Saturday, December 18, 2010

Nesting, Part 1

By Rosanna's eldest daughter, Alessandra Wollner
About a week ago I signed the lease on my first post-college house. Despite the house’s quirks, I’ve fallen in love. From the moment I stepped across the threshold, I could feel it inviting me to fill these rooms, to make a house a home. It was an invitation I was more than happy to accept. 

It’s a big thing, moving into the first home of one’s own. Throughout this process, I’ve devoted significant psychic energy to one question: 

What makes a house a home? 
Nearly every waking hour finds me working on the answer to this question. The more I mull it over, the more answers I find. For now, here’s what I’ve got: 

Name Your Home
In Morocco, people name their houses—Dar Dmana, Dar Zaman, Dar Malek, Dar Afram. In Arabic dar means “house.” Morrocan transplant and writer Tahir Shah devoted two whole books to depictions of life at Dar Khalifa (The Caliph’s House), his home hidden deep in the heart of a Casablancan shantytown. 

I like the idea of naming a house. It acknowledges the fact that every house has a personality and a story, like us. Naming your house works the same way a pet name does; it deepens your fondness, drawing you closer to the object of your affection.   

Everything about our new house, from the inlaid wood floors to huge, verdant garden, feels charmed. And somehow, each furniture piece and decoration we add looks like it belonged here all along. In light of this enchanted environment, it felt natural when we started calling our new home “Magic House.” 

"Dar Danai" 

The Usable Used and the Free Store 
 “Home” to me means a place with soul. Homes acquire soul over time, which is why I much prefer to live in old houses rather than new ones. Magic House was built in 1890. 

The accrual of soul is the reason I furnish my home with previously owned or vintage objects and furniture. Chips and paint scratches welcome. Some people prefer the look of new Ikea products to found objects from their local thrift shop—that’s fine. Aesthetics are, after all, a matter of taste. I will maintain one thing: it’s easier than you think to find what you’re looking for secondhand; you just have to put a little time into the search. 

Almost anything you can imagine wanting already exists out there, slightly used but still perfectly usable. All it takes is a trip to Goodwill and a quick jaunt through ebay to realize that our world is stuffed with stuff. Now that I’ve seen what’s already out there, I find it nearly impossible to justify the purchase of anything new. Buying items secondhand is the way to go. It’s environmentally responsible and pretty fun, thanks to the thrill of the chase. Finding the thing I’m searching for often requires a little digging, but when I stumble upon it at last, the discovery always thrills me. Be forewarned: it’s also a little addictive.  

If you don’t care for Goodwill or flea markets, and lack the patience for online trolling, there is another place you can look. It’s close to home, you never encounter other shoppers there, and the prices can’t be beat. I’m talking about your parents’ basement. I call it “the Free Store.” 

Luminescent, Not Fluorescent
I detest overhead lighting. It’s unpleasant and harsh. Buy lamps. Floor, table, wall, whatever. Use 60-100 watt bulbs. If you’re not in the mood to buy new lighting, at least replace the harsh bulbs in your overhead fixtures with lower wattage alternatives. Full disclosure: these bulbs aren’t environmentally noble like halogen bulbs or fluorescents, but in this case I’m willing to bend my environmental ethics a little for the sake of an agreeable ambiance. 

This one is obvious, and almost stupidly easy to execute. Here’s how: 

Buy a bag of votive candles. 
Take them home. 
Put them in holders.
Light them. 
If you don’t have holders, light the candles anyway. 

Any candlelight, even naked, adds instant warmth and sophistication to a space. Whenever my friends come over for dinner, they’re always inordinately impressed by the presence of lit candles. At which point I pull out the bag of unlit votives and reveal their country of origin: CVS. 

Original Art 
Original art and ambient lighting are the keys to making a space your own. Original art displays your aesthetic and creates an atmosphere unique to you. Note the adjective here—original art. Van Gogh still lifes, Matisse cutouts, and Warhol Campbell’s Soup prints do not count as original art. 

If you’re worried about cost, don’t be. Original art doesn’t have to be expensive. Take a trip in to your local thrift or antique store. I guarantee you’ll find at least one thing worth hanging on your wall that costs between $5-$50. Another good place to keep an eye out is at your weekly farmer’s or flea market. Local artists often make appearances at these venues to get their work out to the public. Etsy is another place to find a treasure trove of cool, original art. Watch out though—the site is extensive. Sucks me in every time.

My favorite way to procure original art by far is to collect work done by friends and family. When I can, I buy their pieces to support their work. Sometimes though, I get lucky and they give me a painting, print, drawing, or sculpture, much to my delight. A growing collection of paintings by my stepmother, Barbara Van Wollner, populates my walls. Whenever I move, I find a new place of honor to hang a painting by a visionary family friend, Carols Perez. Recently, we received a housewarming gift from Janet Delaney, a photographer who also happens to be a friend, mentor, and the mother of a college friend. Seeing her print in our kitchen every morning never gets old.

I love looking at these pieces and knowing someone I love created them. Needless to say, owning pieces by such brilliant artists whom I personally know also comes with an excellent set of bragging rights. 

By Janet Delaney

By Carlos Perez

By Barbara Van Wollner

Returning to the original question—What makes a house a home?—it’s obvious that our answers will vary; our homes are intimate reflections of our selves. Our homes telegraph our personalities and values to everyone we invite inside. In them we display items that expose our passions and hang photos that reveal whom we love and where we’ve come from. Regardless of how differently we answer that question that inspired this post, it’s undeniable that all of us seek the same essential things from our homes: comfort, safety, and rejuvenation. So—

How does comfort look? 
What makes you feel safe? 
What restores you? 
The key to figuring out what makes a house a home hinges on articulating the answers to these three questions and envisioning them. Once you do that, then congratulations—

you’re home. 
 *Still thinking about what makes a house a home. Check back soon for Nesting, Part 2

Magic House

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