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“I dreamt last night…”

November 24, 2003

A friend sent me his latest poem, which begins:

“I dreamt last night that my wife and I bought a new house.”

I thought, “Ah.” It pulled me right in. Home is one of the eternal struggles — to make one, and then to keep one. And then, on top of that, to have the ideal one.

The ideal home is like the ideal love, full of mutually exclusive features. It is the product of imaginings that always take wing from the present reality. So we never get there. We’re no kinder to ourselves than the gods were to Sisyphus when they left him to roll a rock up a mountain for all eternity.

But then again, no less cheery a man than existentialist writer Albert Camus concluded that Sisyphus must actually be happy in this fate. I think he was on to something.

The most popular parts of the library’s non-untrue collection involve home: gardening, cooking, home construction and repair, interior design.

We can never have enough interior design books. Most of us have more than one idea in our heads; we need help sorting them out. The style books help this way.

English style, Mediterranean style, New Mexico style, Caribbean style. Simple style, rustic style, Victorian style, garden style. Newer titles include “New old house: designing with reclaimed materials” and “Not so big solutions for your home.” Also “Color: natural palettes for painted rooms” by Donald Kaufman.

Color is a tough one. People make themselves miserable with paint chips. Even if the paint actually matches the chip, it ends up not working on your wall in your house in your light. You start thinking it’s time to move …

The library has books about mixing and matching colors. We just ordered “Color palettes: creating atmospheric interiors using the Donald Kaufman color collection,” based on the work of the author above.

The “Not so big …” trend is an appealing one. The book above, “Not so big solutions …” is by the author of “The not so big house,” which proposes a different approach to the ideal home than is typically pursued by Americans.

The large and often ugly homes that are built today are not only needlessly wasteful and costly, but they usually fail to satisfy their owners. The failure is in design.

Another new book in the library is “Patterns of home” by the some of the authors of one of my favorite books, “A pattern language: towns, buildings, construction.”

“Patterns of home” is subtitled: “Ten essentials of enduring design.” How could you resist? It’s like finding a secret path. In the quest for the ideal home, one looks for lost maps and secret paths. Which is curiously like another popular part of the library, one that involves getting away from home — the travel section.

But not so fast. You can’t leave until you fix the roof, the floor, the sink, etc. Perhaps this most defines the ideal home: the one that doesn’t need repair.

If you don’t have such a home yet, try “Construction and home repair techniques simply explained,” which is a Dover reprint of a U.S. Navy training manual. Yes, it’s always more than you want to know.

My friend’s poem ends: “and my wife and I / wanting a new house / means that this morning / I’m not kidding / two 8-foot sections / of our backyard cedar fence / blew down.”

This approach to maintenance has its appeal …


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