When I was a kid, my mother was always looking at houses for sale. Not to buy, mind you. Just to look. See what’s out there. See what’s possible. My older sister usually went with her; they shared a love of interior design and an innate nosiness. They’d scan the papers or take a drive up to the local realtor’s office down the shore to see what was listed.
Sometimes they’d just take a drive around a nice neighborhood and look for Open House signs. Once inside, they’d turn a critical eye to the layout, the windows, the staging — conferring about how they would redo the place if they owned it. “Brown paneling? Ugh, we can do better than that. A coat of paint, at least.” They’d speculate about the current inhabitants and how they lived. It was their version of sports.
As a teenager and then a broke 20-something, these excursions bored me blind, which is probably why I was rarely invited. I mean, what’s the point of looking at a place you’ll never own? Who cares about bay windows and walk-in closets when they belong to someone else? It just felt like a tease, an unattainable goal, a goal I wasn’t even sure I wanted. I loved living in my dark, not-quite pre-war apartment. It was in a neighborhood the realtor said was “in transition,” meaning relatively few white people and an unusually large number of cops patrolling the streets. My furniture was a mix of hand-me-downs, stooping successes, and items left behind by my revolving door of roommates.
[I later learned the term gentrification. The buildings in the neighborhood were being bought up by the nearby Ivy League university in response to declining admissions rates. Apparently, worried parents preferred to send their future CEOs to a school “outside Boston” rather than to one "inside a poor neighborhood.” The reason I could (barely) afford to live there was because someone else couldn’t. When I arrived on the scene, the exodus of poor BIPOC had already begun. Within 5 years there was cafe seating at the local restaurants. 25 years later, that university is second only to the City of New York in terms of the number of buildings owned and the neighborhood is indistinguishable from the rest of the Upper West Side - populated with rose-drinking “professionals” and more wine bars than you can shake a stick at.]
What I didn’t understand then was that mom’s house-snooping jaunts provided inspiration for how she decorated her own house. And it never occurred to me that one day I’d own a place — that I’d actually buy furniture and would really want to know more about central air and farmhouse sinks.
There is a lot going on here and the pink fireplace is just the tip of the iceberg. The butterfly on my lapel was, of course, added by Mom to "jazz up" my outfit. I'm wearing a yellow coat, how much jazzier can you get?
Today my roommate and I were exploring our neck of the woods here in Brooklyn and there just happened to be an Open House for a brownstone in Bed-Stuy that’s listed for a mere $1.76 million.
We're “looky-loos” — people with zero intention of buying the house we’re trampling through — but we were undeterred. It was a Brooklyn Barbie Dream Home (TM), a gleaming paradise plucked from the pages of Architectural Digest.
We roamed around, the developer at our heels pointing out all the finishes (“These floors are hand-scraped oak!”). I think he realized that we weren’t serious buyers, but he was lovely and even snapped our photo in the kitchen we’d never own.
As we left the brownstone and walked around the adjacent streets, we found ourselves saying things like “ooh a coffee shop!” and dreaming up ways that we could get our hands on the roughly $350k cash down payment that would be the minimum on a place like that. Return the Dyson? Cancel Hulu? Poshmark sale?
I guess I’ll just have to settle for the inspiration.