We bought our mountain house knowing she was a fixer-upper, and you always move in with grand plans—the immediate changes you’ll make, the elaborate remodels that turn “good bones” into a dream home. But once the boxes are unpacked and you start actually living in the house, it’s surprising what you decide you can live with.
Okay, the puke-colored walls have to go; but the 80s vinyl vanities in the bathrooms, not so bad. At least everything works!
(Until it doesn’t.)
In last week’s Times Sunday Review, Pamela Paul wrote a hilarious recap of how her relationship with her home has changed throughout the pandemic. “My house has engaged in what I’ve taken as a silent form of protest—sheets tore, towels ripped, paint peeled, wooden planks in the floor buckled and came unstuck, nails akimbo.” She joked that, in quarantine, her house had gotten sick of them, and likely the inverse was also true.
I can’t blame the boiler leak or the basement flood or the plumbing issues on quarantine per se; but certainly we’ve spent a year wearing and tearing our home, living what seemed like more than a day’s worth of life in rooms that might have otherwise sat empty for a twenty-four-hour cycle.
So it wasn’t exactly surprising when, one cold morning, I stepped in a puddle of water in our master bath with no clue as to where it came from. It wasn’t our plan to renovate that bathroom first—whoever would see it besides us and the occasional guest? But the house had other plans. Sort of like the house had plans in the basement, previously covered in some cheap poop-brown carpet, suddenly washed away by a boiler flood our inspector had told us would certainly never happen.
New rooms are a treat, but I can’t deny the feelings of frustration I experienced, even as I saw the new floors being laid in our TV room. Yes, it would look beautiful; yes, it needed to be done eventually. But in the middle of a year where I’d had most of my plans ripped out from underneath me, it sort of felt like salt in the wound that even my house was calling the shots of what got fixed and what didn’t?
Slowly, our bubble expanded a bit. We had neighbors over to sit on our new deck, the one we thought we’d have years to work on, but that suddenly fell over and had to be reconstructed. They would ask to use the bathroom, and I’d send them in the front door to the half bath by the coat closet—to walk on those decades-aged brown tiles, to sit on that weird wooden toilet seat, to wash their hands at the peeling counters, at the faucet that dribbled water out its sides.
This was an opportunity, I realized. Surely it would have been the next room in our house to blow; but if I was out in front of it, it was like taking back control. In a year when everything was up in the air, I could take matters into my own hands. In a year of destruction, I could create something beautiful. In a year of upheaval, I could establish a sense of peace, order, beauty. Yes, it’s just a powder bathroom; but sometimes don’t we just need these things?
Plus, there was something lovely about receiving that stimulus check and putting it to its intended use—we didn’t hoard it away or spend it frivolously, but we were able to hire back our contractor who needed the work, to shop for supplies and put the money back into the economy. It was, in that broad, reaching pandemic-mindset, a sense of community, the community we’ve learned to find at grocery line checkouts and in gas-pump chats. Our isolation from the world reminded us that, these interactions we once glossed over are important—to us and with whomever we have them.
Now I have a beautiful bathroom, a space that functions as it ought, a space I can share with the guests starting to come back to my home. And, in a grandiose way, it’s sort of this marker in our history, my pandemic project, when I took back some control and appreciated the power of the little things.
Photographs and words by Sarah Ann Noel. You can find more of Sarah’s pieces right this way This post includes affiliate links. If you choose to purchase something, we may earn a small commission.