This week’s Let’s Blog Off topic is “What is Home”? It seemed a simple topic when I first read it; I’ve designed and renovated houses for a living for over 15 years now. But then I realized that I work on “houses”, but am unable to magically transform them into “homes” no matter how perfect the design. It’s up to the inhabitants to turn their house into a home filled with friends and family and precious memories strewn throughout. The best I can do is make the setting comfortable and attractive. The same is true for my own houses.
I’ve lived at six addresses since settling in Florida after grad school. The first three were rentals, and one of which did feel like home to me. It was a second-floor garage-apartment in a complex of historic homes. I had absolutely wonderful neighbors and a cute one-bedroom apartment all to myself. I made some darling curtains and shopped thrift stores to furnish it. My network of neighbors and friends made my adjustment to adult life far from my parents much easier and less lonely than it could have been and I remember living there fondly.
I bought my first house at the age of 27 in West Palm Beach since it seemed like the next logical step in my adult life. It was truly a fixer-upper in every sense of the word. I was the third owner of the 1923 Mission style bungalow. The previous owner was an elderly woman who had little money for upkeep and lived in fear of her neighbors for many years, rarely venturing beyond the front stoop. I poured endless hours of sweat and toil into making the house liveable, but was never able to make it feel like home. Oddly enough, it felt even less homey when I married and had a child, feeling small, dark and cramped. I think in part it’s because I was never able to forget the dirt and grime that came with the place.
My husband and I bought the next house together in Tampa. Again, the house we chose was in need of major repairs, but it had a lighter, airier feel than the West Palm Beach house, and a few more square feet. We made the 1923 bungalow a beautiful showpiece inside and out, but since we always saw it more as an investment, we never really settled in and felt at home there either. That’s not to say that we didn’t enjoy living there, but you need a sense of permanence to feel truly at home. This house happens to where we built the first Historic Shed prototype.
The house we live in currently is in Hernando County. It feels like a different world from West Palm Beach and Tampa, with lots of negatives, including less-than-perfect schools, too many cigarette smokers, and a lack of dental hygiene among a certain sector of the population. That said, it is the favorite place that we’ve lived so far. In part it’s due to good friends and a house renovated to our personal tastes (it’s not historic so we had to add in the character we’d become accustomed to), but I think it’s more than that: for the first time, we feel like we really live in Florida.
Both Craig and I can’t imagine living anywhere other than Florida, having each made a conscious choice to leave the ice and snow up north young, rather than wait for retirement to head south. He came down in 1989 and I arrived in 1993. We’ve traveled through a lot of Florida, learning to understand and love the history and uniqueness of the state through our historic preservation consulting work. But neither of us had ever lived in a less developed part of the state until we arrived in Hernando County. Since we bought on a canal that leads to the Gulf, we get dolphins and manatees swimming in the back yard as well as mullet jumping constantly and jacks chasing needle-fish until the water is frothy. We also get bald eagles and ospreys flying overhead, wild turkeys and sandhill cranes along the roadside, and reports of bears and panthers in the woods (we have yet to see either ourselves but I still relish the memory of seeing a coyote one morning). We are learning the rhythm of the tides and enjoy glorious sunsets. And we can imagine a Florida without strip shopping malls and cookie cutter developments. To us, this is the Florida we can call home.
Check out these other #letblogoff posts by much more talented writers.