Brand building through storytelling

Selling my dream home

Our phone never rings after 10 p.m., but the other night it did while I was on my way to bed. I let my husband answer from two rooms away. “That’s wonderful news,” I heard him say. “We hope the new owners will enjoy living here as much as we have.” So it was done. They had accepted our counter-offer, just as I hoped—and feared. I threw myself on the bed and cried.

We’ve been homeowners for close to 30 years, and each of our three homes has been special in its way. Our first house, where our son grew up, won us over on sight with its three bay windows and elegantly understated details: the stained glass window in the hallway, the high curved ceiling in the dining room. So what if it had only one bathroom and no coat closet? It had what we craved, space and light. It all but whispered in my ear, “I’m yours.” The day we moved in, I ran up all three creaking flights of stairs, from the cavernous basement to the little room under the eaves that would become my office, overcome by sheer delight at acquiring this haven of our own.

We left it for a multi-leveled showpiece overlooking a ravine, like a tree house designed by an architect with a bold but standoffish sensibility. It had soaring spaces that the wind tore through on winter nights and broad floor-to-ceiling windows that exposed us in our bathrobes to passing rubber-neckers. This didn’t particularly trouble me, perhaps because I like to look through other people’s windows and believe in fair play. My husband is one of those guys (they’re all guys, in my experience) who like to stroll around naked. We’d been living the tree house for grownups for at least six years when he confessed he had never loved the place as I did, with all its hauteur and sharp angles.

“But you wanted to buy it!” I protested, momentarily forgetting that people spend years with spouses they never loved.

“It was the best house we could afford,” he said. “We had a checklist. It met the priorities.”

That didn’t make it a home, of course, any more than good manners and a deft hand in the kitchen make a date marriage material. Home is a state of mind. It’s about returning from the red rock canyons of Utah or the vineyards of Tuscany to your favourite place in all the world—to your books and your music and your chachkas that mean nothing to anyone but you. Home is where you kick off your shoes and leave them on the bedroom floor if you so choose.

Scrivener Family SmallOur high-end tree house expressed a certain vision of our public selves, not the people we were behind closed doors. So we moved on to a condo, lovingly designed from plans to combine expansiveness and comfort. Unlike our previous homes, where the movers dropped our stuff and décor took shape by happenstance, this one became a project that reflected everything we’d learned about the art of feathering a nest.

Then something unexpected happened. We did not lead the life we had intended to live there. We didn’t give the glossy parties that required “great flow.” We barely used large chunks of the space we’d envisioned seven years ago, in our long-gone corporate careers. And now it was worth a lot more than we’d paid for it.

I’m writing this at my built-in desk overlooking a neighbourhood with wide streets and mature trees that glistened with snow the night we sold our home. From this window I have watched the same trees bud in the spring before breaking into leaf with that pure, vibrant green that is gone by mid-June. This spring someone else will be sitting here—perhaps even ripping out the desk. A few years ago, friends of mine sold a cherished country property, built to last in the nineteenth century and painstakingly refurbished to modern standards. The new owners razed it and erected a monstrosity.

Part of the quiet glory of home is the illusion it creates of permanence. When Utah and Tuscany retreat into memory along with Mont Ventoux and Martha’s Vineyard, home has always welcomed me back with the pantry stocked the way I like it and the sun streaming through the window at the angle I know so well. I should be old enough by now to understand that nothing lasts forever, but in my clinging heart I’m not so very different from the child I used to be. I remember perfecting a sandcastle on a summer afternoon, and looking back at my creation with a pang of sorrow. Soon it would be washed away. How unfair!

I thought I knew what it meant to sell a home. After all, we’d sold two of them before (not counting my childhood home). But with those sales we were staking a claim. We broke into the market, thanks only to loans from our parents, and then we traded up. It’s different this time. We’re letting go.

Sailor DogI have no idea where we’ll be this spring. Surrounded by boxes, that much is clear. With every move, I keep a box or two of essentials to be unpacked first. They contain the obvious things like the coffee pot and the scissors, but also a few personal talismans. One will be the first book I loved, Margaret Wise Brown’s The Sailor Dog, in which a little boat becomes the coziest of homes for Scuppers, the wandering hero (if you’ve been following this site, you know how I feel about this wise and resonant book). This passage, in particular, still awakens my deepest nesting instincts after more then 50 years: “He put his hat on the hook for his hat, and his rope on the hook for his rope, and his pants on the hook for his pants, and his spyglass on the hook for his spyglass, and he put his shoes under the bed and got into his bed, which was a bunk, and went to sleep.”

Good night for now. I’ll be dreaming of home, wherever we find it.

Coming soon: My adventures in real estate.

Posted by Rona

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