Window Shopping


Ever since it began to look likely that we’d be building a new home, I’ve spent untold hours window shopping: considering possibilities, making selections, but holding off on purchasing until we actually break ground and construction is underway. From flooring to roofing to appliances, I’ve been doing the research, my computer screen my ‘window’ to the world of options (thanks be to the internet!), and visiting showrooms, taking notes, and making lists.

The windows themselves were just about the very first objects of my window shopping frenzy. I love windows the way some love shoes, and in fact, I believe that the ‘wrong’ windows can ruin a good house the way the ‘wrong’ shoes can spoil the effect of an outfit. Windows are usually the first thing I notice and appreciate about a building, so it should be no surprise that as soon as the floor plan had been tweaked to my satisfaction, I turned my attention to the windows, gleeful to begin making my choices relating to this very important (to me) component of the design. Casement or double hung? Clad, painted, or stained? Number of lites? Pattern of muntins?

Relating these decisions to choices I was making about siding and trim on the outside, and the ways in which we’ll be using and furnishing rooms on the inside, the window plan began to take shape. Then I did some actual windows shopping (thanks be to eBay!) and these beauties are signed, sealed, and delivered — ours! The overall design fell completely into place once these 100+ year-old hand-beveled and leaded windows arrived safely from Chicago, ready to bestow upon our home (and the cottage) their artisanal grace.

Front Elevation

I’ve tried to deconstruct that ‘aha’ feeling I get, the sense that I’ve hit upon that just-right idea at last, and I am surprised to recognize that there is actually some small bit of grief mixed in with the overall sense of relief I experience. Settling upon a certain concept means letting go of all of the many other possibilities I’ve considered. But acknowledging the disappointment of that letting-go is actually a part of affirming my resolve to follow the path I’m choosing: on balance, the ‘just-right’ idea is defined as much by what I don’t choose as what I do.

Last week my contractor and I met with the window supplier to begin the process of putting our order together, and I realized I am no longer window shopping for my windows — the choices have been made and communicated, we’re off and running. I continue to notice and appreciate all sorts of wonderful windows here in San Francisco (swoon sometimes, even), but I feel completely settled with what we’ve chosen for Acorn Lodge, satisfied that we’ve struck a balance between what-might-have-been and what is that will prove gratifying for the time we have to enjoy there.

I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish enough Hellos to get you through the final Good-bye.

entry windows

Through the Garden Gate

When the world wearies . . .

I’ve always bristled (inwardly) at the habit most have of calling the area(s) around their homes the ‘yard.’ Prisons have yards, my home will be surrounded by a garden, thank you very much. More than a mere quibble over semantics, these two terms connote to me a different approach to and relationship with the out-of-doors spaces that are part-and-parcel of the total package one calls ‘home.’ I understand that many (if indeed not most) people have no interest in gardening, either for pleasure or for the sake of duty in keeping up appearances, and for them, a yard that is landscaped is perfectly satisfactory — hire a mow/blow/go team and Bob’s-your-uncle. I aspire to something else entirely.

I enjoy gardening — I appreciate it as a creative outlet, I relish it for the opportunity it provides to nurture, and I embrace (mostly!) the actual physical labor involved. A garden is a dynamic entity, never exactly the same season to season, let alone across the years, begging always for a critical eye and an openness to change. The ongoing care and attention a garden requires engages and satisfies my impulse to nurture: I pinch back here, stake there, and feed and water as I putter about. The bending, stretching, and heavy lifting of garden-making and maintaining meet well with my desire to practice ‘functional fitness’ — why exercise in a gym when one can be doing something productive, out-of-doors no less?

We’ve (finally) begun to design the gardens of Acorn Lodge, and I am determined that we will have gardens, rather than landscapes, even with the challenges that gardening ‘in the wild’ will present. I need to be able to garden: for me, gardening is as much about the making of a home as is the decorating and upkeep of the interior of the house; ‘home’ as expression of and sanctuary for self encompasses the indoors and outdoors, both. That said, it is clear that the gardens for front and back of the house are subject to differing parameters, not to mention have different functions to fulfill.

The front garden must not only be deer-resistant, but also blend in harmoniously with the natural setting. We’ll add a few trees for fall color but mostly take happy advantage of the numerous deciduous oaks that grace the property to provide height to the scheme. The various shrubs and grasses that will be grouped ‘naturally’ amidst the trees will be not only deer-resistant but also drought-tolerant. Closer to the house, we’ll have plants that offer fragrance and those that are a tad more decorative in terms of flowers and/or foliage — vines, perennials, and ferns, but nothing that feels too ‘citified’ for the sylvan setting. We hope to unearth a large number of boulders and stones as we begin the grading the property for the various buildings, and we’ll put that rock to good use in the form of pocket walls that will define planting areas in the most indigenous manner possible. The front garden will extend an invitation and welcome into our home in a manner both graceful and sincere.

