Old House Journal

The house in winter


Anything in your house that may look dirty and worn-out this winter probably seemed pleasantly rustic last summer—I know this from experience. In my college years I spent summers at a big, stripped-down old house perched above the Delaware River. Though the wildflower­s we collected and arranged in chipped mugs were our only “decoration,” those hot days on the romantical­ly ruinous porch were sweetly scented. Nights spent on a cot mattress laid on the floor enhanced the sense that we were at camp. Later, that first summer living in Gloucester, when I was very pregnant, it didn’t matter that the rental was too small; a deck overhung the saltwater river and sunshine streamed through skylights cut as an afterthoug­ht.

Tanglemoor, my family’s home for 30 years, has spent summers thrown open to the sea and tracked with sand, smelling like dog and last night’s barbeque. In summer there are no icy drafts, and the to-do list has no urgency: so much better to wade in the low tide at dusk! Summer was at first the reason I bought this house.

But neither of these houses, unrestored, were particular­ly tolerable in the cold darkness of winter. Because, in winter, we find what’s right with the home we’ve created and also what is lacking. We live life cocooned inside, breathing exhaled air, hearing the evening news and phone conversati­ons bouncing off four walls. In the months ahead, we may notice if there is nowhere to read or to cry. In February, we may discover that some rooms are dark or unhappy, dingy or bare, uncomforta­ble or ugly.

Winter vision may even bring action. The fix might be simple: a floor lamp to read by. Maybe the too-white walls should be painted ochre. Storm windows can make a room habitable. Pay attention; you shouldn’t have to wait for summer to be happy.

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