As I’ve gone further down this road of attempting to keep my house, my nearest and dearest have questioned the wisdom of my decision, worried that I’m weighing myself down with associated sadness or just being bloody minded to make some kind of point. They are right to be concerned – they have witnessed both my melancholic and tenacious streaks and indeed, I have wondered the same. But if that was the case, I don’t believe it is anymore.
When I moved back into the house several months ago, I went through hell. Matthew took what he wanted and left the rest, locking the proverbial door very firmly behind him. And so began a very transformative grieving process as I went through 18 years of life one shoe box at a time (I should mention that we were both sentimental hoarders – there were a LOT of shoe and shipping boxes to be sifted through!). I don’t intend to relive that time other than to say that it was a very deep, dark and lonely place to be. I don’t mean to undermine the incredible support I had but there are some places you have to go alone and some things you have to do by yourself.
I wouldn’t say I rose from it like a phoenix from the ashes but I did emerge better able to fly despite my singed feathers. I also felt that having being forged in the smeltering heat of that emotional furnace, I had earned the right to reclaim the nest as my own. I now knew it better than I ever had before – I turned the place upside down and inside out and put it back together piece by piece, recasting all that remained as my own.
When I was able to stand back and see all that I had achieved, I didn’t just like what I saw, I loved it. Not in an over the top, overt way but a more quiet and contemplative way. As I now prepare to enter another dark tunnel, I want to focus on those things that I love to light my way and guide me through.
When we first saw the house, it wasn’t love at first sight because it was in St Peters (a suburb in Sydney’s Inner West) which was further out of the city than we’d lived before. The reality of house prices in our preferred ‘hoods gave us cause to swallow our pretension and come back for a second look. Of course, I now love my neighbourhood with its mismatched houses wedged between industrial lots. I like the cultural diversity and its hidden gems even if the cool cafes seems to keep leapfrogging over us from Newtown to Marrickville – both are in easy walking distance. Urban sprawl being what it is, it won’t be long until our old folk to hipster ratio tips in favour of the overly-bearded. Until then, I kinda like the more underground vibe.
The house itself was built in 1881 and out the back, the original stable to the property still stands held together only by the wild profusion of plants and vines enmeshed with its corrugated iron roof. When we first came to see the place, you could barely see the stable at all for the densely overgrown and impenetrable garden. Mint was growing rampant and gave off it’s fresh scent from being trampled underfoot by prospective buyers. It was enchanting! You could almost see mischievous fairies flitting about annoying unseen tigers that prowled about in the undergrowth!
On our first weekend in the house, our families came to take a look. They were unexpectedly armed with tools and ready to work. The garden was totally transformed into something just as beautiful but now also functional – it was phenomenal! By the time I moved back in recently however, it had pretty much worked itself back into it’s original state. The garden had always been more Matthew’s domain so I’d never really gotten stuck into it before – now I had no choice. I promptly appointed my mother Director of Gardening and put myself at her service. Together, with the help of my Dad (and also Matthew’s parents), we whipped, ripped and clipped it back into shape. What I’ve loved most about this experience is spending the time with my parents, learning from them in a way I haven’t since I was a child. It’s such an extraordinary privilege to be taught by them as they were taught by their parents – to feel that I am taking my place in my families lineage.
I’ve loved making a connection with the earth. I’ve often been accused of being a hippy and although I’ve always strived to live by my beliefs, I’d never really gotten my hands dirty. Now I’m starting to grow my own fruits and vegetables – it’s hardly enough to feed the thousands or even the two us living here but I have big plans for raised beds and plots enough for my family and friends to share.
I’ve just mentioned that there are two of us living here. Financially, I had to get someone in to share the cost of living. Having gone through so much to reclaim the place for myself, I was very hesitant to share it again but it’s turned out to be one of the biggest blessing in disguise. Just as I was gearing up to advertise the ‘spare’ room, Emma appeared before I had the chance.
