Friday, April 19, 2013

What the House Wants

"Generally, when I renovate a house," Rafferty explained as he opened the front door," I have to juggle three things: what the clients want, what the clients think they're supposed to want, and what the house wants."
                               Marisa de los Santos in Belong to Me

Rafferty is a very minor character in this book but one I wish was a major character. (I don't know why it is that I'm always falling in love with a minor character in a novel. Do any of you do that?) If I were going to have my house renovated, Rafferty is the man I'd call--that is, if our son-in-law would not take on the project. And he most likely could not as he's a little bit busy building many of those lovely Amelia Island houses. Our Bryan is an expert at understanding "what the clients want, what the clients think they're supposed to want, and what the house wants." I believe he would immediately understand Rafferty's dilemma. If you ever contact Bryan to build your house, tell him his mother-in-law sent you!

Here is a link to one of Bryan's houses...


If Bryan could not fit our remodel into his busy schedule, I'd try to find Mr. Rafferty. I would listen to him when he said:

"Like this room," began Rafferty, walking through what Dev supposed was the living room, to one so tiny and dim that it was more an alcove than a room and was lined from floor to ceiling with new, built-in shelves. "People think they need light, light, light. A lot of folks would want to cut in a bigger window, add a French door, maybe get rid of one or two of those big trees outside. Some people would even knock out this wall and incorporate the room into the larger living space. And, yeah, light's important, but it isn't everything. This is a house that wants to hang on to its small, quiet pockets. It respects a person's privacy."

I hummed with sheer delight when I read this because I think every house should have small, quiet pockets. Or is that just an outdated idiosyncrasy of mine? I know I must be in a rare minority about this subject. While I understand the importance to parents of small children of having them play nearby while they're in the kitchen cooking, open floor plans are vastly overrated, in my humble opinion.

I want to wander from room to room in a house and not see everything at one glance. Isn't it odd that while American gardeners have enthusiastically embraced the English notion of having "rooms" in their garden instead of a huge lawn broken up by beds, they have gone in the opposite direction inside their homes?

You almost cannot sell a house to a young couple today unless it is an open floor plan house, as friends of ours found out when they wanted to downsize and put their gorgeous home on the market. I loved that house but it lacked the see-it-all-at-a-glance aspect that buyers seem to want today.

I love a house with surprises, nooks and crannies, odd little juts out and steps down, hideaways, a sense of moving from one activity to another in the rooms instead of almost everything but the most private things taking place in a huge open room.

Sometimes I think about a kitchen from the 1950s where the woman was alone with her thoughts while preparing dinner and the man and children waited in the den where the one television in the house was, watching one of three channels available. Soon they would be called to dinner, except for the teenage daughter who was busy setting the table in the dining room or breakfast nook, back and forth putting ice in the glasses, and in between trips, seeing that her mother's back was turned to her as she stood at the stove stirring the gravy, asks Mom questions that she might not face to face.

Does this horrify you? Am I completely adrift in la-la land of retro Father Knows Best television?

Literally everything goes in cycles. Will I always be in the minority?

Do you think we'll someday turn back to wanting a house with more privacy?

Will we want doors to close between the rooms?

A kitchen where a person can cook without everyone in the party crowded around talking? A kitchen where there is no television blaring a few yards away in the "great room"?

A house where family members find their own private space for much needed solitude so that they can come together refreshed at the dinner table and have something to say to each other?

Will a small room like Mr. Rafferty's be made into a reading nook for the bookworms of the family?

What do you think?

What does your house want?

Photo credits:
    (from A Life in Decoration by Keith and Chippy Irvine)


  1. Oh I get you. Because I have two houses that are vastly differently I can assure you the one that has smaller rooms and lower ceilings is far cozier. The old house with it's 13 ft ceilings is cold, not cozy,and difficult to decorate and clean (in fact it is dirty). I love this post, well done, Olive

  2. Such cozy photos, you make a good point. I go back and forth, wanting solitude with privacy and togetherness in large spaces.What I don't like in new homes are the giant master bathrooms where a couple has to be together while "primping." Sometimes a girl just needs privacy!

