Why I won’t be moving anytime soon

Before we bought the house I am now in, I had moved twenty-five times in about as many years. For the first eight years of my life, my dad was in the Navy, so of course we moved every time he was transferred to a new duty station: to Nova Scotia, then Florida, then California, then Tennessee, criss-crossing the country. When he had shore duty, my mother and brother and I moved with him; when he was at sea, we returned to my grandparents’ house in Kentucky while we waited for his ship to return. At the early age of two, I learned to hold tight to my favorite doll on moving day and not lay her down even for a moment, lest she get packed into a box and disappear for a year or more.

Even after dad got out of the Navy, we continued to move every eighteen months, as though he were still receiving orders to ship out. Those were unhappy years for my parents, but I didn’t know that at the time. Usually we just moved from one rental house to another, so I didn’t have to change schools that often. But I must surely hold some kind of record for having lived in the most houses that have since been torn down and turned into parking lots. (When we used to go back to my hometown and I would point out the places where I used to live, my children thought I had actually lived in the parking lots.) There was the two-story house my grandparents owned on Jackson Street, the three-story mansion on Hamilton Street, the small frame house on Clayton Avenue that we rented from the college, the large farmhouse across the tracks, the two-story bungalow on Willis Avenue, and the one-story bungalow on Walnut Street. Possibly there were others that I am not aware of.

Now I find it almost impossible to believe that I have been in the same house since 1989. And it’s not because it was my dream house or anything. There are plenty of things not to like about this house. In fact, if I had known I would end up staying here so long, I would have bought a different house, one with more character, more yard, less suburbia. One with an actual garage that was attached to the driveway and not bizarrely located down the steps. I do like the wooded back lot, however. You’d think, though, that having moved so often in the past, I would have plunked my furniture down here and refused to move another thing. But instead, over the years I have completely rearranged the house numerous times. I’m not talking about moving the couch from one wall to the other. I’m talking about completely repurposing rooms over and over again. Maybe, like my dad, I’m still searching for something I can’t find, only within a smaller frame of reference.

Now that the children have grown, and it’s just the two of us most of the time, our latest plan is to turn the downstairs den into a space where we can hold old-time music jams and square-dance parties. But obviously, we won’t be dancing and playing music all the time, so I’d also like it to be a multi-purpose room, where we can sit by the wood stove and read or knit or work on projects. We need an open space for dancing, but we also need decent storage and work space for our projects. We need plenty of straight-backed chairs for musicians, but we also need comfy chairs for reading. We need a smooth surface for dancing, but we also need rugs for the coziness factor.

Last spring we hired a contractor to take out a wall (one we had actually put in ourselves years ago to make a bedroom for my older son when he was a teenager and needed to get away from his little brother). Before the contractor came, we had to move everything out of what had been a fairly traditional bedroom and a den (in the bedroom a queen-size bed, a dresser, a wardrobe, and large shelves full of boxes of things left behind by the boys when they moved out; in the living room a love seat, a rocking chair, a coffee table, a television and stand, shelves and shelves of books, a NordicTrack; and in the “hall” between the two a chest freezer and a four-drawer file cabinet). Now that the space has been cleared out, we are trying to be very thoughtful about what we move back in.

I have decided this challenge definitely requires a professional, so I have made an appointment with a designer this week. I have great hopes that he will be able to come up with an awesome plan. The same designer picked out a fabric for a wing chair I had reupholstered last summer, and I am loving it. It was exactly the right fabric, but I didn’t know it until I saw the chair next to my stone fireplace.

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Reinventing our living space

When we first moved into our house many years ago, my sons were 9 and 2 years old, and the downstairs made a perfect den for two growing boys–finished enough to look civilized but not so fussy that I worried about damage. We put down a heavy-duty industrial carpet that refused to show dirt. The holes in the wall behind the dart board could be patched easily enough. The furniture could be reupholstered. The downstairs was the kids’ zone. Over the years the den has been transformed many times to suit their changing needs. At one time the room featured a pingpong table and mini trampoline. There was plenty of room to set up race tracks or electric trains or make tents with sheets and light-weight blankets over the furniture. Later, the entertainment center took over, as the kids gathered their friends around to watch movies or play video games.

Likewise, the bedrooms in the house changed over the years to meet the changing needs of the family. At first my older son liked the room tucked away in the back downstairs, away from meddling little brother and parents. But before too long, he felt lonely and wanted to move upstairs with the rest of the family. We gave the boys the 11 x 22 foot master bedroom, with their bunk bed set down the middle to delineate Matt’s side from Isaac’s side of the room, and we parents took the smaller room next door, which at least had the advantage of windows facing the woods, so we woke to morning sun and birdsong.

Eventually, though, little brother was 7 years old and big brother was 13 and very much needing his privacy, so we decided to put up walls in the den and build him a room of his own.  However, before we could finish building his room,  his 13-year-old cousin Melissa came to live with us. The boys still shared the big room upstairs, and technically, we had a spare bedroom downstairs that we could have put Melissa in, but we wanted her to feel welcome, so the adults moved bedrooms again–this time downstairs to the room in the basement that Matt had started out in. (We doubted very seriously that we would feel “lonely” down there but were certainly willing to take our chances.)

Years later, the kids have moved on and built lives for themselves. Matthew is 32 and a captain in the Army, with one son and two stepchildren. Isaac is 26, married, and finishing up his PhD in molecular biology. Melissa is 32, a registered nurse, with a 3-year-old and a new baby on the way. I have remarried, and it’s time to transform the house again to fit our new lives. Although it feels like moving backwards in some ways (and I feel somewhat bad about losing a space that was so important at the time), we have taken the walls back out to open up the space again. We took up the carpet and painted the floor, boxed in the duct work and the support poles, replaced the ceiling tiles, put in additional lights, and added a 3-way switch at the bottom of the stairs (and by “we,” I mean the contractors who actually know how to do these things, as opposed to the earlier remodeling project that we did ourselves and which took months, if not years, to finish).

We have in mind a place we can have people over to play music and dance, but we still have extra bedrooms for family to spend the night.

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