As for the back garden, I hope to be able to protect (read: fence) it adequately from the deer (and other critters who may be destructive). Here will be my kitchen garden, chicken coop, and bee hive, not to mention the space to propagate roses, lilies, and hydrangeas. Here is where I’ll tend to my full-to-the-brim English-style borders, and I hope to have a small greenhouse, too. Enclosed and cultivated in a manner that is distinct from the more wild garden in front of the house, the back garden is where we will sit and relax with a cup of tea or glass of wine (or beer!), enjoying a good read or good conversation, or simply the silence. It will be the primary vista from the majority of rooms in the house, and it is the nucleus around which the house, cottage, and barn are clustered, the heart of the property. The back garden will provide sustenance, both physical and spiritual, and a warm embrace.

Recognizing the limits of our stamina and time, we are relieved to accede to the dictum of our neighborhood association which limits ‘landscaping’ to the immediate environs of each home, leaving the majority of each property to the wild state in which it was acquired. Our daughter says, “It’s like you live in a beautiful campground, except people sleep in houses instead of tents,” and, as long as we can have our garden (cake), that’s just fine with us (we’ll eat it too!).

“We must cultivate our garden.”

— Voltaire, Candide

A Plan

The Footprint

The home that is now finally beginning to take shape — on paper at least — is one that I began planning 12 or so years ago. Back then we were living in our first Palo Alto house. We were a few years out after the last of a series of remodels which had seen the house being cedar-shingled and otherwise ‘charmed up’ as well as we could. We had three fireplaces, lots of built-ins, and a big (English) farmhouse-style kitchen by the time we’d finished, but at the end of the day, that house was a central hallway (70 foot-long hallway!) ranch, and, at 3,400 square feet, it felt about 700 square feet too big for me.

We began, casually at least, to think about moving on. One day I stopped in at a real estate Open House on my way home from the market. The absolutely delightful shingled cottage that was on offer boasted a floor plan that contained not one hallway — and I fell in love with the idea. Alas, at a sum total of 1,200 square feet the house was nowhere near big enough for our family of five, but I committed a sketch of the floor plan to paper so that I could hold on tightly to this notion that so appealed to me.

Months later, on the way home from yet another trip to the market, I stopped in to look at the house that we did buy and move into — a 1906 brown-shingle that also contained not one hallway! With its big kitchen, (mostly) original windows and mouldings, and high ceilings, this 2,600 square foot house was just about right in every way for us, and we relished the time we lived there. Once we had made the decision to leave it, I began to document and record the details of the house that we especially valued, the dimensions, finishes, and architectural particulars that made the house the charmer that it was.

Based on the floor plan of the wonderful-but-too-small cottage, with dimensions swelled in order to accommodate our needs and with close attention to details of construction that will make the house seem older-than-brand-new, Acorn Lodge is taking shape wonderfully under the stewardship of our talented team of architects at Farrell-Faber Associates (full disclosure: Kevin Farrell is my cousin). Taking my cue from Arts & Craft ideals that assign a social purpose, as well as a decorative one, to the production of goods, we are trying as often as possible to use local talent for the project: from our architects to the construction crew to the craftspeople we will call on board, Acorn Lodge will be a home-grown product that reflects and celebrates Northern California¬† — with our Anglophile overlay, of course!

The interesting thing I noticed as we hunted for just the right piece of property was the way the details of the house changed for me, in subtle ways, based on differences in the properties themselves (total acreage, topography, etc.). I found myself flipping the orientation of the floor plan based on compass points; changing my ideas about how the house would be clad (siding vs. stone vs. shingle); considering completely different exterior color schemes. It’s one thing to have a firm idea of what one wants — certainly the design process is somewhat streamlined when the time comes to put ideas to paper. But then again, rigidity does not serve the process well: it’s been fun to be able to consider others’ suggestions, weighing them to see how well those new possibilities fit into the overall scheme or perhaps prove to spark new lines of thought. I believe that the creative urge is sometimes elusive, that artistry can’t be forced, and I’ve learned to recognize that “aha!” feeling that the ‘just right’ idea brings — patience is its own reward in allowing the process to evolve organically so that the integrity of the project is not merely maintained, but actually enhanced. I can hardly wait to break ground, but wait I will, of course: I believe to my core that everything will unfold as it’s meant to.

Always have a plan, but never plan on your plans.