Didn’t see that one coming

Up the slope from the back of the clearing to the rear elevation of the house

One late-August Saturday I went out to the patio with my morning coffee, as is my wont.  While admiring the splashes of sunlight on my mosses I noticed that the mountain beavers, inactive for a month and a half or so, were back.  My wife joined me and remarked on how beautiful the clearing was beginning to look.  I said, ‘There are another 28 plants missing this morning, that I can count from here.  By the time the Mitigation period is up I think I am really going to resent living here.’  When she asked me what I meant, I spoke of creating a garden that looks good from the living room or from the second floor, but which we cannot use as we’d like. To have any progress creating something beautiful continually thwarted.  Poor soil, incredible browsing pressure, property resrictions that require me to work regardless of result or even good sense–a nexus of conditions that I cannot change or control and which fuel a low-level, simmering anger that is my constant companion. 

A kitchen made to be photographed

This began a conversation that lasted for several days.  At our old home, when I remodeled the kitchen, there was no discussion of ‘work triangles:’ I merely knew my wife would stand right here, and that everything must be built around her individual work habits.  In our current home, appliances and features were placed by the architect for maximum aesthetic impact.  For my wife’s work habits, this has created the opposite of ‘work triangles;’  instead there are triangles that interfere with the way my wife works and that disallows for anyone else, like me for instance, participating in meal prep.  Which is too bad, because I prep like a white guy teppanyaki master, and makes for large swaths of unused countertop that become home only to accumulata.

I have never liked the floor plan for my family.  Before we built this house, I used to sketch our dream

A seventeen-year old girl could hide out, text the day away, and be soooo deep and misunderstood here

home, once went so far as to draft a set of plans to take to a home planner.  The dream was a house with one large room to cook, dine, relax, and entertain in, with a master suite that opened right onto it.  Above there would be a half floor with our daughter’s room, a guest room, an office.  The idea was space that would encourage us to be ‘withgether,’ as my daughter used to say when she was three.  We live now on three floors that keep us far apart.  I had thought if we took this plan and filled it with the fixtures and finishes of a thousand late night conversations, that something that was not quite right could be something that we could love.   That high ceilings and a grandiose master suite could turn my heart.

‘Just ride your bike from the garage door to the end of the driveway. Trust me, you’ll love it.’

The property restrictions, the things we knew we might have to live without, I thought we could just go to the park or learn to live differently.  That notion changes when the entire family must mobilize to ride bikes or just play outside.  Play becomes work when it is not right outside your door, and no child should go without a swing or a tree fort if there is room for them or inclination. 

When bought this project I knew there were restrictions, but didn’t know how restrictive (and how could I, as so many were created on the spot?). I was in no position to fight, as I could not get a Certificate of Domestic Occupancy (CDO) unless I complied.  Ironically, anyone who might come after me here may not ever be able to get a permit for a pole barn or a gazebo, but the CDO has been issued and there are almost three times as many native plants as in the original plan.  I cannot see how anyone else could be held as captive to these things as I have, and frankly, we are not like most of the people who live in our community.  The cyberlawn and ‘stroll garden’ just mean less yard work to pay someone else to do.  There is a cabling in every room to allow for high-speed gaming and TV watching all over the house.  This house is wildly imperfect for my family but likely VERY PERFECT for most. 

Twelve-foot ceilings and radiant heat in the polished concrete floors, end tables I made and a custom-fireplace surround I designed. We roller skated in the living room one Christmas morning, but only once because the acrylic wheels marred the floor.

I have described living in my house as like ‘living in a sculpture,’ or like having an unlimited stay at the nicest hotel I have ever been in.  Someone commented to me once that my house is the ‘best curated home’ that they had ever visited.  Le Corbusier once said that ‘a house is a machine built for living’  (he also said ‘a chair is a machine built for sitting,’ and probably said ‘a piece of celery is a machine built for eating cream cheese.’ He was a bit of a one-note song, quote-wise).  We live in a house that is ‘a machine built for looking awesome.’  Unfortunately, some shoes by the front door, the mail, a pile of homework, the general disorder of day to day life, and the machine stops working at its best function. This does not speak to warmth or togetherness or the pot-roasty

Two sinks that don’t get in each other’s way, slate floors and a limestone shower with showerheads well above our tall noggins. The radiant heat wraps around the bathtub and there are fossilized seashells in the limestone tiles.

scents of memory.  No one looks back fondly from adulthood upon the Forbidden Room.  The dayslong conversation my wife and I had, ultimately, was one wherein we realized that I had sold my watch to get her these beautiful combs, while she had sold her hair to get me this beautiful watchfob.  We built our dream house, we built a gloriously beautiful house, but we are unable to make it our home.

