Sippican Cottage

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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

I’m Going To Say Something Rude Now

[Editor’s Note: Written two years ago. In the interest of verifying “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is,” one cannot help but notice the author and his family moved into a somewhat larger version of this shed one year ago. Reposted with comments intact, as they are so trenchant.]

[Author’s Note: There is no editor, and there are a lot more squirrels and bees in my house than in that shed.]

Here it comes: I would rather live in this shed than in your house.

Click on the picture. It’s a very high resolution shot. Look at it. It’s beautiful.

I’m generalizing, of course. It’s possible that I’m not referring to you. But there are so few of you that are exceptions to my impertinence that I simply say it matter-of-fact-like: Your house has no soul. It’s got no anima. It’s a misshapen plastic lump dedicated to the exaltation of your car and your television. It is the bastid love child of a realtor with the taste of a vegas hooker and a contractor with a prominent eyebrow ridge.

It makes you unhappy. You don’t know that, because many of the ways it does that are subtle. Paying for the damn thing, though it brings you little pleasure, is not so subtle.

I do listen to people a little in these matters. I watch them a lot. And what they do about their house cancels out what they say about their house every time.

You tell me that absolute neatness is paramount. Then I see you camping out in one little corner of your house in a midden of messy but prized possessions.

You tell me you want to luxuriate in a whirlpool while reading poetry with candles next to an open window. Then I see you showering in a hurry in a room with all the shades drawn. The spiders like your jacuzzi, so it’s not going to waste, exactly.

You tell me that you like your television over the mantel in the living room. I see you turning one room after another into a “den”, then eventually building additional rooms, trying to make a comfortable place to look at a screen. I call your living room the “Furniture Mausoleum” when you’re not around. Sorry.

You tell me how much money and effort you’ve spent to make your home perfect. Then I watch you leave it, gladly, on any provocation. You can’t wait to escape your homemade Colditz.

You’ve explained to me in some detail that under no circumstances should you be expected to pay any attention to the maintenance of your house. If a material can deteriorate in any way, and so require the touch of a hand, it’s verboten. So you flee your vinyl house for a vacation in Tuscany and wish your house had soul like the one with grime from the 17th century still visible in its stucco.

You spent $35,000 on windows, and then boarded them up with blinds and drapes because they don’t look at anything.

No stranger can ever find anything in your kitchen without asking, or find a bathroom.

The sun doesn’t shine in your windows, except in your eye when you’re trying to sleep.

It’s impossible for guests to sleep comfortably at your house, though it covers 3500 square feet and is two stories high.

You can’t prepare actual meals from raw materials in your kitchen.

You feel isolated but have no privacy.

You exit and enter your house every day by bumping into a trash can in an unlit warehouse for your car. Your dog wouldn’t.

There are birds in your yard and you’ve never seen them.

You tell me all the live-long day you adore your house, but when your mortgage is ten cents more than your Zillow estimate you mail the keys back to the bank.

It may just be that my idea of what a house should be is dead. I have to respect other people’s opinions, after all, especially about their own affairs. I might tell people they shouldn’t do things, but I’m not interesting in telling people they can’t do things. I mostly try to dwell on the positive in these matters, but if my opinions about housing were unleashed, I’d make Gordon Ramsey look circumspect in comparison. In a way, my cottage furniture business is a rearguard attack in this regard. I’m trying to save the entire stock of housing in America one end table at a time. Big job. It would be unwise to bet on me. But it’s always unwise to bet against me, too. I sense that many are dissatisfied with their abodes now but are confused about the genesis of the feeling.

I’ve watched the “Let’s Wander the Earth with a Floozy Realtor and Choose Between Three Tawdry Split-Level Houses” show with my wife, and my advice to all the prospective homebuyers is the same. I yell at the screen: nuke all of them from orbit, and maybe you can make something pleasant out of the hole.

37 Responses

  1. You’ve hit it spot-on, of course. And while guilty of some charges, yes, it was the least offensive option at the time.

    And I still lust after the old Sears house we passed over. Small closets, cozy, and wood so old that it would burn in 5 minutes. But it had a lit doorbell with a crescent moon on it. I wanted that doorbell. And the wood.