Of all the rooms in the house, I think it’s Emma’s is the one of which I’m most proud because it took the most blood, sweat and especially tears to reinvent. It had always been the spare room, crammed full of our hoardings. We could just about stretch the sofa bed out when guests would stay with a significant amount of shuffling but by and large, it was unusable but for the desk at one end which constituted our ‘office’. That room was my crucible. I only wish now that I’d had the presence of mind to take ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots to show you the magnitude of the makeover, though no photos could convey what it took for me to plough through those boxes containing a lifetime of letters, photos, diaries, treasured objects, even locks of hair and an extremely confronting story I wrote when I was 16 (which may yet be a blog post all of its own)!
When I was done and the room stood empty but for the furniture I had repaired, renovated and assembled myself (OK, full credit for the reconstruction of the IKEA bookshelf without an allen key goes to Rach and Marlon), I was filled with such a sense of empowerment and accomplishment. When Emma saw the room, she loved it straight away. She especially loved the exposed wall at the end which we had intentionally left in its rough state when we had painted the others. I didn’t want to have to paint over it now and luckily there was no need to.
Emma moved in and filled the space with her belongings (and hair) and transformed it even further still. It has meant the world to me to be able to provide a home for someone who loves the house as much as I do. She has imbued the place with new life and new energy that I know I wouldn’t have gotten through last Christmas without! Far be it for me to speak on Emma’s behalf but I think she would agree that this has been a time of great healing and growth for the both of us and it feels as though the house itself is protecting us – I love that.
I love the light and shadows of the house – at any given time of day, there is a different interplay of light, natural and not, that captivates me. From the moment I open my eyes in the morning to see light dappling through the lace curtains over my balcony doors, to the shafts imposing themselves onto the black polished floor boards (which I also love) downstairs, the white light flooding the white kitchen, sunset slanting through the blinds to project dancing lines over the pictures hanging on the walls, sunset over the garden, looking back from the garden into the house lit up at night and last but certainly not least, the spectacular shadows cast by the chandeliers which have apparently hung in this house since it was built. I love those chandeliers!
I love the front room which has been dubbed both ‘the library’ and ‘the parlour’ but which also serves as both dining room and office space. Along the entire length and height of the main wall there is a bookcase full of books, movies and every kind of ephemera from around the world you can imagine (and maybe a few that you can’t). I love to stand in front of it and appreciate the fortunate life I’ve had to be able to have such an eclectic collection.
I love the gas fireplace retro-fitted into the original fireplace. With the flick of a very discreet switch, it bursts into flames striking the perfect balance between energy efficiency, sympathetic restoration and kitsch! I also love the solar panels and solar hot water systems that took me forever to research, have installed and claim all the lovely rebates for – I won’t be giving those up without a fight!
I do love the kitchen but it’s a little more complicated – a two week job that blew out to over six months, went over budget and still isn’t quite finished. None the less, it’s a lovely, light space built with the great skill of a master craftsman that I enjoy being in. In fact, just last week, I created a new nook with a couple of chairs and wine boxes which we’re now calling ‘the cafe’ – I love the cafe!
In the name of staying focused on the positive, we’ll gloss over the bathroom and laundry and just say I love the vision I have for them!
That just leaves my bedroom, my most intimate space and the one you’d expect to be the hardest to feel at home in again. But you know what, I love it too. I got a brand new mattress and pillows when I moved back in and that made a huge difference. Curiously, I still sleep confined to ‘my side’ of the bed so much so that my laptop is completely safe from being thrown off in the night when it decides to curl up next to me (this despite my repeated resolve of ‘no social media in bed’). There wasn’t a huge scope to rearrange the furniture but enough to make it my own. I managed to consolidate the surviving contents of the ‘spare’ room into a series of vintage suitcases that now sit stacked on top of my cupboards. Not only do I love the visual impact of them and the homage they pay to my love of travel but there’s something poetic about the fact that they contain what remains of my emotional baggage. Some may say I’d be better rid of them but I’ve always maintained that the point isn’t to obliterate the past but to reconcile it. Whilst those bags may still carry a heavy burden, I hope one day to be able to open them with a lightness of heart. Until then it’s cased closed on the closed cases.
It’s often said that “home is where the heart is”. Mine lies all around the world vested in the people and places I love but in terms of bricks and mortar, right now it’s invested in this house. And so I proceed with that same heart open to the possibilities that will allow me to call this house a home for many years to come.