Home. No other word stirs our longings quite like it, especially at Christmas. While the temperature drops outside, a crackling fire and twinkling lights invite us to huddle with those we love most in all the world. We traditionally host friends for a night of goodies and games at Christmas, but this year we will love you best by NOT inviting you over. I’m totally bummed. But this pandemic year will not defeat us, dadgummit! So, what could be more on-brand for 2020 than a virtual holiday home tour? Come on in. I’ll put the coffee on.
Deck the Halls
For all we’ve lost this year, I confess to loving the virtual element of television programs that allow us to see the hosts and guests in their own homes. A certain Twitter account, RoomRater (@ratemyskyperoom), critiques and rates these home backgrounds, and I’m so jealous! I want THAT job! I don’t know how RoomRater would score my home, but it’s my refuge, a source of comfort and blessing more than ever this year.
The older I get, the more minimalist (aka, lazy) my Christmas decorating becomes. A tabletop tree takes 1/3 the time to decorate, and more importantly, to UNdecorate. Hanging the ornaments may be a warm, nostalgic ritual, but I’m still over it if it takes longer than an hour!
I love the simplicity of decorating with poinsettias, for the vibrant life they breathe into the room. The pink or white varieties blend into my living room color scheme better than traditional red.
More than the tree, the mantle serves as the centerpiece of our home at Christmas. I love the juxtaposition of natural, earthy elements paired with glitzy sparkles, all in neutral colors. Mercury glass candle holders, bejeweled trees, giant pine cones, and deer antlers play together in harmony amidst the tiny lights. This year I layered three mirrors of different shapes and colors to add depth and more reflection.
For me, the season’s best moments are those at the end of the day. With all the lights dimmed except the Christmas lights, my sleepy mind replays a highlight reel of family memories, and I close the day with deep, abiding gratitude.
A Look Back
This old rock house has sheltered our family since 1992, and boy, has it ever evolved with us! Even though Roger and I were in our thirties, this was our first home purchase. We’d been serving at a children’s home in Oklahoma since our wedding, and our housing was provided there. When we left our ministry life, poor as church mice and with three young children, we had no jobs and no earthly idea what we were doing. But God walked with us as we stepped into the unknown.
Roger’s most marketable skill was anything automotive, and he wanted to open his own business. So we prioritized our house-hunting requirements as follows: shop, location, house. And did I mention we had no money? Thank goodness for our parents, who floated our mortgage.
After exhaustive searching, we finally found “the one.” Now, sometimes a dream house doesn’t look that dreamy, right? This one filled the first two requirements beautifully — it had a sizable shop and it was on a major street on the edge of Joplin. But the house itself? Well, not so much. It was a quaint one-bedroom cottage.
At less than 800 square feet, every room in the house was dinky. The kitchen was 9×8 and had exactly 18 inches of counter space. Our small dining table barely fit in the nook off the living room. The only bedroom, 9×12, had a non-standard closet, not quite deep enough for hangers. The bedroom also had no doors, even though it adjoined the living room. Thankfully, the living room was a decent size, with beautiful original hardwood floors. The front porch had been enclosed at some point, making a cheery sunroom. That became the bedroom for all three of our children!
The house had a basement that was never intended to be living space. The concrete floor sloped toward a drain in the middle, which turned out to be fortunate, since the basement walls leaked like a sieve. (We were so naive, we believed the owners when they told us the basement didn’t leak. Live and learn.) With the exception of a small room filled with canning jars, the basement was all one big empty space, making an enormous laundry room.
The attic was accessible from pull-down stairs, and was surprisingly roomy. Given the steep pitch of the roof, you could easily stand up in it. Its most remarkable feature, however, was that it was absolutely crawling with fiddleback spiders. In Joplin, Missouri, this was the New York City of fiddlebacks. The memory still makes my skin crawl.
To make the house useable for our family, we had to convert both the basement and the attic to livable space. That required framing up an opening from basement to attic (we called it “the shaft”) and then installing a staircase to make all three levels accessible. Next came bedrooms, two in the basement and one in the attic. Years later we finally added a second bathroom in the basement.