  2. I live in a house that is nearly 100 years old and is made of good, hard, solid wood. It’s not huge – 2 bedrooms, one bath, but it’s got lots of windows (original – not fancy storm ones) and lots of heart.

    I do love my house. And how could one take away from a beautiful wood-worked mantle by hanging a gaudy TV over it?

    I’m guilty, however, of having to much STUFF. Books stacked everywhere. Too many useless knick-knacks.

    I think I’ll take a new look and clean some stuff out!

  3. Oh, this is depressing. Because the odds of me living, for the foreseeable future, in such soulless abodes is pretty much 100%. Someday, though… Someday…

  4. This is exactly how I feel roaming the new neighborhoods around here.
    It is almost painful to see those oversize vinyl nightmares stuck in miles of perfectly manicured lawn. So impeccable, so cold, so under utilized.
    I long to see all these houses come to life one day. Open windows and the smell of home cooked meals. Clothes drying on the line and hoses, not sprinklers, watering the plants. People actually chilling in those huge porches, chatting while kids destroy the lawn with their games and run in and out of the driveways in their bikes. Dogs rolling on the flower beds while birds feed in fruit fallen from actual trees.

    I live in a rented condo. But my dream home is pretty close to that shed.

  5. You would like my house (detached garage, old style, is way out back). My husband and I built it when we were 25 and 29, when we were still young and foolish enough to not know what we were getting into. Poured the slab one Christmas Eve, moved into one room 5 months later with a garden hose and a power line strung over the wall from the neighbor. That was in 1977. Still here, 32 years later.

  6. Dang. A 9-over-6 window on a shed.

    Never have lived in anything built since 1930 (1929, 1918, 1864, 1812, 1896, 1924, 1820). Plumb walls and level floors are too disorienting. Was fortunate to find a wife who tolerates this idiosyncrasy. Around this time of year I can hear the Baltimore orioles singing to each other from pretty much any room in the house.

  7. I dream and yearn for that shed. I once lived in one just a little larger and just a little taller in the hills of Berkeley, CA. I was happier there.

  8. I feel your pain Sippican.

    I live in a house that was designed by a well known architect and built in the international style by a crazy German doctor in the 1960’s. Employed by the old Atomic Energy Commission, he performed experiments on prisoners in the state penal system of a “irradiate the family jewels” nature. Dr. Karl and his art collector wife Metta raised exotic birds and South American anteaters on the property and as as you might imagine of someone with his particular job description, was known by the neighbors to consume copious quantities of Gallo red wine by the gallon jug. I still find the old green bottles occasionally when clearing brush around the place. If this place had any more soul and personality, I would run screaming in the night from it.

    As a realtor out on the northwest corner of the continent, I see first hand the depressing lack of imagination on the part of most home owners. I can’t count the number of times I have seen an older home that looks promising on the exterior only to find upon entering an “updated” interior featuring Ikea pressboard cabinets, “real wood look” laminate flooring and of course that hallmark of contemporary quality, genuine granite countertops. “Yes” I say as their eyes light up, “I belive that is real granite…I’m so happy for you”. “Good thing the original solid maple cabinets and old growth clear fir floors were sent to the land fill”.

    To maintain what little is left of my sanity I have speciallized my real estate business into a niche market of homes with architectural integrity whether they be modern or traditional. I could probably make more money being enthusiastic about the benefits of hardyplank siding over “old fashioned wood” but more than likely at the risk of doing violence to myself or others.

    In a previous career, my brother and I did period restorations on older homes for a few well to do clients. They would pay a premium to restore what the majority today would think of as dated or lowbrow. On one particular job we restored rather than replaced, every dried out, painted shut sash wighted window in a 14,000 sq ft 1911 Georgian Revival to the tune of about 100K. The owner no doubt could have spent more on new vinyl double pane, low E, smooth action wizbang low maintainence widows. It would have wrecked the place. That guy had soul and the will to see that his house did as well. Some people just don’t know what they have. A sign of the times I guess.

  9. TV screen over the mantlepiece. Ick! The ultimate in modern, uncomfortable, phillistine barbarity. Looking up at such a monstrosity gives me a splitting headache in 30 minutes. How many people pretend not to feel the same discomfort I admit to when watching something on that flat screen?

