the (real) houses i’ve loved

As I continue to seek inspiration for the Tilton room box, I’ve been reflecting on styles of “real” homes that have caught my eye along the way.

The first house I fell in love with belonged to my maternal grandparents. It was an old, Spanish-style home, two bedrooms, one bath, and just over 1,000 square feet. I didn’t know I loved it at the time. It was sort of like the “nice guy” boyfriend. Now, you have regrets, but at the time, maybe you took him for granted.

The house, located in San Diego just a mile from Balboa Park, had all of those features they don’t add to houses anymore: arched front door, curved ceiling in the living room, telephone nook, and art alcove next to the front door where grandma kept a statue of the Virgin Mary.

As small as the house was, it had a separate dining room off the kitchen, more of a dining “nook,” and passing through the nook, you’d land on a covered patio where my grandfather hand-fed cardinals.

One outstanding feature of the backyard was a massive, hot pink bougainvillea that climbed the sterile white stucco of the house. An old-fashioned kitchen garden, designed to be serviceable, not elegant, with multiple fruit trees and berry bushes, filled the rest of the yard. Grandma might have had a dryer, but she used the clothesline. I still remember the scent of sheets dried in the breezes.

Then, there was Sybil’s place. Like my dad, Sybil’s husband was stationed on the US Navy base in Rota, Spain. Most families lived on base, but Sybil and her husband chose a unique home “on the economy.”

From the street, you wouldn’t recognize its magic. There was just a long wall with a door. But open that door, and you’d encounter a massive arched window with a view beyond of a lush, private atrium. The scent of night blooming jasmine filled the interior–the plant literally spilled into the home from the atrium through an open bathroom window. The lighting was old and dim, which created a space full of mystery and romance, an interior that didn’t hand all of its secrets to a visitor with a passing glance.

My current aesthetic runs toward mid-century modern, which, unfortunately, has become super trendy. I love the simplicity of the style, and the nostalgia, But the main attraction is the walls of windows and incorporation of indoor-outdoor space.

Here is a modern version of the MCM. It was my dream home and it tore my heart out when I decided to pass on it.

The 1961 penthouse had a massive array of floor-to-ceiling windows that framed the skyline of the Southern California city of Santa Ana. There was a crazy glassed-in solarium that felt sort of 1970s-chic; step-up bathtubs, step-down closets; patios all around; soaring ceilings. It was 2,340 square feet of hands-down spectacular. And a price that was so unbelievable it left the potential buyer boom-a-ranging between “here’s a check” and “what’s the catch?”

But I walked away. And I still think about it all the time.

I walked away because nothing matters except what comes after the “but.”

As in, it’s perfect, but there is the unfortunate circumstance of a gang murder just two blocks away.

It’s perfect, but there is no guest parking. Literally. None. And on-street parking is permits only.

It’s perfect, but can I really face walking down six flights of stairs to the gang-y street at 4AM to find grass when my dog has an episode of upset stomach? Is there even grass in this neighborhood? No. There isn’t. Yikes.

And so, I walked away from my dream house, and back to my little attached home. It’s not ideal–there was the whole catalytic converter theft a couple of months ago, but no gang murders. Yet. Grass is located on the same floor as me. And with a little jiggering, I can manage guest parking for two. Sometimes three.

Home, sweet home.

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