Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ode to a Childhood Home

(This post first appeared on Apartment Therapy)

I spent this past weekend at my childhood home in Yonkers, NY, showing my daughter where Daddy grew up and helping my parents pack up a few final things before the big move. After thirty eight years, our old three-story Victorian will house some other lucky family. As I walked around the near-empty rooms it struck me how much that house shaped my ideas about space, architecture and design. While I will miss countless things about it, here are some details that epitomize why it will always be a treasured place to me.

2012Childhoodhome04.jpegLarge Doors: I never actually measured how tall the doors are but they loom large in my memory. Heavy, solid and substantial, they always made me feel secure and safe. I remember spending many an hour standing at the door, watching traffic go by and waiting for cousins to arrive. It was a treat to watch my daughter do the same thing.
High Coffered Ceilings: Nine-foot tall Christmas trees were not a problem in this house. The big tic-tac-toe boards on the ceilings mystified me as a kid but I know now that they helped me develop an appreciation for detail and trim work.
Antique Fixtures: I was surrounded by old stuff growing up, and not because my parents were collectors. Old wiring, plumbing and light fixtures were everywhere and fostered in me a love of finely crafted utilitarian antiques. I used to stealthily pull the lever on that black box at the top of the basement stairs, pretending I was a mad scientist entering his laboratory. I never told anyone because I knew my father would flip out. I finally told him about it this weekend. He flipped out.
Front Porch Flower Garden: I know it doesn't look like much now, but that little patch is pretty impressive in full bloom. This spot provided some good bonding time between me and my mother and introduced me to annuals, perennials and the importance of deadheading.
The Basement: This big dusty basement was the scene of all types of mischief and eventually became the practice place for a string of horrible bands in high school. The painted walls are remnants of when it was used as a set for an After-School Special, a little fact I still get mileage from today. After I learned a bit about carpentry I studied the rafters and posts to learn about load transfer and bridging.
The Renovated Kitchen: I know this kitchen that my dad and I renovated together will not win any design awards, and in fact it does not even match the rest of the house all that well. But it made my mom happy, and it was a huge step in the relationship between me and my father. The month or so it took us to get this done (and trust me, it was a bleak kitchen beforehand) caused my dad to see me in a new light and accept the fact that my carpentry skills had surpassed his own. We worked together as equals for the first time, and haven't looked back since.
Stained Glass: While this style of stained glass isn't my favorite, the fact that it can be found throughout the house definitely made an impression upon me. I realized stained glass wasn't just for our church down the street and that a little went a long way. I pledged that I would have stained glass in my own house, and I followed through on that pledge and made it happen.
The Old Phone: The ring of this phone is imprinted in my mind permanently. Learning to dial, calling girls, making prank calls--there is a lot of history in this heavy black machine. Believe it or not, though it is relegated to a dusty upstairs location, it is still connected and working. My parents plan to take it with them and hook it up in their new house. Nostalgia must run in the family.
Winnie the Pooh Wallpaper We moved into this house with my grandmother and uncle, who lived on the first floor. My family mostly lived on the second floor, with the third floor being me and my brothers' attic bedroom. It was a huge space with crazily angled ceilings and a view of the Hudson River and the Palisades. My dad must have hung this wallpaper back in 1974 when we first moved in. It is still there, cheerful as ever.

And finally, there is the front door lockset:
10-12 790 House lockset.jpg
What a handsome piece of work. Thousands upon thousands of openings and closings, locking and unlockings, and it never has failed or needed repair. It will undoubtedly be there for as long as people want it to be, and I hope that is a long time. And what is a lockset without a key:
10-12 790 House key.jpg
I have carried this key for over twenty-five years, even when I lived thousands of miles away. My key chain seems all wrong without it. Sigh.
Thanks for indulging my last look at a place that is as much a part of me as anywhere else on earth. Although I carry it with me in thousands of ways, I still miss it dearly.


  1. Well written as always my friend! Give my best to your folks... where are they headed?

    1. Just up the line a bit to live near my sister, a sad day but it was past time for the move.

  2. So touching, Richard. I would LOVE to own a house just like that one day. I love all of that old East Coast charm. I grew up in NH in a modern ranch my dad designed which had a lot of wonderful things about it, but I always longed to live in something more traditional. I still won't die happy until I can sleep upstairs and come down the stairs in the morning to the smell of breakfast. Total fantasy of mine.

    I'm sorry that place won't be in the family any more. I hope you were able to take a few pieces with you. Great post. :)

    1. Yes, I definitely took some pieces along for the memories. I have that walk down the stairs and smell breakfast memory form just about every weekend growing up, so I feel lucky.

  3. First time here and this post about made me weep. Hope it is in good hands with a family who appreciates and loves it as much as yours did.

    1. Thanks very much. I certainly share that hope, very deeply.

  4. Beautiful House, you will carry it always in your heart I think :) lovely post


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