With Your Coffee [Monday Edition]

Silos at Dealer.com, Pine Street, Burlington, VT. Painted by local artist Mary Lacy.

Good morning! How’s it going? Is September incredibly busy for everyone – what happened to summer days? In need of a preservation conversation spark? Here are some recent finds relating to transportation and place. Read anything good lately? Working on anything fun? Let me know.

Cheers!

Battling Poor Lighting Choices

Look up. What type of lights do you see? If you are sitting in an office, it’s most likely florescent bulbs. Florescent might as well be called the most annoying, least flattering light source out there, right? Unfortunately most office buildings and large commercial buildings have standard issue drop ceiling and florescent bulbs.

Now consider a historic building, one that currently operates as a coffee shop or a small store. You are more likely to find softer bulbs and more aesthetically pleasing light fixtures. Smaller spaces are financially easier than massive office buildings and stores. What would these places look like if there were large rectangular (or square) florescent boxes of light clinging to the ceiling?

lighting1

Note the small fixtures in this historic store (Pierce’s Store in Shrewsbury, VT).

A beautiful medallion and historic light fixture that make a statement.

A beautiful medallion and historic light fixture that make a statement. The track lighting surrounding this could be more chosen more wisely but are small enough to not detract from the center light fixture, and can be controlled independently.

Many times I find myself in a historic building where the ceilings have been dropped and cheap (not necessarily meaning inexpensive) fixtures have been added. Not only does it change the scale of the room, but it detracts from my enjoyment of the setting.

All of this is to get you thinking about the impacts of lighting. Lighting is a critically important, often overlooked detail of buildings. The next time you enter a building, look around. What type of lighting is it? Do you feel at ease in this space? Or not? Perhaps the lights are too bright, too low, or do not match with the setting. 

And what about home, where you should feel the most comfortable because you control your lighting (unless you’re a renter and stuck with what the landlord gives you). What is your lighting in your house? Have you switched to CFL bulbs or LEDs? A confession: I cannot fully come around to CFLs because I do not like how they glow, unless I have the perfect lampshade to conceal the glare. Any suggestions?

Observe, look around, and let me know. Find some good example and bad examples, and let’s resume this conversation. 

Good lighting choices in Winooski, VT.

Good lighting choices in Winooski, VT.

Words on Winter, Snow, Frost

It’s going to be winter for a while in Vermont. And apparently in most places, even Georgia. Stay warm and safe, all! Aside from global warming, freakish weather or whatever you believe, the freezing southern temperatures and wintry precipitation come as a shock to me. For the six years that I lived in the south (Virginia and North Carolina), I recall only a handful of snowfalls. One happened to be on President Obama’s 2009 inauguration, which made for an extra special day. The other snowfalls were in Virginia. I recall a few inches that would melt by late morning.

Mother Nature definitely entertained herself for those six years of my southern life by bringing snow to New York the weeks before and after I visited. That is no exaggeration. Basically, I didn’t see a good snowfall for six years.

Enter my Vermont life, and the snowiest winters ever (for me), and the coldest I’ve ever been. Still not a skier, winters are not my favorite. Blame the problem of permanently cold feet. But winter comes with starkly crisp sunny days, the smell of wood burning stoves, white blanketed landscapes, and leafless trees (all the better for photographing buildings). Still, January and February are long and winter lingers long past its welcome. Perhaps my southern life lingers in my preference to warm weather. Until summer, when Vermont is absolutely perfect.

Climate and weather are so critical to defining place, wouldn’t you say? They serve as foundation to memories. What temperature was it? What were you wearing? What were you doing? Start telling a story and see how long it takes before weather or climate plays a roll.

What are thoughts on weather and place? Do you stories include the two? I’d love to know.

Burlington, VT. It's cold here. Thankfully sunny days and frozen lakes make up for the cold.

Burlington, VT. It’s cold here. Thankfully sunny days and frozen lakes make up for the cold.