  10. Thinking you didnt describe my little 104 year old house at all lol…… my doors are never locked and me chickens wander in and out of me stone floored kitchen….. this is a house of love and laughter, music and antique jugs overflowing with flowers…….

    I LOVE the little wooden house and when my lads have all flown the nest as much as I love my little house that I have lived in for 28 years, I will find a new resting place……and that little wooden house would just about fit the bill….


  11. I know what you mean. So many houses have no personality. Mine is not great, but it’s what I could get in the neighbourhood I wanted. Despite its failings you would have no trouble finding the bathrooms. ;o)

    The first house we ever bought was a little pre-fab bungalow, but some earlier owner had done the living room floor in diagonal hardwood, with a matching wall that wrapped around to the hallway, beautifully beveled at the corner. There was an octagonal hole cut in the wall between the large eat-in kitchen and the living room and framed in wood. I put a piano against that hardwood wall but there was no way I was going to drive a nail in it or cover it up any more than that. We forgave that house a lot of failings for the sake of that wall and that hole. The mature trees and over-sized lot for our five kids didn’t hurt either.

  12. The problem is too many people spend too much time and money to impress others rather than comfort themselves.

    My problem is I don’t care what you think. I will live my life and raise my children my way. If you don’t like it, pull your nose back out of my door before I slam it.

    How impressive can it be to own a cookie cutter of the one next door? And yet, that seems to be everyone’s goal. One shade darker on the counter tops than next door, but otherwise the same brick, the same vinyl siding, the same weeping freaking cherry tree in the same corner of the front yard and same foreign car in the driveway.

    Sorry, not my cup of tea.

    And I must say, my dear Mr. Cottage, many more opinions like this and we may need to appoint you as an honorary Redneck, despite your Yankee roots.

  13. A Yankee?

    Don’t call me that. You’ll ruin it for me with my brethren ignorant Hibernian bogtrotters.

    Interesting comments today. Thanks everyone for reading and commenting and linking.

    And the only man who can give me a run for the money at writing a Blogger Profile, Gagdad Bob, is here to make a mordant joke.

  14. (I too—with no small amount of envy and sighing—noticed the window in the cottage.)

    I live in a spacious comfortable house built in the 30s. It has the original wavy-glassed windows, creaky wooden floors, cross and bible doors with glass doorknobs and ornate nickel-plated escutcheons, and thick plastered walls. It oozes charm and character.

    Unfortunately my dear Sippican friend, Husband and I freeze in the winter and bake in the summer because there is no insulation in the walls. And we live in mild south Texas.

    That soul-sucking, but well insulated box has a certain amount of appeal.

  15. Bingo! Every remodeling project at our house aims to make another corner more useful and cinviting. My wife likes the remodeled book and TV room so well she naps there. And I save money, since she can sleep just as soundly to basic cable as to HBO or Showtime.

    BUT, it ain’t the houses that are dead, it’s the occupants.

  16. Mr. Cottage,

    Herself and I reside in a newly built (Spring ’08) Craftsman style home dead smack in the middle of Galveston Island, Texas. Yep, we moved in just five weeks before the storm.

    Having shipped aboard just under two inches of Hurricane Ike’s rising waters (we’re on 5′ pilings, driven 36′ into the sandbar). Not one iota of wind damage, happy to say, but the floors, subfloors and bottom 2′ to 4′ of sheetrock were toast.

    The insurance is affording us such joys as Bruce engineered oak flooring, as well as two rooms of Kenpas tropical wood. Tile for the kitchen and two baths, too.

    Granite countertops? Of course, she says! So, we’ve got ’em. Nice, but I’d have been glad to hand-tile the countertops. (Know which battles to fight!)

    Still, I have only one subcontractor doing the heavy lifting such as subfloors and sheetrock. I’m doing most of the finish work myself, including some (if I may say so?) pretty damn stunning tile work.

    I tend to work tile to tolerances of +/- 1/64th in shower corners, and +/- 1/32 in floor patterns. I usually better those tolerances, and am adept at “correcting” for typical out-of-square spaces.

