Its 2002 and we are looking for a new house. We find one built in 1937, just before the war. It is modest but has delusions of grandeur with servants’ bells and a scullery. The owner Maureen lived in the house since 1937, her husband’s Uncle giving them the house as a wedding present. He kept his car in the garage and rarely drove it out. No one uses garages for cars on the road now she tells us. We will be family number two in the house. All she asks is we keep two bright pink Hydrangeas in the front garden she planted when she arrived. The house is perfectly in tact, with its steel windows, eccentric tiling, brass curtain rails. A nautical rope is attached to the wall to help her get up stairs. “I suppose you will knock the back down and build a big kitchen”, she says, pointing at the scullery clearly sorry that health has required her to leave her home. I say no but think yes. I am an architect and its 2002, everyone is building bigger.
It is 2009 and I am sitting in the window of the breakfast room talking to a reporter. She is here to talk about the house, she is writing a feature on architects working on their own homes. It is lashing rain outside. We talk seriously about how the cedar windows will weather grey outside, nodding together at the rain. I talk to her about Maureen and how, in the end, we didn’t knock anything down. I keep talking and I quote Wordsworth to her and say I believe that houses – homes – when built and occupied have a “motion and a spirit”. They are somehow alive. I talk about how I think my job as an occupant was simply to offer it life support, to keep it going. I say I am curious as to who choose the tiles for the bread oven in 1937 or where the curtain rails came from. I say as we use the house now we sense the hands of the men (they were men), who made the kitchen and the windows, how their input contributes to the story of my home. I say I feel this, pulsing, daily. She looks at me nodding, smiling, although I notice she has stopped writing.
It is 2015 and we are about to move and leave the house. A third family is coming. I worry about the future of the house. I imagine driving by and seeing the perfectly tailored plywood kitchen in a skip someday. What if all of the oak and cedar joinery is painted white someday? I worry for the house, or at least I think I do. Maybe I worry more for the architectural project that it will somehow, in my own architectural terms, be destroyed. I wonder if how the new owner will use it and consume it will actually, ultimately destroy it. There is a constant, palpable tension between the architect and the occupant, between the home being a picture-perfect architectural work or a place for me to act in and upon. I look to the front garden where the gaudy hydrangeas once were. We had dug them up within a week.