Sunday, March 19, 2006

How we got here.

We bought this house in 1998 after almost a year of looking all over Northern Virginia for what we planned would be our long-term address. Since our old condo is a mere two miles from here, it turned out that we, like Dorothy, hadn't needed to look any farther than our own backyard.

Once we settled on this city, our choices became slimmer. The outstanding public schools here make real-estate prices higher than in the neighboring counties, so our dollars wouldn't stretch as much. But after so many months of scouring a 20-square-mile area and seeing what was out there in our price range, we had settled on a few non-negotiables:

Those three conditions, simple as they are, were hard to find in our price range -- especially since we were determined not to push ourselves financially and become house-poor. It seemed they were most prevalent in home styles that I didn't much like: ramblers (I hate the thought of a hole in the floor leading to the basement, and the bedroom being right next to living areas) and split-foyers (clearly designed by some '60s architect under the influence of something psychedelic: "Kitchen upstairs half a flight! Living room downstairs half a flight! Heavy."). NoVa is lousy with brick Colonials -- the 1930s version of cookie-cutter McMansions here in what used to be the far-out suburbs -- but we couldn't seem to afford any in decent condition.

When we found this house, my legs started to shake soon upon entering it. Not because it was perfect -- far from it. It fronts to a very busy road; it had awful wallpaper and paint throughout; it was filthy from years of being a rental. But something about it spoke to me. Why? I just don't know. I read recently that houses appeal to people chiefly because they look for something that brings them back to childhood. Outside of being an older home, this house doesn't resemble where I grew up at all.

Looking back, I think I was falling in love with the class hoodlum. There seemed to be a lot of potential; it has good bones. I liked how a lot of the house seemed true to the period, and I especially liked how our three non-negotiables were contained in a Colonial house when I had lost hope that we'd be in anything but a rambler (and I'd live in eternal dread of falling down the basement stairs).

What really confused me about falling for this house is that it didn't meet my one wish-list item. You see, John and I both had wish lists of "nice to have" features. His was a large, level yard for ball-playing; mine was a good-sized kitchen. We got the yard, but the kitchen ... oy vey. More about that later.

But love makes you do crazy things. We bought the house, warts and all. We settled in, made a few small- and medium-sized repairs, and nine months later, our first child was born. We brought him home -- in the middle of July's biggest heat wave -- to a house whose much-ballyhooed central air had done busted while we were in the hospital. Good times.

Over the years, we've made a few cosmetic improvements. We've replaced that danged air-conditioning system twice (the second time two weeks out of warranty, of course). We maxed-out desired occupancy by bringing home a second baby five years after the first (at least she's small for now). We've lived here happily and mostly comfortably -- even on the one income we've had since the birth of our first child. We shake our heads at the huge infill houses going up in the neighborhood and the expensive additions sucking acquaintances dry. We commisserate with neighbors about the benefits of smaller houses as well as swap stories about mouse infestations and old pipes.

So why would we choose to disrupt our mousy-but-decently-copacetic lives with a kitchen renovation?

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