Once upon a house…

Written By: Elsa  Burt

Remarkable perhaps only to myself, I find that I have arrived at an age such that if you needed to round me, for estimation purposes, I would become 50. Remarkable because by now I expected that I would have reached certain milestones expected of a woman my age – most notably finding a husband and having children. Of course the husband might still be along any day now, but the children I think are no longer an option. I wanted children. I always expected that I would have some, three or four actually, and I definitely feel weird and sad and, occasionally, bereft, that I didn’t. However, I do feel lucky in one respect. I haven’t become someone who feels a deep and inconsolable yearning hijack her heart every time she sees a baby being cradled in some beaming new mother’s arms or hears a toddler giggling in delight. I can only imagine that it must be excruciating.

So that hasn’t happened, but this summer in the Hamptons I find that something else entirely has developed. Apparently, instead of a baby, I am longing for a house. I’ll be driving along, minding my own business, happily singing along to some gem from the 80s and wham! No, not the group, a house, so pretty and so perfect it takes my breath away. Everything else fades and it’s all I can do to keep driving in a straight line because what I really want to do, and sometimes do if no one’s behind me, is stop the car and just allow myself to be swept away with possibility, by visions of what this beauty might look like on the inside and of who I could be and how my life would be different if I were living inside it. It’s even worse if there’s a For Sale sign outside.

Of course the Hamptons are full of gorgeous houses – I mean that’s kind of the point isn’t it? I’ve always known this, appreciated it and yes, probably drooled over a few in the past, but this is different – this is full-on house lust. And it’s not like I don’t own a home. I do, a tiny but lovely apartment in the City that I cherish. But an apartment is an apartment. There are people on the other side of those walls, above you and below you, and they might at any moment (but most likely at 3am) be arguing, having sex with some downright puzzling sound effects, or rearranging their very heavy furniture – again. And there are always lights on. You know, like in the hallway. No one I’ve tried to explain this to gets this, but for some reason that fact makes me feel like I’m in an institution; like a hospital or a boarding school or, and I’m just guessing here, prison. And did I mention it’s small? Some of the best and most memorable dreams I’ve had during my 20 plus years of living in various, but always small, apartments in New York, are the ones where I happen upon a little hidden door that, somehow, I’ve never noticed before and that door leads to a whole other, huge, room that I never knew was there. Sometimes it’s several rooms. Once it was an entire terrace.

I’ve always liked looking at houses. After all, I am the daughter of a woman who, when we were on vacation in Morocco, began reading the real estate ads. And this was long before Morocco was the cool, boho-chic place to go. Back then it was just the really cheap place that people who lived in the UK went to in order to stand in awe at the wonders of heat and sunlight. Also, it’s worth noting that my two favorite books as a child were My Side of the Mountain and Mandy. The former is about a boy who runs away from home to the Catskills and creates the most wonderfully snug little home for himself (with a fireplace!) in the hollowed out insides of a large hemlock tree. Eventually though he has to go back to living with his parents and eight brothers and sisters in a regular house. And Mandy was truly a girl after my own heart; an orphan who discovers a little cottage in the woods behind the orphanage and cleans it up and makes it her own special, secret place. She ends up getting adopted by the people who own the estate the cottage is on, which I guess is good. But I always cried at the end because she had to give up the cottage so that all of the other little girls at the orphanage could have a playhouse. But this feels different from before. More urgent somehow. Maybe it’s an age thing. Like somehow I have skipped over the getting pregnant part and due to some short circuit have moved onto the nesting stage? Uh, hello…slight problem, I’ve got no eggs.

Whatever it is, wherever this new longing came from, I’m finding it extraordinarily hard to fight. Why? Because, in case you haven’t noticed, there’s real-estate porn everywhere out here. It’s at the check-out at the grocery store. It’s beside the door at your coffee place. Unmarked vans leave it in your driveway. It’s in full view outside of various offices on Main Street for crying out loud! I’m talking about those real estate catalogues. Glossy, weighty, substantial to the touch, they are full of half-page, even full-page (“price upon request”) ads – every single one, literally, a money shot. Traditionals, capes, cottages, villas, moderns, modernes, postmoderns, Victorians and, every once in a while, an entire, gob-smacking, jaw-dropping Compound. They are “coveted”, “charming”, “classic”, “sleek”, “prestigious”, “immaculate” and, yes, “significant”. These listings are hard to avoid and impossible to put down. I’m doing my best. But it’s not like I can walk or drive around with a blindfold on. And so I have narrowed it down to the following:

First, the sweet, elongated cape-cod style cottage sitting on a corner lot in the middle of town. It’s seen better days (um, check). It’s faded, pale grey-green shingles look like they could use a little paint, but the white picket fence and gate are in good shape. There are three chimneys, and window panes galore. And then there are the roses – pink and red, clambering everywhere, hanging haphazardly up and over everything. If I lived in this house, I would work at the library and travel there and back every day on my bicycle, the one with the basket in front. On the weekends I would wear overalls and take care of my roses and my prodigious vegetable garden. I always end up with way too much zucchini. I am slightly famous for my delicious homemade scones and jam and I own a white, blue-eyed cat named Obi-Wan.

Or, there’s the gorgeous, 3-story century-old stone house with leaded windows and wide, dark wooden floors that remind me of England and smell like a time before electricity. If I lived in this house, I would have four children, all tow-headed blondes like their father. We would finger-paint and hold a competition every year for who could grow the tallest sunflower. We would ice-skate on our pond in the winter, and I would spend the entire summer wearing white, vintage shifts and exquisitely crafted, flat sandals – because in this house, somehow, I would be taller. We would own a pair of labs named Shake and Speare.

And, finally, I can’t forget about the modern on the beach. A symphony of cuboids, all cream-colored stone slabs and glass for miles. There are multiple decks/balconies with lounges fit for kings. This one is old news. I have been looking at and lusting after this house for many years during my regular walks on the beach. I have never seen a single person in it or anywhere near it. Although at this point, the only person who would be acceptable would be Beyonce. Or possibly Michael Bay. In keeping with that tradition of anonymity, if I lived here I think I would have no choice other than to be a vampire. And at night the beach, bathed in moonlight and the light of a thousand stars, would be my playground. I would be famous for my parties and my pale skin. I would wear only black, of course. And only slightly ridiculous stilettos. And in the wee small hours of the morning I would feed – perhaps on the “friends” I had invited to stay in my pool house, which is almost an exact mini-me replica of the main house. Fortunately for the local inhabitants, I’m also able to survive on a few select vintages of Chateau Margaux. My only companion? My albino raven named Faustine.

Ok, ok, so maybe the blindfold isn’t such a crazy idea after all. But it’s time to go home anyway. Home sweet, tiny, apartment-home where I am me.