Thoughts about Home: Part Two

Continued from Part One*

Part Two: The Physical Location – How Do You Make a Place Your Home? 

When you own a house, you have the right to change whatever you’d like. This is assuming you aren’t breaking any zoning ordinances or design review standards, of course. And to quell the rumor: if you have a house listed in the National Register of Historic Places, you are only required to follow state and federal review if you are receiving state or federal permits or money. A listing does not dictate your every move with your house. Still, you should respect the historic integrity of your house and community. But, aside from that, let’s talk about making a place a home in terms of the tangible elements.

How do homeowners begin to make their mark? Paint is the first and easiest answer. Gwynn lives in Northern California and though she rents, she plans to immediately paint when she does own a house. A fresh coat of paint does wonders. Removing wall to wall carpets is an easy (albeit annoying) task that can immediately change the look of your house.

When we own a place, often the best way to go about making a place your home is by living in it for a while and getting to know it, as Jim suggests: “I prefer to buy a place I can live in for several years as is, while I get to know it and form plans for how to make it more mine. In this case, I have been slowly taking up the carpets so I can live on the hardwood floors that lurk beneath, and I remodeled the bathroom, but that’s it over the six years I’ve been here.”

Jane (Vermont) sees her house as an on-going project, too: “I am removing the vinyl siding, replacing the ‘lifetime replacement windows’….insulating as I go. Maybe some day I will get to the kitchen. We’ve done the basics: roof, plumbing, electrical, heating.”

Yet, if you rent, what can you do? Most landlords allow you to paint in reasonable colors. Nothing neon or black (probably not even pink). White is a good option to make everything look fresh and clean. Colors add life to apartments. Some landlords are kind enough to upgrade appliances or door locks. Others landlord will let you do work, as long as they do not have to pay for it.

My experience has been the latter: my landlords are happy to allow me to paint or make minor repairs on my own dime. I’ll always paint because the standard beige/off-white apartment wall color is too blasé for me. If I’m going to live in a place for a year or more, I’ll gladly invest in a few cans of paint and hours of my time (and I love to paint). My biggest endeavor to date is a drop ceiling removal (which is another story, but one that was done out of sheer necessity. My pet peeve is a drop ceiling – a filthy, mismatched, aesthetically unpleasing one at that).

And for those who cannot do any painting? Our stuff – furniture, linens, artwork makes all the difference, of course. Dave (NYC) writes, “Moving into a house or apartment is part of the process too, arranging furniture and kitchen gear makes the place our home.” Lani writes, “I live in Chiang Mai Thailand, a growing mid-sized city, in an apartment that I rent. Since I move frequently, I feel like the first thing I want to change is the wall color! I wish I could but never can. Nevertheless, I almost always manage to make where ever I live more like home.”

We all seem to be on similar wavelengths: clean up the place. Paint if we can. Lovingly arrange our belongings. And if we own our homes, then take on one project at a time. For those who are renters and crazy enough to take on projects for the goodwill of the house, I’d like to hear your stories.

Anything we missed?

——–

*Hiatus to due to holiday distractions. Thanks for your patience. 

Thoughts about Home: Part One

Home is our common thread and universal conversation. Talk to a neighbor, stranger, fellow traveler halfway across the world and ask about that person’s home. Where is it? What is it like? Not everyone will have the same answers, but we innately understand each other. (And it’s a more interesting conversation than the weather.) Over the past few weeks, readers have answered questions about home and shared their stories about where they live now, what they love, and what home means to them. The conversation began with this post and this post, and continues here. Part One (today’s post) will discuss “What is Home.” Part Two will discuss the physical elements and making a residence a home. Part Three will discuss our expectations. 

Part One: What and Where is Home?

