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The “it” moment with my new house

by Steve McKee on July 22, 2007

I had an unexpected “it” moment the day before I was to surrender my big brand-new house over to the barely known renter. It happened after my family and I had spent a Sunday morning doing one last round of chores and cleanup. We loaded up the car to go, but I had to go back inside to check something and, for half a minute, had the house to myself and it was as perfect as it would ever be. The place would never be so free of flaws or look this good ever again.

The next day it would be in the control of someone else, but for that moment it was still all mine: the sheen on the new hand-planed hickory hardwood floor, the flawless soapstone counters, the paint job so perfect that it made surfaces look almost like velvet, the dining room columns laid out to the immaculate proportions from ancient Vitruvius. Through the big array of windows I could see trees moving slightly in the breeze of a wonderful summer day with just enough motion to animate the scene. It was all so perfect that I just wanted to hug those beautiful dining room columns and take big bites out of them like some oversized wedding cake. (Did I really just say that?)

Our big house, simply called “East O” within the family, had been planned from the start to be a rental house, to be given over to others for some number of years, but then to someday be ours to occupy. This was all part of the big master plan and, therefore, a-okay.

Laying claim to the house, if only temporarily, had actually begun a few nights previous when Melody and the kids and I determined to make the house our own for at least one night when we agreed to have a family “sleep-over.” On July 4th, right after fireworks, we made our way through all the downtown traffic to the house. I arrived separately before the others, so I set about to bring the big dark inert house to life with light, sliding dimmer switches just the correct amount to bring up the glow on walls or make pendant lights radiate warmth. Everyone arrived and was excited to see the house in its night mode for a change and then went about setting up their sleeping pads and blankets in their assigned bedrooms, my daughter and her three sleep-over friends preferring the parlor with its closable glass doors.

Living in the house, albeit for only about twelve hours, put my senses on overtime noticing things. Just how well did the swing of the glass shower door clear the standing area at the vanity? Was that really the best place for that light switch? Is the sightline down the hall private enough or should that dividing wall have been extended another foot? I do this sort of evaluating for hours every day on a computer screen. I was both delighted and slightly anxious to do it now in real three dimensional space because it was all unchangeable now. At one point I walked outside to see the windows glowing warmly in the night and was pleased.

Three days later we had an open house for neighbors. The house has a big central room with an extra tall ceiling that is pretty much the equivalent of a big urban loft space into which an island kitchen has been set at one end and a dining alcove created to the side with the use of columns. The acoustics in the big rectangular room with a bunch of people talking got pretty noisy at one point. I hoped furniture and a rug or two would soften that. I guess I wasn’t done evaluating and critiquing things, something I don’t usually do with this intensity. It’s just that it was exciting to see the house that I’d pondered in the abstract for so long finally functioning with people in it. I was secretly happy that the fancy restaurant-style pantry door was such a big hit with everybody.

When it was over, the mess was pretty superficial and we got to it the following day when we brought the house to its final shining moment of luster. The day after that it would be in the hands of the renter. It felt good to have tools in hand just like old times, especially after so many months of giving over the house to builder Steve Munson and his damn good subcontractors to build. As I worked a chisel to set the new fancy front door hardware I enjoyed the visceral reality of carving the wood, seeing little wood chips fall to the floor.

“Hey honey, look at me,” I called around the corner. “I’m like Michelangelo putting the final touches on my work.” I was pleased, especially when the new dead bolt went together without a hitch.

We finished the clean-up and loaded up everybody and all the tools into the car to leave when I went back inside to check a door or something and had my “it” moment with the house. In the midst of the hustle and bustle it was suddenly just me and my house, my briefly perfect house. An idea turned into wood and glass and dappled light glinting off of shiny floors. How often do I get to design a house for myself, have it built, and then have a moment where I just stand and enjoy it in its most pristine state? Not that often, I hope to tell you. It was the stuff of life, some of the best stuff. A raison d’etre, even. Then I remembered that everyone was hungry and waiting, so I stepped out front, locked up and we drove off to find some Chinese food.

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