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My House and I Undergo Makeovers

as published in The Boston Globe “My First Home” column July, 2016

This summer my house and I are celebrating 30 years together, although with so many modifications we hardly recognize each other anymore.

When my first husband and I purchased our home in Bedford a year after we married, this mid-century California contemporary high on a hill seemed like the perfect starter house — in part because we saw it in May, conveniently forgetting what Mother Nature does to steep New England driveways come winter. (A rookie mistake, yet we survived thanks to the former owner forgetting to cancel his snowplow service and, later, a commitment to four-wheel-drive vehicles.)

The split-level footprint offered plenty of space, with three bedrooms, 2½ baths, a modest open kitchen/living area, high ceilings, a finished basement, and multiple decks. Yet it also required myriad improvements. Not only were the floors and fixtures fatigued and fresh paint necessary, but the sliding-glass door in our bedroom opened onto, well, nothingness. Walk out the slider and you would drop 5 feet — to the grubby grass of a backyard. In front, a jungle of trees and underbrush couldn’t mask an abandoned concrete shell awaiting a finished garage.

Bit by bit we made the place whole. Unfortunately, after I gave birth to our daughter four years later, the house stood rock solid, but our home life collapsed. He left, and my baby and I remained. I thought of moving, but a wise realtor suggested that I stay.

Time marched on, and after dating for a while the man who would become my current husband, the two of us stood one day in the well-worn wallpapered kitchen of the home he shared with his elderly mother. I blurted, “I could never live here.” Steve didn’t skip a beat: “I could live in yours.” I felt thankful he not only tolerated my lack of subtlety but also grasped that the way to my heart was through my house. He and his daughter moved in the following year.

We made it our own by adding a master bedroom suite and a backyard lawn with a flower garden. And we created a prettier front yard; we removed the underbrush, added perennials, and put in a patio. By the time the girls moved out, we had also renovated the kitchen and knocked down trees, welcoming more sunlight.

Multicolored falls and white winters are stunning on our hill, and Steve and I blossom in spring and summer, dining daily with pride on our deck overlooking the plants that dirty my fingernails.

This past year, when a realtor suggested that our next-door neighbors renovate before listing their house, I swore that would never happen to us — or our house. So we removed the 1966 green tiles from the guest bathroom, gutted and redesigned the kids’ bathroom, retired rugs, refinished hardwood, and swapped hollow doors for solid. We plan to enjoy our realtor-ready home for many more years.

When I moved in at age 30 I had neither wrinkles nor gray hair. Today, while hair dye somewhat conceals my age, my encroaching wrinkles shout “sixty.” The house, at 50, is hardly recognizable from back in the day either, but with its endless structural and cosmetic tweaking, it has aged in reverse. (Not fair!)

As my home and I celebrate the anniversary of our 30-year union, we are glowing. We grew up together and are living happily ever after.


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