So, when does a house you’ve moved into become your own? There is, for weeks, months, or even years the otherness of the occupation of the last owners or tenants. Maybe a sense of strangeness—even foreignness—because the house is daunting in the way that it seems to have been neglected. It could be that it appears an absolute slattern in its presentation. You cast your mind back to the last house you lived in and you think, that house was never like this. . . That house I slid into as cosily as if I were putting on a new skin. I snuggled into its nooks, glorying in its cooling places in the harsh, unremitting days of Summer when the sky was as hot as ashes making sweat run down my body as if I were standing in a cauldron of soup. But think again. Suddenly you recall that you made those cooler places by putting up blinds to block the light, shuttering western-facing windows that stared into blistering Summer; you stripped off rococco wallpaper that made your interiors feel claustrophobic, painting the space instead white or pastel coloured; you added windows to confrontational walls that didn’t allow you to breathe easily until you did so; you put fans in ceilings after insulating them and planted trees that offered more shade. And by draping enviro-cloth over the struts of a carport so tall it lowered the temperature of the house another 5-10 degrees, you achieved your goal. All this and more I did. But these are the sorts of things you forget, because you tend to make these innovations over time—especially when you’re working for a living and trying to bring up kids simultaneously—and you forget the little details that are making your life more comfortable. That is why it is a good idea to take photographs of your house at its most unattractive, so you’ll remember. Or, if you don’t really want to remember it at its worst, at least get hold of a picture or two from the real estate agent’s catalogue that beguiled you in the first place. Not because it was exactly what you wanted, perhaps, but because you saw some remarkable potential for putting your own imprimatur upon it. For making a stranger’s house your own. Here is such an example: This is a picture of my kitchen as it was. You cannot actually see the cooking apparatus because it is hidden by the big brown bench.
The photo shows quite a large space split into two by that bench and a partition. The actual working space of the chief cook and bottle washer was very small, because, once again, the space was dominated on one side by the bench and on the other by an enormous chimney that took up about a third of the rest of the room. It was a concrete construction over 150+-year-old bricks which had, I guess in the psychedelic sixties, been wallpapered over by that interesting orange and green pattern (now somewhat faded) you can see to the far right of the photograph. This wallpaper made another bold statement in another room and was treated with the same respect.
You can see the floor of the kitchen tends to be somewhat aslant. That is not an illusion. It actually dipped with alarming alacrity towards the back of the house. It was this propensity plus the couple of accidents I had slipping on worn ceramic kitchen tiles and off a decontextualised stair, that caused me to consider re-stumping the house. Though that was a ghastly experience, what we found under the house added to its allure for me, making me respect it for its great age and even love it a little more. So I won’t become boring and repeat myself about the mystery that unfolded in the re-stumping, instead I’ll direct you to an earlier blog called “For My Brisbane Friends and Anyone Else Who May Be Interested” which explains it. Read it and weep.