I live in the city, in a century-old red brick house with a classically modern and minimalist interior – white walls, maple floors, clean lines, modernist furniture. There are bright pops of colour here and there, mostly red, and they bring a character and warmth to the white.
It is beautiful and works well with my husband’s and my taste, reminds me of the house I grew up in and suits our downtown Ottawa neighbourhood.
But there was a time I had a style that was completely different. I decorated myself and my home, wherever it was, in bright, sunny colours, little bells, beads and tiny mirrors.
As we grow, we change and our sense of style changes. I would feel silly now roping strands of multicoloured seed beads around my neck, wearing long, flowing silk skirts and drapey t-shirts. It’s just not who I am anymore.
As I was considering this today, I my thoughts brought me back to a house from my days in Ireland, a house I happened upon twelve or so years ago. I longed to buy it, though I never did.
It was for sale for a while, which is what started off this dream of mine. I spent a lot of time visiting houses that were for sale when I lived in Ireland. I think I was feeding my dream of finding some sort of permanence there.
I remember seeing the For Sale sign on the N72, between Killarney and Beaufort, and I had set up a meeting with the estate agent almost immediately.
The house was a few hundred metres up a small sort-of-paved road that stretched away from the N72. It was nestled against the back of a triangular shaped piece of land which was bordered on all sides by small country roads. The triangle was overgrown and rimmed with ivy-choked trees. It backed onto open, rolling farmland with a view of MacGillicuddy’s Reeks, Ireland’s tallest mountains, in the distance.
I recall that property so clearly. I can still walk through it all in my mind.
As the estate agent and I made our way down the road, and then onto the little bohereen that formed the back of the triangle, I saw the crumbling outbuildings before I saw the house itself. They were empty, with open spaces where the windows and doors had once been. The previous owners had poured concrete between the outbuildings and the house, likely in an attempt to gain some sort of control over the boggy, wet land upon which everything stood.
The house was on the other side of the concrete pad, facing out across a tangled mass of grasses, weeds and wildflowers, and the trees beyond. The ground was obviously very wet and needed a lot of care, but I envisioned a little pond in the centre, towards which (perhaps) the excess water could be directed.
Leaving the garden for the time being, I followed the estate agent toward the house.
I noticed that the slates on the roof were chipped, cracked and missing in some places. The door was a bit rickety, too, but the plaster walls seemed to be sturdy. They were gently curved at the corners, almost rounded, giving the house a somewhat organic appearance. I can’t remember now for the life of me whether the house was painted white or a deep blue.
Inside the house, the walls were thick and plastered by hand as well, with the same soft, organic quality, and there were dark tiles on the floor. The main level was one large, open space, with a massive two-sided fireplace standing in the middle of it, reaching up to the ceiling, and functioning not only as a heat source but as a room divider, separating the kitchen from the living area.
There were lopsided-looking stairs in the kitchen heading up to the bedrooms on the second floor. Perhaps calling it a second floor is too generous; really, it was more of an attic.
As I turned around in the kitchen, I spied the garden through the two or three windows that lined that side of the house and imagined standing at a large country sink doing the dishes and cooking on an Aga stove which would fit perfectly in the corner. I imagined a long timber table and eight chairs in the centre of the kitchen. And in the living area, I imagined an expansive white sofa strewn with cushions covered in bright Moroccan and Indian fabrics – azure and mustard and ochre and crimson – and matching plush chairs, all scattered sociably about the room, facing the hearth.
Having looked through the house and discussed its potential – “it’s a good solid base, it just needs some tending to,” the estate agent explained – I went back outside to poke around the garden.
A few months of work would have turned that garden into an oasis. Perfect for writing or painting or escaping.
I think I visited the house two more times with the agent and poked around it several additional times on my own. I really believed I was meant to live there, and there was a time part of me thought I would.
It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about that house. I think my style has changed significantly enough that I would decorate it differently now, but the house itself, as I remember it and as I had planned to restore it, would still be a dream come true.
In writing this post, I Google Mapped the area, to see if I could still find it. And there it was; a little triangle in the road gave away its position. Thanks to the wonders of the omnipresent Google photographers, I was even able to travel up the road and down the bohereen.
And what did I find?
Someone has bought the land and fixed up the buildings. The outbuildings and the main house have all been connected to form a single, large home. The walls have been re-plastered and the roof slates are new and modern. The corners of the house are no longer organic and rounded; they are clean and neat and rigid. The entire structure is painted a soft peach tone.
Outside the front door, they have built a raised, rounded patio that faces across the garden toward the Reeks.
It must be a lovely view in the morning and in the evening.
The garden has been cleaned up but remains natural and a bit wild-looking. They’ve planted the odd sapling here and there.
And I’m not sure from the angle, but it looks as though they may have built a small pond right where the land sinks down, so that the water can drain into it.
The house as it is now would probably not turn my head. It’s just not my style.
But I still love the funny little house that stood there before, the house that I can still see in my memory. I think it would always have been a structure that I could have lived in. It would forever have fit my style, no matter how much I changed.