"It’s so ugly."
That was my comment to my mother as we drove past a house in our neighborhood that she and my father owned for 24 years.
Yes, she agreed. The house was indeed ugly.
In my parents’ day, the house conformed to its traditional Ranch-style architectural roots: It was painted a plant-friendly shade of green, the plant boxes were built of natural bricks, the driveway was an unobtrusive plain concrete affair and a decorative birdhouse was perched on the brown wood-shingle roof.
Birds didn’t actually occupy the small house, but it was a standard element of this type of house in the neighborhood.
Two decades and a new owner (or owners) can make a huge difference in the appearance of a house — especially if it’s been neglected or the new owner has no respect for architectural style and absolutely ghastly taste in exterior home décor.
My parents’ former home hadn’t been neglected, but oh my, had it been disrespected. The plant boxes were now made of interlocking grey and beige paving stones, which also covered the entire driveway, the front porch and the steps up to it. Every time I drove past the house, this crazy-quilt pattern of convict-striped blocks made my eyes cross and my head ache.
As if that weren’t horrible enough, there were also other changes for the worse: The house had been painted a dull and lifeless color that wasn’t quite gray and wasn’t quite beige, but could perhaps be called putty, for lack of a designer’s paint swatch with a catchier name on it.
Four Grecian-style urns with plants stuck into them had appeared on either side of the front porch. In place of the traditional front door there was a metal-and-steel-framed screen that blocked any view of the front door that must have been behind it. …CONTINUED
No fewer than three security services signs had been stuck into the plant boxes as if the house were now owned by a security-service salesman. The wood-shingle roof had been replaced by putty-colored shingles through which poked the top of the original natural-brick chimney.
A skylight window like a car’s sunroof had replaced the decorative birdhouse, and the hedges in front of the house were overgrown as if to hide the natural brick that I presumed was still behind the hedge facade.
To add one more insult, the house numbers had been affixed in a downward diagonal, like lemmings that had fallen of a cliff. The handyman who put up those numbers had to have had lost his leveler — or his sense of proportion.
We might have excused the roof since the original wasn’t up to modern fire codes, but the rest of the redesign left us with a feeling of profound disappointment over the transformation of the house and the loss of its architectural history.
Our collective grief caused me to wonder why we cared so much about the house’s fate. After all, I moved out of the house in 1982 and my parents sold the place in 1990. It’s not our house, so why on earth would it matter one whit to us whether it was still nice or had been hideously transformed?
My father says that "mentally, the house is still ours," and that’s why we care about how ugly it is. My mother says that we have a history in that house and are still emotionally connected to it for that reason.
I think they’re both right. Our attachment to the house is both mental and emotional. The house is part of the story of our lives.
And perhaps we’re unusual in that we still own our own separate houses in the same neighborhood, so we can — and do — drive past our old house on a regular basis. If we’d moved out of the neighborhood, we’d probably be blissfully ignorant of the indignity that had been inflicted on our former home.
I don’t think we’re ready to let go of our memories of our house, even though none of us has lived there for nearly 20 years. But perhaps I may be ready to choose a different route through the neighborhood. I really don’t need to see this house — as it is now — ever again.
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 Web sites 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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