My wife and I found our second home watching one of the Sunday-morning real estate shows. We weren’t actively searching for a new home, although we’d been talking about it for a while; we didn’t even know what part of town we wanted to move to.
But there we were, on a Sunday morning, sipping coffee and flipping through the channels. We stopped on a real estate showcase for a minute, watching the seemingly endless parade of beige and vinyl and “soft contemporary design”.
And then, just as we were about to turn the TV off, something caught our eye. A weird little home on the other side of town hidden behind overgrown bushes. A “fixer-upper” with brown paint and brown tile floors and a gravel driveway and a carport.
It had been on the market for six months with no offers; it was the house no one wanted - the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree of homes.
Linus: “It's not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”
We were immediately attracted to how different the home was from others in the area; a somewhat contemporary split-level home across the street from of neighborhood of traditional two-story homes.
It was a home that had been overlooked for months by buyers searching for something more common – homes like the ones in the new development across the street. We could tell from the TV show that it needed some work (twenty years later and we’re still working on it!) but to our eyes it was just the sort of unique little house we knew we could love.
Patty: Does anyone here know first aid?
Lucy: It's probably not serious. Second or third aid will do.
My wife and I have never been interested in “typical” homes. Always on the lookout for something different, we’d begun married life in a series of apartments – and eventually a small home – in an inner-city neighborhood that had been undergoing renovation for several decades.
That home had no garage, two front doors, a dirt floor in the basement, and a shower I couldn’t stand up in. The house next door was three feet away. We loved it.
House number two was similarly weird with its carport and (gasp!) split-level floor plan.
Nobody wants a split-level anymore, right?
So, what’s the matter with us? Why do we keep picking oddball homes that nobody wants? And why do so many people choose the ordinary house over the unusual one?
Lucy: “You think you're so smart with that blanket. What are you going to do with it when you grow up?”
Linus: “Maybe I’ll make it into a sport coat.”
Problem is, you’re looking at houses (and house plans) and only seeing what’s there now, instead of seeing what could be.
For example, you’ve been told that split-level homes are “out”- but having lived in two, I can testify that it’s a very sensible – and far more interesting - way to arrange a home. We were much more comfortable having just six steps between floors with toddlers in the house. And today, it’s a safer place for my 90-year-old mother in law.
You’d never consider a carport instead of a garage, but as long as you have an enclosed area for the bikes and lawn mower, living with a carport is far easier for a busy family (especially now, when we’re about to have a fourth driver in the house).
So start questioning the livability of the typical home. Ask yourself why that new home has a dining room but no mudroom. Don’t settle for the usual first floor or basement laundry room…the dirty clothes are upstairs, right?
Find the weird houses on the market and tour them. Imagine living in one and ask yourself what it might be like – you might find one that’s a better fit for your lifestyle; you might find that an unconventional home can make daily life more interesting.
Charlie Brown: “Why can't I have an ordinary dog like everyone else?”
Fear makes you choose ordinary. Fear of picking a house that will be hard to sell someday. Fear your inlaws won’t like your house. Fear you won’t choose the “right” house.”
Fear of being different – it’s why you chose the $1200 purebred dog instead of the $25 pound puppy with the big sad eyes.
But give me the choice between Snoopy and Lassie, and I’ll take Snoopy every time. I mean yeah, Lassie’s a hero and all, but unless I need rescued from an abandoned well he’s just a dog (and a bit of a high-maintenance one at that).
Snoopy does impressions. He sleeps on top of his doghouse. He’s a fighter pilot, for Pete’s sake. And despite his complaint, Charlie Brown knows that life’s more interesting having Snoopy for a pet.
Charlie Brown: “I don't care. We'll decorate it and it'll be just right for our play. Besides, I think it needs me.”
There’s a world of interesting homes out there waiting for the person with the right state of mind to find. Some are ready for an owner with an open mind; some need a little imagination to picture what they could be.
A friend of my son's came by our 40-year-old fixer-upper split-level home-with-a-carport for the first time, a friend that lived in one of the "normal" houses across the street.
"Wow," he said, "this house is really cool".
We think so, too.
What’s unusual about your house that makes life more interesting? Share your story with us at www.facebook.com/rtastudio.
Need expert Residential Architectural advice for your new home or remodeling project? Contact Richard Taylor, AIA at RTA Studio.