to do with it is a mystery to us. A strange triangular space of about 250 square feet. The longest side of the triangle is a series of glass doors through which sun streams in the afternoon. There is also a brick wall. And a weird little crevice of a wet bar. The floors are bathroom tile–white ,octagonal. Very dirty, irregularly leveled, unconsolably ugly. The room has mystified us. All that space! What to do with it? We had to do something. Those tiles, besides being ugly, are so hard. Any fall in there, any accident of roughhousing, would be awful.
The sun room has two entrances.
The sliding door that leads from the dining room to the sun room is pulled shut; but from the kitchen, for reasons of that glorious afternoon light, we left the doors open and instead put up a gate. It, too, is a circle. But it is an interrupted circle. So this strange sunlit space is always in view, always out of reach. The children peer in there, curious. They are aware that the cycle of movement in the house has not yet been realized, that there is an impediment to the natural flow of movement downstairs. We all want the room to be open and ready for us, but we have sequestered it; it is dusty and dirty and we don’t let them in.
For a long time the sun room was the least of our concerns. Even in the first days after we moved in we had much bigger things to worry about–putting the plates back on the electrical outlets, to give a small example.
But now that we have been in the house a few weeks it has become a priority. We went to Home Depot to make some decisions. We picked out a carpet. I am against carpet as a rule but the room was so hard, it seemed nicer that it would now be soft. But there is a pool – more like a moat but that is another story – just beyond the sunroom. The carpet, we were told would mold. We switched to wood.
We picked out a bright lovely wood flooring at Home Depot. But when the calculations were made it was hgoing to be over five thousand dollars. Way too much. We were directed to look, on their website, for special local sales. There, we found something suitable, if less beautiful. It was on sale. Cheap. The room was measured. The wood was delivered.
It has to sit in the room for at least three days to acclimate. It’s like the wood has to get over its jet lag before it can get going. The days passed. It was time to install. We were in the grip of that happy illusion that overtakes you when renovating, even when it’s something small: once it has been done then everything will change!
The installation guys showed up in the morning. They came into the room. They sighed, grimaced, knelt. There were problems. A house is like a child in some ways. If you are told there are problems your heart sinks so low. Before you can gather perspective it sinks. Things, we were told, were not as straightforward as they seemed.
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