We want a living-in house, not a looking-at house, and I feel like I owe my daughter the two years’ of mudpie-ing, worm-digging, and tree-housing I stole.  The real estate sign went out last Friday.

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24 Responses to Didn’t see that one coming

  1. Wow! I didn’t see that coming, either. Your house does look beautiful, but if you have never felt at home there, that means something. I have always felt that people are drawn to homes like they are to other people….you either have chemistry with a house or you don’t. Are you going to keep blogging? Please say yes.

    • calvincaley says:

      Oh, Mary. Living here was me pushing all of my chips to the center of the table to make the big play for my family. As it turned out, the schools are fantastic and that was the primary goal, but we aren’t fancy house people. We are a tribe, two thirds of us anyway, of stuff piling messmaking junk-leaver-arounders. If this latest turn doesn’t pan out, we’ll still be here and I will have no shortage of topics; if it does, I’ll re-format and change focus. I have a lot of buildy stuff left to build in me, and a thousand unlandscaped landscape ideas. There is a clean-lined and architectural-looking treehouse and swing lurking back there somewhere, and a mod vegetable garden, too. I couldn’t just stop. I would miss the friends I have made doing this–like you! too much.

  2. Fred Zeppelin says:

    PO – EFFIN – ETIC !

    love you guys… do what you gotta do and don’t lose our phone number.. 🙂

  3. croftgarden says:

    Oh Calvin – dreams in the trash can? I am so sorry. We thought that we had found sympathetic architects but we had to fight for every inch of our dream and not their design concept. Fortunately we did not have “City Hall” on our backs, In the end we had something which works for us – although there are things that we would change it we had the £££!
    I do hope that it work out for you and your tribe. Please keep blogging – I’d like to see how it all pans out and I’d miss your posts

    • calvincaley says:

      You are so kind. We purchased this home as a package from the builder: the property, feasability, engineering, architectural, plus the construction contract. We knew going in that it wasn’t the embodiment of all we dreamed or discussed, but thought that if we put all the things on it and in it that we dreamed, we could learn to love it. In short, we ‘settled,’ if you can settle for something spectacular. It wasn’t the architect’s fault, nor mine. As much as I don’t like City Hall looking over my shoulder, I consciously chose to act as I have–mostly as a part of the effort to learn to love it. The primary conflict comes from growing accustomed to living a certain way at our previous home, and we miss that. Our dreams aren’t on the dustbin, I think they live and breathe more fully for having done this. We know who we are. We’re not a house–we are the life lived in and around a house.

      DOING this–being a part of a project like this, designing and helping to install the heating system, spec’ing and having things fabricated, trying to imagine how this wood, this faucet, that countertop might look together (times a whole house) and then having it come together so well–that was a dream for me, more fun than I have ever had besides being married or Daddying. My wife and I never failed to get along during the building process and the builder/seller and I are still grand friends. We did exactly what we wanted and the architect called me his perfect client. I can’t ask for more than those things. My daughter has the educational opportunities we wanted for her in one of the best school districts in the country. This change of course is life’s curveball…we’ll see if I can hit it. Whatever happens from here, it will give me something to write about. Having made so many wonderful friends through A Thistle in My Sensitive Area, I couldn’t stay away.

  4. Tia says:

    Great googly moogly! I only just got here, clicked over from Garden Professors during the big native plant dustup. I’m an ex-Sammamishite (?) looking forward to hearing about the adventure. Best!

    • calvincaley says:

      I am glad you found me. I love the Garden Professors, I wish I could figure out how to subscribe…that IS an interesting conversation, to be sure. ‘Adventure’ is right. I thought I was on one, turns out I may be on another. We’ll see how it turns out!

  5. Deirdre says:

    I’m sorry. Livng with your restrictions is hard enough if you love the place. If you don’t, it is really not worth the effort.Take all that you learned from this failure to make the next house and garden perfect (with lots of open shelving). Find a short architect and use your height to intimidate him/her going with your vision rather than theirs.

