Driving near the river under the tall, elegant redwoods, the dappled sunlight streaks down and plays tricks on my eyes. I begin to anticipate it and suddenly beyond the bend it pops into view: the red wall.

The simple things in life bring joy, right? Yes. I haven’t memorized all the houses along the road, though by now I recognize and anticipate features in them when I ride past. I look forward to the red wall. I don’t remember when it became red, but I must have noticed immediately–how could you not?

It isn’t a long wall, 100 feet at most, stuccoed with a lone square pillar at one end, as if pointing to the entrance. It isn’t connected to anything, nor does it protect a baronial estate, it seems to be what remains of another time. It sits there self confidently in the shade and spotted sun of the Sonoma County redwoods, as if it’s winking at you and saying: “I bet you didn’t expect an apple red wall and you are surprised I’m nice to look at.”

It does and it is. It is a happy appearance, charming its way through the green. I imagine her unknown owners as bold, playful people, with good aesthetic sense. I hope there are children there, because this is the type of thing a child would carry on into adulthood, as one of those indescribable, nostalgic memories that bring back a feeling of warmth and a smile when reopened: Remember the red wall house? We used to jump over that red wall and hide behind it or in the redwoods…

I was now curious about what house sits beyond the wall. I looked only to discover many similar wood cottages near the river. No wait, it isn’t just another wood house, it is the one with the red wall – instantly special, perhaps a descriptive landmark for driving directions, a place for children to play and one that tugs some pleasure cord in me.

Thank heavens for red walls. I thought about it yet again one Sunday afternoon, while driving through my own beautiful Sausalito, Calif. It was one of those sunny, breezy afternoons when the bay becomes a moving canvas of white sails stroked onto splashing blue. Sunday brings open houses–a chance to peek into other people’s ideas of a great living and design. 

There was one house I had seen rise up from its previous incarnation for months. What a great opportunity to delight in the view and build a dream house. If you can afford to buy the previous house, tear it down and rebuild that is. Not a pocket-change proposition in this area. So in I go, with some expectations dictated by the Mediterranean ochre stucco and the red roof tiles. Egad!

When you pay more than $2 million for a house, should you be able to fit more than two people in the entrance foyer, which is really just a landing for the narrow straight staircase that follows and leads to the living areas above without a moment’s breath? And should you then climb with no hint of what is to come almost into the kitchen before turning to see the living room, its view cut in half by half-arched windows? Should the house have pretty wood floors, the requisite black granite kitchen counters and closet doors that won’t stay on track even before you buy it? Shouldn’t there be some feature that makes the house say, “This makes me unique and special”? It should for me, even if it costs less than millions.

I left thinking how unfair life is…until I remembered the red wall in the woods. Life found its balance again.

***

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