  3. Dewena, these photos are perfection. In each of them, I wanted to crawl into the photo and sit down to read. I haven't even read the book, and I love Mr. Rafferty. What a wise person he is. I do love my open kitchen. I used to feel so alone when I was cooking. I also love my little study, where hardly anyone, except me, ventures. It's filled with books and objects that "speak to me". Now, I'm off to see your s-i-l's work. laurie

  4. Another interesting post, Dewena! We have built or remodeled 10 homes in our 45 years (yeah...moved a lot!) Have had good builders, bad builders and did it ourselves. We still laugh about the worst one. Guy named Wayne in Vancouver, WA. His favorite saying was "you've got a problem here"...emphasis on the "you" !

    I looked at the link to Bryan's website. Wow!!! Very nice!

  5. Oh yes! I'd hire your s-i-l if I could. Thanks for the link to his work. laurie

  6. describe the perfect home.....I have a tiny kitchen everyone comes in to see what's cooking, we all have our favorite go to nook or cranny but enjoy cuddling in the living room watching a movie! Thank you!

  7. I think that is what I love about old houses, Deweena...that moving from room to room and discovering those small surprises. What a GREAT post-xo Diana

  8. We are often told how cozy and comfortable our home is, yet we have large rooms and ten, twelve, and even 18 foot ceilings. The basement has 9 foot ceilings. We've managed to do cozy, because that is what the house gravitated towards. We listened.

    We had 7 ft ceilings in the farmhouse, but the front room, kitchen and dining room were all in one big room. Not as cozy as the bigger home with taller ceilings. Even though the rooms are larger, there are walls and french doors etc, dividing them.

    I know what you mean about potential buyers. We had at least one say our living room was way too small. It is actually fairly good sized and adjacent to the larger hearth room, connected through a french door. They are extensions of each other making a really large room.

    You might like Norm Abrams' This New House (1995). It isn't a renovation story, but rather the story of building his home. I wonder if he still lives there. It's good read.

  9. The rooms in your photos have character, Dewena. Something lacking in many of the open floor plans today. This is a great post, and I love how you tied it all in with your favorite character. Bryan's design is very pretty. I think our whole house would fit in the pool. LOL

  10. what a very wise man! Dave and I always tried to do what the house wanted; we made very few changes...perhaps half dozen in all. the house is, very much, just like Mr. Hawkins built it 111+ years ago.
    the thing I hate most about selling my house/farm are the snide comments. if you don't like the house, there are nice ways of saying it, "It's a nice house but not right for us". ugh. I'm determined though.

  11. My husband was working on an old Victorian house in St. Augustine. I helped him one day and was in house heaven. I couldn't even count all of the rooms and hidden spaces. I could have spent hours wandering around and daydreaming. I know what you mean. I love nooks and crannies, too.

    P.S. I also love Amelia Island & Fernadina Beach.

  12. i am there. in that last picture. the coziness. the crystal shining. the books.
    if i hear one more spoiled tasteless overspending creature whine...
    "well. of course ... we'll have to completely re-do the entire kitchen. it's so dated and i must have granite countertops. cannot live without granite countertops." i just want to gag and throw something at the tv. they are usually looking at a perfectly fine kitchen! it's that show where they pick from 3 houses or something. i used to watch it. can't stand to anymore.
    this post is masterful in every way.
    thank you!
    hugs to you on this wonderful weekend.
    OH! plus almost forgot bryan. he is gorgeous isn't he. and so talented. my word. lucky lady. well two! you and your daughter! LOL.

  13. I read "Belong To Me" earlier this year, and I too thought about having Rafferty come do some renno at our home. I mean if he cold keep Lake interested.... But I digress...

    I love this post. We're inheriting my father-in-laws house in a couple of months, and have already started talking about "opening it up". Now I think I'm going to stop by and see if I can figure out "what the house wants..."

  14. Love this post. Love the pictures - Our house looks like the last one now but soon it's going to look more like the other ones, full of book cases and books instead of just piles of books! :)

  15. I love the book Belong to Me, by the way....great story. I do love windows, and we sacrificed much needed wall space for the floor to ceiling Georgian windows in this house. I like an open concept to a point. But you're right....sometimes we need cozy. We have an extra bedroom, and we converted it into a cozy library. I like that it's private, and not part of the "public" space in our home.

