Thursday, June 17, 2010

Back to the Beginning

How do you know where an idea comes from or when it starts? I think it is only in hindsight that it is easier to retrace the steps that built idea upon idea, and then decisions and commitments, until the original thought has been made a reality. Even then, it is hard to say where one idea ends and another begins because they are all so linked together. I have always dreamed of building a house. But when did the idea to build THIS house begin? And why on Sunset Hill?

As far back as I can remember, I was drawing floor plans on graph paper and populating the spaces with all kinds of objects and creatures. In grade school I was deeply inspired by the Palladian window at the end of the wide second-story hallway of my school. It was the most beautiful thing my 10 year old self had ever seen, especially when the large cherry tree outside bloomed in the spring and its dark branches heavy with white blossoms were framed by the window.
In my 20s houses sprang fully designed, painted, and filled with the most amazing furniture and art into my dreams at night. Sometimes they were so beautiful that I tried (in vain) to wake up and sketch them on a pad I kept by the bed. Certain houses would reappear from time to time, and each time I saw them again in my dreams it was like going home to a place I had known forever, inch by inch, board by board.

Later my ideas about house and home were shaped by studies in architecture, my experiences with Scandinavian co-housing, reading about houses of my favorite writers and artists, and literally thousands of dollars spent on design magazines over the years. (My weakness!) In more recent years, a succession of remodelling projects have helped me to hone my design skills and test some ideas against the realities of budget and specific programmatic needs.

Somewhere along the line the idea emerged to build a house in the city with a cottage attached. It would be a place to realize all my dreams for a creative and social life; a place for our daughter to grow up with friends on the block to play with; and a cottage where my mother--and possibly my husband and I later--could "age in place."

Thankfully I married a man of similar ambitions and dreams who even possesses the skills to make it happen! All we needed to find was a lot large enough for a house, cottage, and a wee patch of garden--there would, of course, have to be fruit trees and some home-grown tomatoes--and yet be located in the city close to shops and parks and a good library. This vague idea percolated over a period of 5-7 years.
I can't recall why, but sometime in spring 2008 I asked my realtor friend Eva to forward some house listings to me--just for fun. I asked her to send me any listings with lots bigger than 6000sf in the city. She starting sending a trickle of listings here and there. One night before leaving work I took a quick look at her latest e-mailed listings and saw a house for sale on an 8100sf lot in Sunset Hill that just happened to be only a small detour on the drive home. I decided to take a look.

As fate would have it, it was a clear spring day with the mountains out to the west and sun sparkling off the water as I drove up to the lot. A rundown and nondescript farmhouse that had long since lost any charm it had sat square on the lot. The house was vacant so I decided to explore the back yard. Moving to the side yard, I passed under an old-fashioned wooden archway covered in pink roses just starting to bloom. In the back yard were more roses, an old clothesline, a huge Japanese maple tree, and what seemed like acres of green lawn. All around was evidence of the owner's passion for beach rocks, flowers, stone statuary, and even some paving stones with the handprints of small children. Looking up I finally saw that the lot had a lovely view of the Sound and mountains.

The house next door had several rows of raspberry bushes and a newly spaded plot for vegetables. It felt like the middle of the country. All was quiet except for the sound of birds and then, briefly, a whistle from the train that follows the shoreline north and south of Seattle. The smell of salt air wafted toward me. All of this took place in a matter of minutes and just as quickly I realized that this was it: this was the place where my house dream would become reality.

Have you ever had the experience of knowing absolutely that something was meant to be? That was the feeling I had that day. My heart skipped a beat knowing that to follow through meant a lot of work, a lot of money, and a big change in our lives. But not following through would be like abandoning a dream before even trying. Well, as they say, the rest is history--and will unfold in future posts!

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