Saturday, October 6, 2012

House Week Part 5: finding our place

Apologies to everyone for not posting this yesterday; I typically find my time to blog right before lunch at work and yesterday it just didn't happen. So without further ado, let's jump straight into how we got this here house I'm sitting in right now.

I mentioned on Thursday that towards the end of March The Irishman and I were getting rather fed up with the whole house search process. I had been hearing ridiculous stories from people at work about searches that went on for years, people finding a street they loved and stalking it, waiting for a home to come up for sale, and even flyering the street asking if anyone was considering selling so they could buy exactly the right house exactly where they wanted. The Irishman and I were horrified at the thought of continuing to look for a place for years, let alone months; we'd only been at it for 3 months and it already felt like a lifetime.

In mid-April we went to the US for a bit – me for 10 days, to see my family, and then to Florida for a wedding where The Irishman met me – and we chilled out. A lot. While we were away, the second granny house fell through and we both sort of just, I don't know, gained perspective I guess. We had been making this such a big thing, pinning all of our happiness and future plans on this ephemeral perfect house, and being amongst my friends celebrating a marriage made us realize that we were probably just making it a lot harder than it needed to be. We also realized that we were approaching the search from a "forever house" perspective; this is a term you hear quite a lot in the UK, which is sort of interchangeable with "family house," but essentially means the house you plan to spend most of your life in, raise your kids in, and really commit to. Our house was going to be the beginning – for a while, sure, but not forever – and thus it didn't need to have EVERYTHING. This was a biggie for me, this epiphany, and it helped me reconcile a lot of the issues I was having with finding exactly what I wanted in our price range... because it didn't have to have it all. It just had to have enough for both of us to be happy.

So we returned to the UK and made a bunch more appointments for viewings, intent on not letting the search take over our lives. The very next weekend, we saw what is now our house. The Irishman remarked to me as we walked up to the place that he was surprised I wanted to see this place; he had seen the listing and didn't think it was something I would be interested in, but I was intrigued and we had made a booking anyway. Afterwards when I was describing the house to a friend, she said I talked about it in a very different way to all of the other houses. She didn't say why, but she said this one sounded different. This all sounds a bit like dating, no?

And actually, it is exactly like that. You think you want something very specific in a partner and then you meet someone who makes you realize that actually, you don't need some of those things to be happy. So with this house, I didn't get a lot of things I wanted but I love it just the same.

To begin with, it's a modern build house. You might remember that on Wednesday I said that I didn't want a modern build, but I think I didn't want a house that felt overtly modern; I didn't want a house where everything was slick and soulless. This house was built as part of a mews development in the 1980s, and it looks like a cottage. It is set down a dead-end lane off of a main road, in between Church Street in Stoke Newington and Dalston Kingsland Overground station. The lane has a gate at the end, and when the gate is closed you feel like you're in another world, not in the middle of busy Hackney.

There is a garden, more like a patio, that is south facing and is a suntrap for most of the day. The kitchen is pretty old, and it separate from the rest of the ground floor so it will be the first thing we renovate (more on that very soon). The master bedroom is huge, and has a big closet (as does the spare bedroom). There is a huge walk in closet off the hallway which I would love to use as a small laundry room if possible. The bathroom is okay, not great, but will suffice until we get around to redo-ing it.

The main attraction of this specific house is that it has a converted loft, so we have 2 full bedrooms plus another room that can be whatever we like. Initial plans are to make it a hangout room for The Irishman, where he can watch sports unimpeded, and also where I can have my sewing machine and art stuff. But maybe it could be expanded further to make it the master bedroom, with an ensuite bathroom. The possibilities are endless, really.

And I think that's in the end what sold us on the house – the fact that there weren't limitations to it, rather tons of things we could do to it. Instead of having to worry about the roof, or updating the electrics, we can go straight into cosmetic improvements like putting in a new open-plan kitchen. The house was constructed in such a way that all of the load-bearing walls are on the perimeters, so any of the rooms can be reconfigured fairly easily. We don't need to get planning permission for most upgrades, as it's not listed, and The Irishman is confident he can do most of the DIY work himself to save money. With a period property, we wouldn't have been able to do too much ourselves as we would have had to consider the codes and restoration before even thinking about wallcolors.

What didn't I get? A fireplace, to start. Lovely plasterwork cornices and ceiling details. Original internal shutters in windows. The joy of having a piece of history. But as I said, these are things I can live without. Instead, I got something that we are already, 2 months in, making our own, making work for us and how we want to live where we want to live. And that in itself is priceless.

So I've just reread this and realized that I told you all about our place but not how it ended up becoming ours. I'll need to give you that in part 6 tomorrow. Stay tuned!

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