This tub. I need to be there. The views, the space, the light, the windows…I swoon. The designer of this space, Martha Cannon, has been on my radar my whole life…since I was 8. Someday. Someday, I will get to have her design a home for me. I love her style. Designing a home is an elusive thing for me since we have yet to put down roots. But I have learned something about myself and home design over the years.
We move a lot. In the last nearly sixteen years of marriage, we have moved eight times. eight different homes and neighborhoods, different schools and churches and routines. It is the adventure I always craved having grown up in the same place, same house, same schools and friends. And just like all adventure, there have been ups and downs, plot twists, and interesting lessons along the way.
One such lesson for me has been what my dream home is. I grew up with a mother who relied on a professional interior designer and who had an appreciation for clean, nice things. It was beautiful, and it rubbed off on me. I love a well-made bed, orderly shelves, clean baseboards and blinds, well-thought-out design and decor. I love the way my physical environment can make me feel on the inside–at peace, calm, open, happy, welcome. I love design blogs and would pour over the Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware and Ballard Design catalogs like they were the Bible of a beautiful life. When Pinterest hit, it was the perfect home-design buffet of scenes to create and long for. And then there was HGTV when we had cable in those early years. Matt hated it. I would watch the shows and get ideas, move around our furniture a million times to find just the right flow and arrangement, or come up with some crazy projects to “save money” but pull our house together in a “necessary” way. Those darn shows would make me think I could pick up any piece of furniture on the side of the road and turn it into a thing of beauty and function. I painted countless walls, installed wainscoting and tile, painted tables and chairs, hung towels that were only for decoration and not to be used, designed and made custom window coverings, hung curtain rods, repurposed so many things. When we would move and look for our next home, I had strict standards of what I could live and work with. The reality was that I felt defined in many ways by the appearance of my home, outside and in. Not something I am proud of, but this is my story, and I have made definite progress in this regard.
You would think that all this talk of the love of design would mean that all my houses were stellar and impeccable, but that’s crazy talk. Here’s the reality. Our very first home–the one in which we crossed the threshold of married life–was actually a job. We were housesitting a 4500 sq ft house so full of treasured belongings that it felt like a storage unit. It was a large home, filled to the brim with the belongings of the owners who had enlisted us to care for it in their absence. It was a deal for us because we didn’t pay rent or utilities. All our wedding gifts and belongings we brought into married life slept happily in Rubbermaid storage bins in the basement, along with the owner’s many, many boxes and goods. Every inch of the walls, in every room, was covered with framed artwork and collectibles. There was a whole bedroom that had been turned into a closet for purses. Just purses, floor to ceiling. Even the three-car garage was filled floor to ceiling with boxes, and 3 extra-large capacity freezers full of long-expired food. The master bedroom was the highlight with a collection of hundreds of ceremonial masks covering the walls from indigenous cultures around the globe. The kind of masks that could give you nightmares. For a long time, Matt would bring me a mask from his global travels for work and I always, always laughed because of what it represented as far as our first home together. Too many masks. The home smelled of moth balls, something I’ll never forget. The wonderful thing about it, aside from free rent, was the hundreds upon hundreds of books. That was a bit of heaven for me. So many different collections and world view represented, and a bevy of fact and humor books in every bathroom. I had no say in how that house looked, except for my small addition of fresh flowers each week. We lived there for a year and a half, keeping everything running, dusted, and cleaned, before we moved on to our first home, away from family and friends and all familiarity.
It was an assigned home on an Air Force Base as my husband completed his first training for his career. I cried. Poor Matt. Here we were, starting out on our own, him carrying the weight of the world supporting his wife and new child, and I cried because the house we were assigned was not pretty, or clean. In fact, it was condemned, due to be demolished, but with the influx of new 2nd Lieutenants, they had reopened a whole condemned neighborhood to house the students and their families for the next six to nine months. I can laugh at this all now, but at the time, I hated that home. I had saved and saved while we had been housesitting and finishing up university previously, so I immediately purchased cheap furniture that looked “nice” and arranged and rearranged our belongings the best I could. I remember having one sent of curtains for two sets of windows, so I hung the curtains on the windows that could be seen when you looked down the hall. The other window one went bare. We didn’t have many furnishings, so I concentrated what we did have in one area to make it feel finished and complete.
When we moved again, I was delighted to pick a home to buy that we got to customize and pick out the interior finishes as it was built. The builder was misleading on cost for several things and we chose to back out, and move into an assigned house on base, again. I think I cried, again. It was an old home with bright, turquoise laminate countertops, sticky laminate flooring and a massive flying ant problem. The ants were massive, and for me it was a massive problem that they were there. I remember the housing maintenance office telling me that those ants only came out when they saw the light, so I just needed to keep the windows closed. Not cool. I worked so hard to paint the walls, landscape the yard and maintain it, and make it feel like a home. I hung that one set of curtains strategically again, just on the window one could see when they looked down the hall. I was resourceful, and with HGTV at my side, came up with countless projects and ideas to make things functional and beautiful.
We left that home after a year and purchased a townhome.
