They say every picture tells a story. Well, so does every house.
My friend Nova McLaren’s home in Glendale, Calif., is a perfect example. Built in 1929, the Spanish-style house is a paragon of classic detailing, from the high ceilings to the dark-stained and intricately patterned wood floors. The rooms are set off by a variety of interesting archways. The fireplace is bordered by ceramic tiles. The living room windows are as tall and as wide as doors. There are bay windows in the kitchen and the eating nook, and even the front door is distinctive with a window-like peephole.
The house belongs to my friend’s grandmother, who bought it more than 20 years ago. My friend and her now ex-husband moved into the house in February 2007 after they sold their home, which didn’t fit their needs and was too large to overcome my friend’s dislike of house-cleaning chores. She still recalls childhood summer vacations spent lounging by the swimming pool at the side of the house with her mother and sister. Even then, she says, her grandmother’s house was their "oasis."
But it’s the furniture that really tells the story of the two generations that seem to occupy the house simultaneously even though my friend is present and her grandmother has moved to Sacramento. My friend’s "Harry Potter" movie posters are hung on the textured stucco walls. Her dining chairs stand around her grandmother’s glass-topped dining table. The bedroom sets are a mixture of her four-poster beds and her grandmother’s massive wardrobes, which are stuffed with left-behind possessions, but look like they would lead an adventurous child straight into Narnia.
In the kitchen, two glass-fronted cabinets contain enough stemware in different shapes and sizes to stock a housewares store. Some of the glasses are the grandmother’s and some are the granddaughter’s, but together they bespeak of decades of parties and celebrations held in the house. And among the glasses are some antique serving pieces — a silver-leafed bucket that might hold 10 ice cubes, for instance — that complete the link to older generations. A bottle of vodka stands on the bar alongside one of the classic Schweppes tonic water. But next to the vodka and tonic, you’ll find a couple of organic beers from micro-breweries. How totally modern they seem.
The rest of the house fits into the story as well. Step into the garage and you’ll find boxes full of McLaren’s grandmother’s prized collections of cookie jars, matched sets of dishes and Hard Rock Café pins from her travels around the globe during her years as an airline reservations and tickets clerk. The house also has an unfinished basement and a central vacuuming system, unusual features for a home in Los Angeles.
And yet as times and tastes change, so do the stories that happen in the house. Friends gathered for a party sit on sofas with their backs toward the ornate fireplace that must have been a centerpiece in years past and instead face toward the big-screen TV and stereo speakers on which a raucous, if somewhat out-of-tune, game of Rock Band II is under way.
One has to wonder what happened in this house during the Great Depression before the current family’s time, what will happen in this house in the future, and how future generations may add their own personalities to its current character and charm. McLaren says her grandmother has threatened to retire and return from Northern California, but so far hasn’t acted on her intention. There is firm agreement among the family members that the house should be kept in the family as long as that’s possible.
Meanwhile, my friend says she may purchase a smaller home of her own in a nearby neighborhood. No doubt her house will tell stories of its own.
Marcie Geffner is a veteran real estate reporter and former managing editor of Inman News. Her news stories, feature articles and columns about home buying, home selling, homeownership and mortgage financing have been published by a long list of real estate websites and newspapers. "House Keys," a weekly column about homeownership, is syndicated in print and on the Web by Inman News. Readers are cordially invited to "friend" the author on Facebook.
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