It takes me a long time before someplace becomes “home” to me.  For much of my adult life, when I said “home” I referred to my parents’ house. I never felt settled anywhere else or felt like I belonged anywhere else. Virginia was college. Nebraska was one summer. North Carolina was three years, but I knew it was temporary. I lived, wrote, ran, worked in preservation and made a few friends, but I always felt as though there was a new place to go. I had a gypsy soul. Where was I going to find another home, and what exactly did I want? I didn’t have answers. I called this form of wanderlust “geographic commitment phobia.”

Over four years ago, I moved to Vermont. Immediately, I was content to stay for a long while, which was a pleasant, unexpected surprise. However, “home” still didn’t seem like an appropriate description for Vermont. It didn’t matter that I registered my car here, attended school, voted, lived and worked in Vermont, and absolutely loved the state – it wasn’t yet home.  The feeling of home took a long time. In fact, it took about four years with many twists, turns, and moves. What happened? Finally, I discovered where I wanted to be and found a great community of friends. To me, that’s what home is after your childhood home: loving where you live (meaning your city/town and your residence) and having friends to share it with. That must sound obvious to many, but it can take a while to get it right – to find that happy, comforting place (other than your childhood house).

Mary (from NYC) writes that she had trouble feeling at home while living in the Panama Canal Zone. “The home of my childhood and young adulthood was the midwest. And then. . . at the age of 34 my husband and I accepted teaching positions in the Panama Canal Zone, where we stayed until we retired. Many “Zonians” felt that Panama was home, but I never did. Frequently I would ask myself, “What am I doing here?” It was, of course, a foreign environment–although the Canal Zone itself was all American. Still we were surrounded by a foreign culture and that is an easy explanation, I suppose, of why I never felt “at home.” Actually, I believe it was more the weather, the vegetation, the lack of seasons. I could never get used to a place where birds were green. Now I am back in the States–in New York City, which is a far cry from my midwestern roots, in many respects, but I feel quite at home.”

Not all feel the same. Some of you are lucky and feel at home immediately. Dave W (from NYC) phrased it nicely: “We’ve always adhered to the philosophy of “home is where the hearth is.” I guess we’re somewhat nomadic, never afraid to try living in a new place (though New York City is very hard to leave, with its endless things to do). We’ve always felt at home as soon as we’ve settled in a bit, cooked a meal, and slept comfortably. Whether in the mountains of Germany, working-class London, or New York City, we’ve always felt “at home” right away, wherever we lived.”

Interestingly, the varied responses all referenced home without outwardly defining it. It’s something we don’t have to specifically describe to know what someone means. (OR, you’re all excellent students and only answered the exact questions you were asked! I did not ask how you define home. Please do so in the comments if you’re so inclined.)

Based on your answers: home is where you live, where you work, where you shop, where you enjoy being. Jenny (Vermont) defines home as where her family is. Jane (Vermont) wrote that she does all of these things (live, work, sleep, play, socialize, etc.) here, and that makes it home.

Home is so many things: a particular landscape, the built environment, a feeling, who you’re with and where you feel a connection. Home is where you live your life and it is a place that defines you for a critical chapter of your life. There is not one answer suited for everyone, and there is no right or wrong explanation. It’s nice to know that different places are home to different people, because each place will be important to someone (“this place matters”).

Stay tuned for Thoughts about Home: Part Two, which will share more readers’ thoughts on how to make a place home (what changes do we make, what matters to us).

Home in Vermont

20131202-161119.jpg

Everyone gave such great answers to the questions about home, that it is taking more time to prepare than anticipated. It’s a great subject, and I’ll be sharing soon. Thanks all!

Home, Continued

Happy week of Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thank you to everyone who has emailed and commented on the questions about home. Your thoughts are great. It’s not too late if you haven’t shared your thoughts yet.

Why am I asking all of these questions? Consider this casual research, but I’m interested to see overlaps and variations between people all over the country. Do we all have similar feelings? The feeling of home is innate, I assume, but our definitions of home can be different. It can take a long time for a place to feel like home for some us (I find it takes years). And how do we work at making someplace home? I aim to piece together a tapestry of answers from everyone, just in time for Thanksgiving, when we’re with family and friends, presumably someplace that is home. So if you would like to part of this Thanksgiving story, please share (as much or as little as you’d like).

