Friday, August 19, 2011

Curiouser and Curiouser

My husband and I have reservations at a bed and breakfast in the near future. We have visited several different B and Bs in the past and we have found them much more enjoyable than staying in hotels (when we can afford it). Sigh. They can be pricey. People either love them or love their privacy too much to share a bathroom or the breakfast table with strangers. Some people won't even consider it. It's probably cultural.

Our favorite B and B is The Jabberwock Inn, based on Alice in Wonderland, with quotes from the story and bits of whimsy in unexpected places. A converted convent, it sits perched on a steep street directly up from Cannery Row in Monterey, California. You can see it here, if you'd like. It's been quite a few years since we've been there - way back before the economy took a nosedive.

What is it about invading the home of strangers and eating at their breakfast table that is so appealing? I think it brings out the voyeur in me. Of course, I don't invade their privacy or wander out of proper bounds. I simply wonder what it would be like to live there, to sit on the porch overlooking the bay every morning and smell the old-house scents and hear the wooden stairs creak and the clock ticking in the hall. To be awakened by barking sea lions and surf, with the fog lacing through the branches of a craggy cypress outside the window. It makes me want to crawl into someone's skin and write. I want to know the past inhabitants, their stories of happiness and loss, of sacrifice and devotion. To witness them marching through their days of monotony and tragedy and miracles. Curiouser and curiouser.

I think it's a sad fact that if you want to sell your house you are advised to 'stage' your home by putting away any and all personal items. Prospective buyers need to imagine their own possessions in your living space and not be distracted (or put off) by yours. I understand the concept, and I know it works. But haven't you walked through an open house and caught glimpses of family life, despite their best efforts? You can't hide the stories. There might be a little handprint pressed in the cement patio or a giant bag of 'large breed' dogfood in the garage. The scent of Old Spice in the bathroom or Youth Dew in the master bedroom. Perhaps one side of the closet is empty. Maybe the upholstered chair shows claw marks or an outline of a child's drawing has bled through the paint on the bedroom door. Are they selling the house to move closer to relatives or have they lost their home to foreclosure? Are they expecting a new addition to the family and need more room, and would that be a baby or an elderly grandparent? Very different stories with different endings.

If you look around your home, even without any personal items displayed, what would it say about you? Consider the general appearance. Are you a fastidious neat-nick or do you have different priorities? Possibly you're dealing with poor health in yourself or a family member and it's just too low on your list to worry about. It would be easy to tell the difference with a little bit more sleuthing. Is the garage full of ceramics waiting to be fired or do you have a spare room filled with scrapbooking materials that keeps you preoccupied? Are there copious medical supplies beneath your bathroom sink and the scent of Betadine in the air?

Maybe your laptop is open to a project you are responsible to complete and had to bring home from work. Are the books on your shelves classics or romances? The movies on your shelves comedies or adventures? The car in your driveway plugged in or up on blocks?

If you staged your home for an open house, what is it about your life that would unwittingly tell a story?


Wendy Paine Miller said...

Bookshelves stuffed full. Dishes still in the sink. Ecclectic, unusual way of decorating. Lots of refinished furniture. And beautiful hardwood floors I just discovered after pulling up carpet to surprise my husband returning from a business trip.

(And a faint pee smell from our old dog in the basement.)

~ Wendy

Anonymous said...

Well I have a roommate so I'll have to qualify only my staging area, which would be my bedroom and half an entertainment center in the living room (which is where guests would enter). They might be thinking:

Shelves with a few horse and dog knickknacks, not jam-packed in, but allowing each other some space. Natural. Down to earth. An old yellowed poseable action figure of the Lone Ranger and his mighty horse, Silver. Oh, and Roy Rogers too. Someone who sees things mostly as black and white and longs for a simpler time.

In the bedroom/office, they'd see relative neatness--belonging to someone who likes things in their place but isn't OCD about it. Shelves full of history and writing books and an easel with colored index cards on foamboard and waiting for a canvas. A not so neat stack of mail shoved to one side of the desk and personal business papers stacked on the floor--both of which give the impression that here lives someone whose creativity is trying to break out of the jail of everyday modern life.

BK Jackson

Nicole said...

Ooohhh, the Jabberwock Inn: wow! Would love to stay there . . .

I'd have to clean the house before staging: a neatnick I'm not. House cleaning is not my forte. Shame on me.

Eclectic, too. My folks' furniture, my brother's furniture. Horse stuff. A big screen TV and my son's hand-selected sound system that's just crazy-right for watching movies or listening to music. But it's a homey home where the Lord dwells. Thank God.

Anonymous said...

A house full of second (or third or fourth) hand furniture, toys busting out of the closets. Random laundry tossed into the bath tube at the last moment.

But what I wish you could see, what is really still there: the hall where I told my husband I was pregnant (twice), the living room where my kids all took their first steps, the swingset where they flipped and hung from little arms, the kitchen where poured love into mac & cheese and pb & j.

Now you've got me all curiouser about my own house. :)

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Wendy, my bedroom bookshelves are overflowing and stacked all catty-wampus. Also, the cat is very, very old and prefers our bedroom. 'nuff said.
BK, I like your observation about the black and white. I hope you use that in a story.
Nicole, I'd never realized that our TV/sound system is a focal point in the room for the same reasons. We experience movies, not simply watch, and I suppose that says something about us.
Susie, what sweet memories it holds for you.
Some of our rooms stay neat all the time, like the guest bedroom and the living room nobody goes into. But the living space - kitchen, family room and master bedroom - usually have clutter. We're comfortable in it, although we do straighten it once a week or so. My kitchen says the most about me. I decorate with items from the 40s and 50s and have started actually using some of the collectibles instead of leaving them on high shelves. Just the ones I wouldn't be broken-hearted to lose.

Anonymous said...

Ya know--this would be a good exercise. Post unidentified pics of a living space and let people have a shot at giving an assessment at how they interpret the occupants based on the room.

BK Jackson

Patti Hill said...

Dog hair! Anyone walking through the house, no matter how hard I tried to stage it into House Beautiful, would know that a dog lived here. And that she sheds. A lot. Every day. Especially in the summer. The battle was conceded long ago. Must learn to knit.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Patti, one look at our deck and you know there is some claw-footed creature running deep grooves in it. Of course, we would paint the deck before an open house, but we couldn't fill in the grooves. Buddy (rottie-mix) is the culprit.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

I am writing from the San Reno Pension in San Fransisco. We are die hard B+B devotees, or hostels when in Europe, or anything quaint and quirky, like this place. There are pictures glorifying the handles on the pull-chain toilets. 'Nough said.
In my house there are signs that read, 'A creative mess is better than an idle tidiness' and 'A clean house is a sign of a wasted life'. If we painted, refinished the floors, polished the furniture (made by my husband and father) and shed the paper piles there would still be a double layer of books on the shelves covering every wall of every room, paintings by family members, two pianos and knicknacks from around the world on the shelves in front of the books covering every wall of every room.

Nicole said...

Henrietta, I would love to visit your home! Sounds . . . divine.