    All Italian porcalain, save for the guest tub enclosure, which is ceramic with some very pricey glass trim and an 11″x14″ art tile framed in under the shower head.

    I’ll send photos if you’d like. I’d welcome (soliciting, actually), your input, critique, suggestions and reccomendations.

    Point being, I’m trying to both improve on the builder’s grade crap which came with the house, (carpet, cheap vinyl “wood” flooring, formica, etc) as to bring it up to a quality standard.

    I’m striving to make it more liveable with improved lighting, plumbing and applicances.

    It’s 1,400 sq.ft, 3/2/1, with the garage detatched, about 1/2 it’s length setback from the house’s front elevation.

    Oh, did I mention that I’m building in a semi-hidden cat’s bathoom ‘tween the hallway and guest bath?

    We’re at about the 80% completion point, so it’s substantially done, but there’s always the “next” project.

    For me, that’ll be getting the most out of the 10’x10’ 3rd bedroom, which is dedicated to my reloading bench, safe, library, bar and humidor.

    I’ll peruse the wares on your site for ideas and likely purchases, and to repeat, I’d welcome your ‘sales pitch’ as regards what you’d see wise for me to acquire.

    There is no reason for this wee house to be ordinary, is there?

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

    P.S. Our 42″ flatscreen’s base is but 2′ above the floor. I join the chorous in despising ’em mounted at whiplash height.

  17. I was sent the details of a property called ‘bastard hall’ in the small town of ‘much wenlock’ today. house was rebuilt in 1400’s after fire in original 1200’s house…character indeed.

  18. I owned a house once. it was built in 1923, very small, but it had one thing I loved: a covered back porch.

    What a joy to sit there, and read, and entertain.

    – Mikey NTH

  19. Not guilty either! 1959 ranch, with the original formica countertops, linoleum floors, hallway-cum-bowling alley and drapes. Yes, DRAPES. Built by the man who died in the (now our) bedroom with his own two hands for his own family.

    My house has a soul.

    Those of many, many, many of my friends – well, sadly they’re in the house you’re talking about.

  20. Interesting comments. Love them all.

    Jim- I’m interested in Texas type furniture. There was a general range of stuff I associate with it from the late 1800s. They had some plain, Shaker-type stuff, but it tended to more a sort of simplified Empire style. Substantial. Dark. Walnut a lot, which is getting a little more affordable these days as a raw material. Due for a little revival.

  21. Ah, the AEC – that brings back memories. I grew up near there, most of my neighbors worked there.

    When we moved away from there we moved into a house built in 1790. Nice place. I worked for years restoring it and now hope to never see a bit of horse hair plaster again.

    Now I live in a frame house, 1984, with vinyl siding. I have built 5 sheds in the yard. Some have real style. Some don’t. I just built an addition on one shed – funny thing is, when I stand back and look at the addition, it has classic Greek proportions. Happened by chance – go from here to here, make the walls as tall as this board plus that one, and slope the roof up to there. Funny how that worked out, in retrospect.

    The yard is mostly natural area. I have lots of insects and lots of birds. Have seen Luna moths emerge year after year.

    The dogs and cats and I are very comfortable here.

  22. As much as I like that shed I’d rather live in my Saussy Burbank house here in SC. It has the greatest feature ever– no mortgage, thanks to getting out of SoCal at exactly the right time.
    Which allows me to look at some of your furniture…

  23. Looks like a monkey clinging to the cross at the roof peak. Can't quite tell.

    You are such a romantic. How'd you ever keep the snakes out? My $50 house, yep, paid cash for it, and for all the remodeling too, has had it's share of snake visitors, and other critters too. I like my redwood siding, my ipe' deck, my loft; don't have an idiot box. I like that best.

  24. Just now I'm renting on the edge of Galveston Bay. The place is cookie cutter. The view isn't. I'd have to pay 1.5 million if I bought this view.

    But one day I'll retire from varnishing and move away from the coast, as I don't relish the thought of evacuating myself from hurricanes at 80 years of age.

    I don't know where I'll go. I just know I'll never be able to buy. Still, I might find something like that shack to rent.