It was small but new and clean and there were no flying ants, so that was a big plus. I painted, did custom wainscoting, and tiling. I created a cute playroom under the stairs for my son. I hung those decorative towels and painted dressers picked up on the side of the road. I made planters and repurposed furniture and was oh-so-busy making it just right. I brought home our second child there and filled that small home with friends and memories.
Next stop was New Mexico, and when you move to New Mexico in February, you are welcomed with shades of brown everywhere. The adobe-style houses, the ground, the trees and plants, the dusty air, the mountains. It’s all the same color, except the occasional brilliant turquoise gates and garden doors. New Mexico was a different flavor beyond just “red or green” (those who know chilies will understand that phrase). It felt like a different world and I was excited. We picked a home with unique local features. None of the finishes I would choose, but it was different and fun with sautillo tiles, large skylights, exposed beams and terra cotta-colored everything. The fireplace had been painted baby blue, so I painted that right away, but left everything else pretty much the same, just making custom window coverings, which I pretended were to keep the heat out, but really I wanted my house to look pulled together on the inside.
And then we moved again. The landlord was difficult at the first house and the utilities were excessive because of poor design and ductwork. The next house just a few miles from the first was different in many ways. We loved the expansive back yard with incredible desert-sunset views. I did not love the tile countertops or the colander lights in the kitchen. It was quirky, and again, not what I would choose. I was confident that I could make it beautiful and work with what we had. I’ll never forget when a friend showed up with a plate of cookies and asked why we had moved and commented that she could never live there, meaning it was below her standard of living. That stung. And I realized that it stung because I had allowed myself to be defined by my house in many ways. I didn’t want to care, but I did.
Next stop, England. We moved to England! Dream of dreams, we were on a really big adventure now. I laughed as I scoured house listings prior to moving that “children allowed” or “not allowed” was pointed out on the rentals. Pets were a given, but children? Nope. Too destructive. Having three of my own children at this point, I understood. It was different seeing washing machines in kitchens, ovens replaced with Agas, and no closets or cupboards except in the kitchens. My only real deal breaker were the listings with carpeted kitchens or bathrooms. Nope, I couldn’t do that. Houses were expensive so my options were limited, but we found a narrow, three-story detached house that had been completely renovated and was very modern while preserving some of the century-old characteristics. I loved it. It was small and neat, clean lines, white walls and a modern kitchen, wood floors, fireplaces, modern bathrooms…It was lovely. The back garden was beautiful with ivy and a magnolia tree. I loved the blue front door, and that the house had a name,”The Laurels”. It was lovely. Did I say that already? It was a puzzle figuring out how to live without bedroom closets and bathroom cupboards, but Pinterest and Ikea saved the day with organizing tips and space-saving ideas, and armoires. I loved that house, as tiny as it was. I would go back in a heart beat. I was so sad to leave.
Texas was next. New culture, new style, new climate. Oh Nelly, it was hot and humid which made everything feel heavy and oppressive to me. Our home was the biggest yet for us, and there were closets for days. Large closets in every bedroom, bathroom, hallway, and family room. I was delighted to put things away and still have empty shelves, especially after our tight living quarters in England. We were all so spread out in this new Texas home. I marveled, literally sat in awe, as I watched our new American washing machine wash a massive load of laundry, and was stunned at the space of our refrigerator. Everything was bigger, much bigger, in Texas. The layout wasn’t my favorite, but I made the most of it with what I had. We bought new couches and rugs, and rearranged everything else, again. Same old things, totally new arrangements.
And now. We just moved to Colorado nearly four months ago. Smaller home, first time having a basement which is amazing, and it feels temporary in a way that makes me sad. I actively choose to unpack everything as quickly as possible, hang the artwork we have, and feel settled. It is completely overwhelming the first couple months into a move. No one can find where anything is because everything has been assigned a new place, and that new place may change once we get into the swing of things. I always find that around 6 months into a new home, everything gets majorly reshuffled once again. It is tricky for all of us.
Over the years, I dreamed of what a home of my design might look like. I have learned to live and thrive in so many different environments. I know elements of design that do not work. I know that more drawers in a kitchen are so much more functional than just cupboards. I know that tile is not my favorite to clean, and that I prefer the feel of wood under foot. I know I would love a smaller home with nice finishes and a large garden. I know I like clean and open spaces, minimal clutter and decor, and large windows.
Matt and I talk a lot these days about buying property for a future home. How we want trees and pines on one side and open views and mountains on the sunset side. I would love a white, modern farmhouse with beautiful wood floors and trim, black-framed windows and a porch to gather on. I’ve realized that in all our conversations our focus is always on how that home will feel to be there. We aren’t really discussing floor plans, nice furniture, or amazing kitchens and fixtures–although I know those elements help. I’ve realized that my dream home is something I create right now, independent of the actual house. My dream home really isn’t a physical structure at all. I know that when we move again in a couple years my house search isn’t guided on finding a great house with beautiful interiors. My prayers are always to help me to find the place where we need to be. Where we are needed and where we need to grow.
My dream house is where we find purpose, people to love and serve, and where we can be together. It likely will not have colander light fixtures, or an electric cooktop. But these are minor details. I can create home anywhere, in any place. And to me, that is what is really important.