The Ornament of a House

It’s Sunday, and I’m house-sitting for my sister. She, her husband, and her mother-in-law live in a sprawling multi-level house on a bluff up in Portland’s West Hills. It’s got a fantastic view from a deck that’s probably about the same square footage as my whole apartment. It’s not the kind of house I’d buy, even if I could afford one like it, but it’s nice to visit sometimes. It’s a house that is well-suited to having lots of people come over.

Another feature of my sister’s place is Archer, the dog. He’s a medium dog, an English Setter (bred for birding and hunting). He’s curious, easily bored, generally mellow. He’s a Good Boy (they’re all Good Boys, Bront). Again, I don’t know that I’d have the temperament to own a dog and work with it all the time, but Archer is terrific company to visit sometimes.

Speaking for myself, I find some of the features of my sister’s house would not work for my habits. For instance, the living room is mostly open, and there are huge windows on two walls, and the corner between those walls is entirely glass bricks. The other wall has a fireplace. That is great if you like lots of natural light, which is fine. But it’s also where the TV is, and it’s not a room made for a dark, movie-theater-like experience when watching movies or TV shows.

My living room at home is dark, and the TV covers the one blank wall; my couch is lined up to the TV, making a bench. The couch is close to the TV, but that’s because my living area is narrow; the furniture lays along the long axis of the rectangle. I can’t separate the seating from the TV more without blocking the path to the kitchen. It’s not a big apartment.

I don’t mind my apartment’s small size. I have all the space I need. Would not mind it laid out a little less long and wide; a square footprint would be great; but for size, to hold all my stuff, it’s the right size. I’ve been there a year, and I could use more bookcases and books, but I’ve got my movie-watching room, my bedroom, my computer/library room, a bathroom and a half, a kitchen, and a dining room. Oh, and a little deck for when the sun is out, or I decide to get into gardening, or for doing projects like painting or sanding or sawing things.

I definitely would not have room for a dog the size of Archer. I want a cat or maybe a pair of cats, and for them, I have plenty of room. A small dog would fit, but I lean more towards liking cats; that’s just me.

If I suddenly had the money to buy or build a house, my ideal one would not look much different on the inside from my current apartment—two stories, not that many rooms. More square, as I said, to use the space better. Maybe a few more windows, but not near the room I use for entertainment, or if that couldn’t happen, heavy, light-blocking curtains floor-to-ceiling.

The significant changes I’d make to my current living situation is that it would be closer to a more walkable neighborhood, more centrally located, near bars and restaurants and grocery stores. Don’t need or want a big yard so that the house could fit on a small lot. If I were really loaded and were building it from scratch, I would wire the whole place with networking cables, and make it as energy-efficient as I could, and install solar power and storage batteries to try to live off the grid as much as I can. And I’d choose a high spot, for when the waters rise (and they are going to rise, even probably within my remaining lifetime).

None of that is going to happen soon, though. For now, it’s enough to visit other peoples’ houses, compare and contrast, and enjoy the differences.