    When I bought my last car 20 years ago, I asked only for a two place drink holder and a good sound system. My needs for a new home are equally simple – trees, a front porch, windows for a cross draft and an internet connection.
    How hard could it be?

  25. Isn't the thread running through this piece a condemnation of materialsm — roughly a belief that more, and more expensive, and more trendy stuff will make us happy?

    The point of that shack in the picture isn't that they put a large window in the small wall, but that (we assume) they lived there, and had happy moments there, just like they'd have in a new McMansion.

    It's not the granite counter tops or latest version of harvest gold appliances that will make us happy. What will make us happy is what we do with them…

  26. Looking for my next home. I have told the realtors I speak to that I want a home built before I was born (1940) and if it has vinyl siding or aluminum siding or asphalt or asbestos shingles, I will just walk on by thank you very much. I want a big kitchen, one where I can cook and visit and eat with friends. I really don't give a damn if it has a dining room at all. I want a place to put all my books (8 5 shelf bookcases and counting) and a place for my internet thingy and a place for my old Luxman stereo set and my records and CD's. I have not watched a television show in years and don't miss them at all. I definitely want a fireplace that works and I have to have trees and space from the next door neighbor and a place to grow some herbs and tomatoes and green beans and peppers. I also want to live where I can stroll down to the coffee shop for Saturday morning breakfast and do some shopping and then stroll home. I want a porch where I can sit and chat with neighbors. In short, I want my parent's home in the kind of neighborhood where I grew up.

    I would also like that home you put up here a few months ago where Lindbergh grew up. That house really spoke to my soul.

  27. This is timely, Sipp. I'll be looking for a new place this year. I may not escape another dreaded snout house, but we shall see. Oh, yes, we shall see…

    Also – funny seeing my old self up there. I had forgotten all about that sketch. Thanks for the re-post!

  28. The thing I like about an old house is the iron wood. Wood cut dimensionally, from old timber. Impossible for even Hulk Hogan to drive a nail into.

  29. Found your blog via the link on The Colorist – great read!

    Thoreau would no doubt be in complete agreement with you here, and I really can't argue, either.

    Interestingly, we recently (as in 2 weeks ago, today) moved into a 2008 fancy-pancy condo in the sweet section of town. It has many features you describe: luxury master bathroom with spa tub (why?), beautiful wood doors, granite counter-tops, etc…stuff I could care less about. It was built by someone who is more interested in trappings than functionality. My favorite features are the outside decks and the views.

    My solution to this issue you discuss, albeit a temporary one, is to go live in a tent for a while, in some amazing area that is generally devoid of people. That usually necessitates a drive on a rough backcountry road and/or backpacking in areas 99% of the population will never see.

    It cleanses the spirit and rejuvenates the soul. I heartily recommend it!

  30. My house has soul. It's artsy, cluttered and lived in. Nothing like the sterile ones you describe. I'll think of this post next time I get frustrated that it doesn't look perfect. Thanks for putting it all in perspective for me.

  31. Hi Julie- I like the new pitcha with your youngin better.

    Hi Casey- I once renovated a house that was a stagecoach stop at one time. Under the clapboards, it was sheathed with oak boards an inch thick, sawn from the trees that were on the lot at the time it was built. It was about impossible to drive a nail in them. Iron wood, indeed.

    Hi Sonya- Thank you for reading and commenting.

    Hi Susan- Your place sounds nice.

  32. My parent's house is a 1950's ranch, but it has none of the flaws you mention. Until the last few years Mom was still a little sad that they didn't get a house with a basement; but given the last few years' rains, she has decided that slab is good.

    It's not an expensive house and our local brick is kinda yellowish; but it's worn well, and the yard is beautiful, and the big picture windows do have things to look at. (Also, the dogs have always been happy to use them to keep an eye on things, front and back.) Every room in the house gets good use, even now that it's just the two of them and the Irish wolfhound. The cabinets are plain woodwork, but solid and useful. Everything is right where you want it.

    Granted, some of the infrastructure of the house (the crawlspace, the weird wiring scheme) started out a bit scary and has gotten worked on over the years to make it better. But there's something to be said for suburban boxen; they're really not all alike.

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