As I close out a year that saw more changes than a newborn — a year during which I cleared out and sold my childhood home, sent my youngest off to college, moved into my fourth home in three years, and still managed to cover the gray — I am raising a Waterford crystal flute filled with something bubbly to toast….
… my editors, who make me look better than I am.
… the many experts I’ve talked with, who make me look smarter than I am.
… and my amazing readers, who remind me who I am — your humble home improvement scribe.
Last week I shared best lessons from the first half of 2013. Here’s what life taught me in the second half:
In July, I learned that those little design elements embedded in our homes mean something. Fleur-de-lis represent French pride, pineapples symbolize welcome, chevrons telegraph masculine dominance and rank, laurel wreaths are the sign of champions, and the ancient egg-and-dart motif means nothing less than life and death. Knowing what motifs mean matters. Using the right one in the right place separates the amateur decorator from the pro.
Lesson: Think twice before you wallpaper a baby girl’s room in pink chevron-patterns, or put chairs covered in fleur-de-lis fabric in a Japanese tea room.
In August, I came to terms with my attachment issues. While clearing out my elderly parents’ home, where they had lived for almost 50 nears, I let go of a lot of stuff. It felt like opening a vein. In the process, I came across an old brown crocodile purse my mother had kept tucked inside a red velvet drawstring bag, like a bottle of expensive liqueur. Inside, I found a brittle, folded-up menu from a big night mom had with my father, at a posh hotel in France decades earlier. It was a dinner she talked about for years. The butter came curled, she said. And they had escargot.
Though tempted to cling, I looked again at the purse, too passé to be fashionable, the handle cracked with age. I asked myself why she saved it, why I should. She saved it, I realized, to remind her of her dashing younger life, and to show me who she once was. The purse had done just that. I let it go.
Lesson: Whether you keep an object or let it go won’t change your connection to a loved one.
In September, I sent my youngest child off to college, and got predictably invested in her dorm décor. In a fit of mothering, I filled carts with bed-bug proof mattress protectors, x-long twin sheets, and accessories to coordinate with her comforter. Back home reality hit: While I had created her nest, mine was as empty as a discarded eggshell.
Grief expert Russell Friedman consoled me. “The definition of grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern or behavior,” said Friedman, co-author of Moving On. “An empty nest is that and more.” he said, then gave me this advice, and I am not making this up, I swear: “Remodel.”
I perked up. “I’m great at that,” I said.
“Only this time,” he said, “the remodeling is of your heart, your head, and, to a lesser degree, your home.”
Lesson: The job of the empty nester is to ask: Who am I now? Then think about how her home can reflect that. Maybe that playroom becomes an art studio?
In October, I spoke with someone who looks at real estate from the left, logical side of the brain, not the right, emotional one, which I use. Patrick Bet-David, a California-based financial adviser, is to the romantic notion of home ownership what sunshine is to fog.
“I was sold an American dream,” said Bet-David, 34, who immigrated from Iran 23 years ago. But the dream of owning a home was one he was willing to wait for. He rents.
“But being a tenant just isn’t the same,” I said. “You can’t paint or plant or plaster the way you want.”
“But you can be nimble,” he said.
There’s a lot to be said for that.
His advice: Don’t buy a house unless you have 12 months of house payments saved, and you plan to stay 10 years.
Lesson: “My message isn’t don’t buy a home,” said Bet-David, who’s buying his first home next month.
“My message is the American dream is not home ownership. The American dream is freedom.”
In November, I toured the home of the future, a home so smart it tells you when you’re being stupid. The smart home helps you eat right, exercise and take better care of yourself. “Health starts at home,” said Michael Voll, of Dais Technologies, the company behind many of the smart features of the Intelligent Home, in Lake Nona, Fla.
In the kitchen digital technology prompts healthy food choices and easy meals. In the master, an interactive mirror relays your weight, BMI, blood pressure, hydration level, and a little tough love: “Marni, you’re up two pounds, better hit the treadmill.”
While I’m not sure I want my freezer telling me to drop that pint of ice cream I’m going for, on the other hand, this is just the kind of house America needs.
Lesson: Home technology will soon play a much larger role in helping us be healthier, and for that, we should put out the welcome mat.
In December, I talked to homeowners who were downsizing up. They’re moving into smaller homes to have bigger lives. Lori Brown, 55, of Chicago, said good-bye to her 4,000 square-foot home in a lovely suburb, to move to a smaller luxury condo. “We’re excited,” said Brown, who’s looking forward to urban living. “Before, when I thought of people downsizing, I’d think they were compromising, but that’s not it at all. We’re making an upgrade.”
Lesson: Dream, plan, do. That’s my plan — and my wish for you — in 2014.