    • calvincaley says:

      Funny! Toward the end of the build, the architect visited the site as we were finalizing cabinetry, paint colors…just the this, thats, and others after the biggest stuff. My wife and I were talking with the builder and his designer (she really was more ‘introducer’ at the design stores), and the architect kept interjecting. I finally had to ask him (very politely) to come back when we were closer to finished. I firmly believe that my vision for the configuration and outfitting for the house was better than his, and we didn’t need the extra voice. If our new plan works out, I’ll go back to being what I was before–my own ‘architect’ and ‘designer.’

      My wife and I feel like we are headed the direction of our right thing, not that this was wrong. The restrictions stunk, of course, but that isn’t the entire of it at all. You are absolutely right, though: without the ‘love,’ there is no reason for the toil or the toll. It is a bit ironic that whomever the next person is, they will likely feel little if any effect of the restrictions (it’s my name on the as-built, my money locked away on plant survival, my agreement to the Mitigation conditions), other than not being able to get permits for accessory structures or additions.

      • Deirdre says:

        I firmly believe that my vision for the configuration and outfitting for the house was better than his

        The person living with the choices gets to make them.

      • calvincaley says:

        Indeed. If he had been given his say that day, it would have wound up like living in the elevator lobby of an office building. My walnut is far superior to his teak or rift-sawn oak. He had the builder pick up a half sheet of rift-sawn oak ply for a sample of what he thought our cabinets should be. I wound up using it in the garage to make custom storage for my tools. My chisels, planes, mallets, and Japanese razor saws look great on it, though.

  6. WOW!!!! Good for you for knowing what works for you! What ticks me off the MOST is the sheer hypocrisy of the govt with the ridiculously suburban neighborhood that was approved so close!!

    The roller skating also was telling; I let me children roller-skate and ride their scooters around our first floor (I do draw the line at bicycles for safety reasons!) Does it mar our floors? Maybe a little. We have wood floors throughout our entire house, but I figure it gives them character and “living” in our house is WAY more important than an austere interior with perfect gleaming floors.

    I’m sure someone will adore the house – it is gorgeous – just not for you. I wish you the very best!!

    • calvincaley says:

      Thank you so much. It is a funny thing–this new adventure which we are hoping to launch isn’t a response to any one thing: not the property restrictions, not the house or anything in it; it is an overarching emotional response. Like my wife and I woke up the same morning with the same idea: “We don’t want to always be so CONSCIOUS of how the house looks. We want to always enjoy how our home FEELS.’ That we feel the same way says something about our awesomeness together, I think. You hit the nail on the head, the house just isn’t for us. It is like I said to Christine (Croft Garden). We don’t want to be a house, we want to be the life lived in and around our home.

      Someone WILL love it. It is gorgeous, it is extremely energy and resource efficient, it has so many desirable ‘livability’ features, and it is the only house even remotely like it within about a 25 mile radius. Every so often I think that we may be a little insane to want to leave it behind. What we want to do, though, is get a little ‘rumplier,’ and do something like what we wanted to do before we decided to do this. Be confident that it will be fabulous, though!

      I love that you let your kids treat your beautiful home a little roughly. That time is short, I am learning all too well…my daughter was all squinchy and floppy about 15 minutes ago, and now the tree fort window is closing. That you can look past or look warmly on those imperfections created by childhood enthusiasm says so much good about you. Perhaps if this does not work out in our favor, our solution may be the simple changing of mind. In any event, I wish our families lived closer to one another–I get the feeling we’d all get along famously!

      • With you and your wife coming to such an understanding on the feel of your lives in this house, which is clearly nothing short of spectacular, is amazing because having essentially made this house, it must be difficult to disconnect from it and see the bigger picture of your future happiness and what will foster family closeness and a childhood full of wonderful memories. You are so tragically right about the window being so small for this time with your daughter, so who needs closed floor plans that cloister and sequester everyone to their own space? You KNOW what works for you – most people do not – that’s why there are so many rules, like the work triangle. I actually can’t wait to read about this endeavor of yours! Reading your post this morning, I kept getting interrupted and I had a feeling that I knew what the ending was, so I was dying to finish it!

        I must say, I am ALL for the tree house idea! I am cheating and making a playhouse out of two gigantic wooden crates that housed my brother’s enormous chandeliers that he shipped to me from London to store for him. Of course, I am “storing” them on my ceilings 😉 Sketching out plans for this has been fun for the girls too! And to think, my husband wanted to break these boxes down! Never!

