Making a house a home

My husband and I have been married for nearly 22 years. When I look back on all the ways our homes have embraced us and all the changes we made along the way, I have to smile. We figured out how to make our house a home from the very beginning. Our first house was a condo he bought on his private Christian school teachers salary. It was a 2 BR, 1 BA on the second floor with partial views of the Chugach Range. It had vaulted ceilings tall enough for him to hoist his kayak. Merging belongings is no joke, but together we slowly negotiated what furniture to keep and sell, the kayak stayed, the futon/sofa went out, my couch came in, his green LaZBoy stayed. We weeded through kitchen duplicates and discussed reasons why the dishwasher shouldn’t be used for dish storage (he never used it, why shouldn’t it hold his pots and pans?). We loved that condo for it’s proximity to ski trails, walkability to local restaurants and for the sunlight that flooded our southeast facing bedroom on sunny mornings.

Here I am moving into the condo, you can see that beautiful Pygmy kayak hanging from the ceiling.

We bought our second home together about a year into our marriage. We had idly shared dreams of a house on a creek with a big back yard. With the help of our realtor, we found a house in an established neighborhood that had been converted to a duplex. It had no garage, but it was neat and tidy, and we didn’t mind that our half was only 900 sf. It was a bit bigger than the condo and the spacious back yard was filled with lilacs and chokecherry trees and it backed up to Chester Creek. We made a lot of memories in that house. We planted perennial gardens in the front and created a sweet vegetable bed in the backyard. We built a big, beautiful deck. We brought Abigail home and ensconced her in the nursery where we had built in a dresser and shelf unit and decorated with a birdhouse theme. A couple years in, we converted the duplex back to a house to make room for baby #2. Had we known we would be moving to a new-to-us house on the Anchorage Hillside before Kaes even arrived, we probably would have left the place like it was, but we were anxious for a little more space.

Here we are, shortly after moving day in the kitchen of our second home. The stacked washer and dryer as well as the eating area were right in the kitchen. Everything was so tiny! But we were happy.

House number 3 was a surprise. We got a call from our realtor explaining she had a special house to show us. As it turns out, it was a house some friends of ours were selling. I had spent time in that house and loved it’s setting and it’s warm style. It sat on an acre and was surrounded by ancient birch trees. It was a little over 2000sf. Roland toured it with me maintaining an air of skepticism. We could never afford it, our current house wasn’t ready for sale, etc. I went back again to see the house with Roland’s sister who happened to be visiting. The next week, we flew to Florida to visit Disneyland and to see friends. I had a lot of time on my hands because I was expecting Kaes and couldn’t ride the roller coasters. All those days in the Happiest Place on Earth thinking about that great house on the hillside in Anchorage. The day we returned from Florida, the price on the house dropped. We ran the numbers again. “If this house sold for “x” then we could maybe. . .” So we called our realtor. In the same hour, we made an offer on the house we couldn’t quite afford and at the same time listed our house for sale. A couple days later, our listing went live on MLS. We didn’t have a sign on it yet and it hadn’t even been photographed, when a family drove up to check it out. I was painting the front door purple with a can of “oops” paint we had found at Lowes. As I was watching the family drive up, my realtor called to say our offer on the other house had been accepted. I asked if it was okay for the family to walk through and the realtor said, “Sure!” We had a full price offer the next morning. It was meant to be.

We moved on September 1st and it snowed on us as we pulled into the driveway. Four months later, we brought Kaes home. This house felt like home before we even moved our furniture in. It had a large landing for boots and coats (very important in Alaska!), it had big windows with winter views of the mountains and all-time views of the forest. The downstairs had a huge playroom with a beautiful beast of a wood stove. We were so at home there, so comfortable. Those were years of growth and friendship. We often hosted our church based home group. We had countless birthday parties, sledding parties, snowball fights and family gatherings. We enjoyed our neighbors, built a fire pit, retiled both bathrooms and painted everything. Our biggest changes there happened in the kitchen where, at about 10 o’clock one night we demo’d the upper cabinets which separated the kitchen from the open concept living and dining room. We also spent about a week stripping wallpaper and painting the entire kitchen a deep blue. We loved that house.

Six years later, a job change for Roland forced a moved to Washington state. While we knew it was God’s calling to move, we weren’t at all happy with it. Our week-long house hunting trip was more stressful than fun. Out of the 20ish homes we looked at over four days, we chose the one closest to the local high school and what would become our church and with the easiest access to the freeway. I really disliked the house. In my eyes, it lacked the charm of our previous house in Alaska. It was a single level, very open concept home in a suburb on a scant quarter acre. It was difficult to get used to having neighbors so close around us. We had to repaint every pastel wall in the place, and I spent hours removing wallpaper border from most of the rooms. In the kitchen, we painted the cabinets, installed stainless steel appliances, replaced the cheap tile counters and brought in an island. One year, we replaced most of the cheap, white carpeting with stranded bamboo flooring. It took years, but now that house feels like home too. In part, it’s the changes we made to it, but it’s also a result of the memories we’ve made here. We’ve met great friends, we’ve hosted countless gatherings, we started a business, we encouraged our kids to do new things, and in the course of time, we’ve learned a lot of new things too. In short, we’ve learned that to make a house a home, we mostly need to build memories. The renovations come over time, but even those will eventually become outdated. Friendships and memories will last a lifetime.