Lots of Soft Places to Fall

Abstract:

You see I have 16 doors in my house, nine of these are doors to outside (more on that later) and they all have those shiny brass doorknobs that contractors put in without asking, then rush off and can't be found for three months. These doorknobs are offensive in the extreme. They are too shiny. They are beyond vulgar. What happened to beautiful doorknobs, glass ones, hammered brass, wrought iron?

No pleasure has equalled the pleasure of building my own house. I came to home ownership late. I had lived in many different places, a loft in lower Manhattan, the purest of Georgian terraced houses in South London, a mews house in the Portobello Road, an exact copy of a late 18th century Bermuda cottage, various and many student dumps and I knew exactly what I loved, and what I hated. I liked height, I liked Georgian proportions, I wanted light coming in on all four sides, I liked multipurpose rooms. I wanted each room to have a door to outside. I'd also spent a few months in a 300- square-foot room, overlooking Central Park when I fled my marriage, so I liked lots of light, a view and I liked small. I knew, to the square foot, the size of the ideal bedroom, the ideal height of walls, that I worshipped French doors, and so I designed the core house by myself. I bought some graph paper, borrowed or bought pattern books, hired a contractor (by phone) and started faxing.

Full Text

 (1000  words)
(Copyright National Post 2002)

It was in my sixth month of obsessing about doorknobs that I began to realize I had a bit of a problem. This can be illustrated best by any visitor who comes to my house for the first time, looks around, then says (perhaps not out loud) "Holy Crapola, how many shelter magazines have you read?"

The answer to that would be lots. And I can't stop buying them. I tried. "This is like porn for me," I said to the bookstore owner, "I can't tell you how many women tell me that," she replied.

In my case, it's worse. I built myself a house exactly four years ago. Imagine the shopping you get to do when you build a house. It's awesome. Plus I built a house that cried out to be added onto. Like for instance, it doesn't have a proper kitchen yet, my bathroom is too small, there still aren't enough rooms for my family when they visit, and I need a study where no one can get at me to ask me where the sugar is.

So, anyway, the doorknob thing took a while to emerge, but when it did, it became one of those things you need Respiridin for.

You see I have 16 doors in my house, nine of these are doors to outside (more on that later) and they all have those shiny brass doorknobs that contractors put in without asking, then rush off and can't be found for three months. These doorknobs are offensive in the extreme. They are too shiny. They are beyond vulgar. What happened to beautiful doorknobs, glass ones, hammered brass, wrought iron?

I'll tell you what happened. They went up market and cost about three hundred dollars apiece. You do the math. I put one in, and then ended up in the Salvage Yard. I bought some gorgeous rusted doorplates and knobs and so on. The girl who sold them too me told me how to age the horrible shiny ones. So off I went to the craft store and started with various crafty things, at which I am hopeless, which means that the doorplates are now all messy and smeared, besides the patina wears off. And the old ones are wicked difficult to fit with modern doors.

So my dogsitter's husband, Pete Sweetnam, generally thought to be the best carpenter on the island, came up to put in some locks (equally ugly) and said, hey, at the Hastings House (the local four star hotel), we just dropped them in a bucket of muriatic acid. I did so to all my ugly locks and they dissolved.

Now I have to take them back to the hardware store and explain what happened. I have a feeling there will be mocking.

I have to stop this. I have to stop building. I have stages one, two and three of the next additions already planned. I have drawings, cuttings and swatches. Luckily my architect is in recovery, so therefore not available, cause all he has to do is drive up the driveway, get out of his truck and smile, and all of a sudden I've spent $15,000. I have to stop upholstering and painting. My favourite recreation is going over to Victoria to visit my brilliant designer friend Gillian Ley and talk about fabric and paint. I have to stop increasing the comfort. No more cushions.

No pleasure has equalled the pleasure of building my own house. I came to home ownership late. I had lived in many different places, a loft in lower Manhattan, the purest of Georgian terraced houses in South London, a mews house in the Portobello Road, an exact copy of a late 18th century Bermuda cottage, various and many student dumps and I knew exactly what I loved, and what I hated. I liked height, I liked Georgian proportions, I wanted light coming in on all four sides, I liked multipurpose rooms. I wanted each room to have a door to outside. I'd also spent a few months in a 300- square-foot room, overlooking Central Park when I fled my marriage, so I liked lots of light, a view and I liked small. I knew, to the square foot, the size of the ideal bedroom, the ideal height of walls, that I worshipped French doors, and so I designed the core house by myself. I bought some graph paper, borrowed or bought pattern books, hired a contractor (by phone) and started faxing.

The next six months were more anxiety-ridden than the whole rest of my life combined.

I have never been bullied like I was by that contractor. Luckily my bank manager, Sharon Kowal, had just built a house herself, so she knew how crazy they could get and she bullied him right back. I stood up to him too, this almost needed therapy, but by the end of it, I was stitched into the community, I had a whole lot of shopping to do, and I had something I loved, that was entirely mine, to fight for. I had something I could mortgage to the hilt if I wanted to start a business, or pursue an idea that thrilled me. I was also "placed."

This seems to me the very foundation of both our freedom and prosperity. I am not in some New Urbanist box designed to fill the needs they've decided I need, piled up on top of a bunch of strangers. Chesterton put it best and I paraphrase: the normal man wants a separate house on its own piece of ground, built with the idea of earthly contact and foundation, as well as the idea of separation and independence, an objective and visible kingdom; a fire at which he can cook what food he likes; a door he can open to what friends he chooses.

Most Canadians believe this. So why are property rights not enshrined in our Charter? And why isn't there a broad-based citizens action group lobbying to make them so?