        I can’t imagine you would have any difficulty selling your house – it is an impeccable oasis in the trees! When I saw your living room, I was blown away! I adored it!!! Our furnishings are all things from my family and not all necessarily my taste. But, they all have a story, which is why they stay, but I sometimes long for a more modern palette with which to work! I have no doubt your next home will be perfect just divine and with a yard that you can work with! Let someone else try to grow moss on the old property 😉

        Oh, and I *know* we’d get along! ! When I first discovered your blog, I read it with such interest – completely through and through and there is so much of the same mentality in our lives and thought processes. When I read an article that I was interviewed for, my first reaction was that it sucked. My second reaction was what would Calvin think! I’m now one of those crappy Home & Style stereotypes regurgitating the same tired, trite ideas 😉 Ugh! You all could always move to the east coast where you would have 2 guaranteed friends 😉

      • calvincaley says:

        You are about the nicest, I think. If this works out, I have promised tree house and swing before anything else. I love the idea of freight-box playhouse…can’t wait to see it. The object history you touched on–that is a flummoxing aspect to our home. We very purposely selected things that had a story, or made things. The house has pillows and textiles made by my mother-in-law, carvings by my father; paintings, sculpture, and carvings by me, my wife’s photography; I built four tables and two nightstands and the foyer bench; the dining room table was made guy who my dad used to take fishing when he was a boy. The drawer and cabinet pulls in the upper floors were saved from a kitchen remodel at my father’s cabin…I could go on and on. Still just reads as a kit of parts to us.

        I do hope we can sell. We live in such a family-centric area, and with school already having started…like I said to my wife last night, we can’t do anything about anything we can’t do anything about. Like an existentialist Yogi Berra, I am.

        Living in a place where no one does their own work and lots of people don’t even own tools, knowing there is kindred spirit SOMEWHERE is gratifying. I bet you have a 12-inch double-bevel sliding miter saw with laser…and aren’t afraid to use it. You are neither stereotype nor regurgitator, I know.

  7. rainyleaf says:

    Calvin, you are brave. Recognizing things just aren’t right and then actually going to all the effort (selling a home, buying a new home and moving are so much work!) takes guts. Good luck and definitely keep blogging, I love your posts and your sense of humor!

  8. calvincaley says:

    Guts? Ha! I HATE moving…dang ol’ dummy might be more like it, Elaine! But we are an intrepid clan of adventurers, and I know we have what it takes. If it works out, I KNOW I’ll be a much better customer at the Gray Barn; and a slew of new projects will give my a lot of material, I am sure! Thank you so much for your encouragement!

  9. Chad B says:

    Calvin, I just wanted to add to what several others have already stated and say that I am happy you pulled the trigger. Just getting the sign up in front of the house is a big deal. I wish you and your family the best of luck and a life filled with memories. But please keep blogging!

    • calvincaley says:

      Thank you, Chad. Gotta love what you do and have to know who you are. I have high hopes this will work out for us, and if it does I am hoping for much more meaningful shop space, too. I have pent up creativity for both writing and making things–I’m not finished by half!

  10. Calvin, I thought that was a beautifully written post. I also think were I in your shoes I would have very much the same reaction. I especially liked your reference to Le Courbusier. Ironically, my understanding is that his houses were very unpleasant places to live.

    I’ve moved houses more often than I would have liked – it is always a pain. However, it is better than tolerating the intolerable. Fun should not be work. Being together should not be work. I hope your family finds a situation that affords the quality of life you are looking for. And just think, you’ll have a whole new garden to plan!

    • calvincaley says:

      Thank you very much, Jason. We have definitely surprised ourselves with this, but I like what it says about the values and communication my wife and I share. I moved so much as a kid, and while moving is a pain, for a child it can be merely painful. We promised ourselves it would be one move and then stay put through our daughter’s school years. If this works out for us, the move will be within the same draw as her existing school. The pain will be all mine! I enjoy very much how frequently Le Corbusier is quoted by architectural and design ‘cognoscenti,’ with only variation on the object or structure. I like to imagine the man sitting at his desk –er, machine for making a mess on– and thinking up different things to plug into his quote formula. Kind of an architectural Forrest Gump. I do look forward to my next garden–but I will admit, if we make good on the sale of our home I will have left things undone, and that feels strange to me. I will still blog, though, but I have no idea what I’ll call it, without a city biologist to give me the name.

  11. Pingback: This haunted house | A Thistle in My Sensitive Area

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