    LOVE this post!

  16. I personally have never wanted a lot of people in the kitchen when I cook. So, I guess that's why I have a small kitchen in a room all by itself. And I cannot understand, for the life of me, people wanting those humongous bathrooms when they could have living space elsewhere Oh well, I guess I'm old school.


  17. You must be my sister from another mother, Deweena, because I like nooks and crannies too... and the notion of a large empty room, with granite countertops and all stainless steel appliances makes me shudder. Give me the bookcases full of books and the untidy corners.

  18. My house wants me to have far more money than I do...

    Then I'd add on rooms

    AFTER I did what the current rooms need....

    But basically I like your view of houses...

    If I could have what I wanted I'd have a sunroom / morning room and I'd have a dark cluttered library room with a fireplace and overstuffed chairs and lastly I'd have the kitchen at Poppyviews...

    And WAIT...out back I'd have a money tree...I'd pick money along with tomatoes and lettuce in the summer

    I think that I shall dream about all of this tonight :) It's fun, though! :)

  19. I couldn't agree with you more! My daughter has a 1950s ranch and took down walls so the living room, dining room and kitchen are now all open and I hate it. When we visit if anyone is in the kitchen the noise drowns out conversation or tv. And don't get me started on "We'll have to replace the kitchen". That is such a lie. They might want to replace the kitchen because they want everything brand new, but most of the time there is a functioning one present. It may not be modern and the latest style, but it has appliances, cupboards, sink, etc. The house hunters often some across as grossly entitled young snots.

  20. My home was built in the 40's its a tiny cape and its enough for me... I love the coziness of it.

  21. Dear Dewena,

    First, thank you for
    your visit and sweet
    comment. I'm glad
    the dread you felt at
    the blog title didn't,
    in fact, keep you from

    And, I just love your
    thoughts about houses,
    here. We have the open
    plan, as well, but once
    my last chick has left the
    nest {won't be long ~
    four years} then my hubby
    and I want something
    cozier, with the very nooks
    and crannies that you so
    beautifully describe.

    I'd have loved to have seen
    pics of your own house : )
    I wonder if it is a Rafferty type
    or the open plan?

    Happy Wednesday!

    xo Suzanne

  22. Hi Dewena, this post is wonderful! And Bryan's rooms are gorgeous! I've always enjoyed small cozy rooms with books and lamps and doors. My first house had a tiny isolated kitchen. Then suddenly my two sweet babies turned into big strapping teenage boys with friends and ...sports. So we sold our little house and bought my blue cottage. There were still small cozy rooms but an open kitchen to a den with a fireplace and a TV. I wasn't alone anymore and a funny thing happened! I fell in love with cooking (about time my husband said) and treasure all the time with my family talking, playing cards, doing homework and working on projects in the den! The house I live in now is afforded some great memories. Thanks for making me think and appreciate it even more.

  23. I love the character of Rafferty - he speaks to my heart, as well. What does the house want? Our downstairs in the little cottage is sort of open plan but that's because it's so SMALL! The den, though is off by itself and sunken, so that you have to take two steps down to be in the room. I love the idea of little pockets. I wish we had a bit more room so that we could have more pockets.


  24. I totally agree. I'll never understand all of that open floor plan stuff. I want to be in my kitchen creating and not out in the middle involving everyone. I love the photos because I always look at every room and try to create a cozy place to read. I guess that is just something readers do. Soon there will be no books.......sigh......
    My husband, the builder/remodeler would probably add to Rafferty's list...what the client wants that is structurally impossible. But then again, he thinks like a man. HAHA.
    PS, I am close to Fernandina.

  25. I'm with you. Though I love both styles, and even think they can exist side-by-side in the same house. My daughter and boyfriend's new house for example is open as you go in - with the living room/kitchen/eating area all one big space, but then you take a right and there is a hall with closeable rooms off it - a laundry room, and their bedroom which includes bath and closet. And the upstairs is the same - an open loft sitting area, and then a hall with bath and two bedrooms. To me it is the perfect mix of private and public.


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