I forgot to ask you: how long until you feel like where you live is home? What are the deciding factors?

pointlookout

Discussion on home might be centered on residences, but geography and place are just as important, if not more important. Point Lookout, NY was my first home, and will always be a home to me.

Pondering “My Place”

Some people grow up and grow old in the same place, whether by never moving away or by returning home. Others wander around like gypsy souls, waiting to find that place to set down roots, personally, professionally, or both. And others are content to wander always, finding home wherever their feet land.

Where do you fit in? Counting my current residence, I’ve lived in 14 different houses/apartments in five states. It’s clear that I like to move within states, even within the same town. There’s always another building to love, a new neighborhood to call home. I’ve learned the fine skill of packing, moving, and downsizing (but only when necessary).

Why do I move so often? Life, school, job opportunities, restlessness – the same reasons as anyone else. And I suppose all along I’ve been looking for my place. We’re all told to find our people; those who get us, who support us and who help a place become home. Well, we also need to find our place; where we fit in, where the landscape and the built environment make sense to us, where we want to be. Aside from growing up in New York, I’ve lived in Vermont longer than any I have lived in any state. In fact, after one year in Vermont, I declared that it had cured my geographic commitment phobia and my gypsy soul tendencies. And four years later, has it? For now it has, which is good enough for me.

Burlington, VT: one of my places.

Oakledge Park and Lake Champlain looking to Burlington, VT: one of my places.

Lately I’ve been realizing that my place has many locations; I’ll never have just one, for all chapters of life will fit in different places. And those chapters might take me someplace new.  Slowly, I’m realizing that that’s okay. There’s no rule that I (or you) have to live in or feel at home in just one place. Not every town or city will feel like home, but then I’ll find it in the next one.

Instead of a geographic place, I find my place in other ways. Take, for instance, a track. Give me a 400 meter running track (preferably with a red surface) and I’m completely at home. Nine years of competing on a track team and four years of coaching and years after of running workouts, a track brings a calm feeling to me, one that is filled with good memories, strength, clarity, comfort and a knowingness of who I am. Or give me an open window with a breeze coming off a body of water and my heart swells with the feeling and memories of Point Lookout and family, my favorite place to be. And even though I’m not there, the comfort of that breeze brings a smile to my face. Give me sunshine and warmth or a crisp fall day, and I’m supremely happy to exist in that moment, wherever I might be.

So what defines my place? Aside from landscape and climate, maybe much of it is intangible, varying for all of us. Memories from previous places help to fill a new place and keep me connected from one to another. Yet, I move to find something new, so memory triggers are not the entire list of attributes of my place. Each place, geographic or otherwise, gathers its own memories.

It’s a complicated topic, perhaps one that deserves additional discourse. I’m learning that I’m happy to have my gypsy soul tendencies, and I’ll love new places because I know that I can always find home in each of them, at least in some elements. Yet, I know that Burlington, VT is one of my places, whereas Omaha, NE was not, even if I have good memories there. So maybe I take those memories with me and move somewhere new that becomes (one of) my geographic places, one of the places that I do feel at home. And then that gives me a complete place; my place.

Tell me, what do you think? How would you define your place? Is it geographic? Is it anywhere your family and friends are? How do you know when you found your placeDo you have one or more? I’d love to hear what you have to say.

Preservation Photos #193

presphotos193.jpg

It’s the little things that give a place character like beautiful glass door knobs and etched metal key plates. Small details like this are hardly small.

Sunday Snapshots for Summer #8

There's nowhere I'd rather be than running into the ocean with my three sisters.

There’s nowhere I’d rather be than running into the ocean with my three sisters. Where is your ideal summer day?