That was it for the first four years. We referred to both our kitchen and our bathroom as “one-butt” rooms, since that’s all you could fit in them. Somehow we managed. I suspect we were simply too poor and too tired to care at that point.
By the fourth year, Roger had established his business well enough that we could contemplate adding on a new kitchen and another upstairs bedroom. Building an addition onto a rock house entails first removing a lot of rock….with a jackhammer. Yes, it’s as difficult as it sounds. Fortunately, we knew some strong, young men who were up to the task. It would be impossible to overstate how much that addition improved our quality of life.
Finally, it was finished. Whew! We went from a one-butt kitchen to a 30-butt kitchen, and on many celebratory occasions we filled the room with happy chatter!
It’s been 28 years since we signed the paperwork on our 1-bedroom, 800 sq. ft. dream home. After an enormous sweat equity investment, it’s now a 5-bedroom, 1,600 sq. ft. home filled with memories. Every wall is painted with our story, and I love every inch of it. Want a quick tour? Come with me.
THE MAIN LEVEL
The house was built in 1940, a humble cottage with small rooms and simple construction. The ceiling tiles sagged, but the hardwood floors boasted that lovely patina only achieved with age. Graceful arches between the rooms were the only nod to ornamentation. A simple brick fireplace anchored the living room. We painted it white and installed a gas fireplace a few years ago. We sheetrocked the ceiling and added crown molding, and we also replaced all the windows for energy efficiency.
After living in a one-butt kitchen for 4 years, we wanted SPACE when we built the new kitchen in 1996. Not surprisingly, this is the room where family happens — Sunday dinners, graduation parties, Thanksgiving feasts, or just an after-school snack with conversation about the day.
We updated the kitchen several years ago with new granite countertops, cabinet hardware, light fixtures, and tile backsplash. Yes, my oak cabinets are very dated, but I couldn’t justify the expense and labor to update or replace them. So instead, I painted the island to tone the oak down a bit, and I’m happy with that compromise.
The old kitchen became the mud room. This is where we drop the mail, kick off shoes, and dry the wet dog when she comes in from the rain. Every home needs a mud room!
I don’t know what we would have done without this room. Perhaps no other room in the house evolved with our changing needs like this room. It’s been a bedroom, a slumber party room, an arcade, an exercise room, and now a playroom for the grandkids. While having a sunroom on the north side of the house is not ideal, replacing the original jalousie windows made it useable year round.
The only bedroom on the main floor became Mom’s bedroom when she moved in with us in 2016. It’s tiny, but it’s filled with treasured mementos like my dad’s ties and the cross-stitch sign for her antique business. She takes a childlike delight in changing her decor every season, and no season delights her more than Christmas! The woman loves her some sparkle!
In a case of good timing, we replaced our tub with a walk-in shower a year before Mom came to live with us. I love it and wish we would have done it years earlier.
THE BASEMENT LEVEL
The grandkids love knowing they have their own room at our house. This used to be Leah’s music room, where she jammed out to her drums and dreamed of starting her own Chick Band. The dreams have evolved over the years, but we definitely encourage dreams in this house!
The last remaining wallpaper can be found in our “vintage” guest room. This wallpaper worked well with the antique sleigh bed, and I’m just too tired to peel more wallpaper, so it’s staying! Playing off the travel motif of the wallpaper, I like to add photos from our travels in this room.
If it’s possible to love your laundry room, I certainly do. I love having space for a tall folding table, a hanging rack, and bins for dirty clothes. Not only functional, it’s light and cheery, which makes laundry more bearable.
At least one bathroom in the house has a little bit of space. It comes in handy when the kids are home for a visit.
We also have a small storage room in the basement. We keep our extra freezer there, along with seasonal decor items, paint cans, folding chairs and bulk supplies of toilet paper, etc.
THE UPSTAIRS LEVEL
The landing area at the top of the stairs serves as a dinky office. In small houses, you have to use every nook and cranny! The gallery wall on the stairs just keeps expanding with the addition of grandkids.
I’ve been methodically painting and updating the house for the last couple years, and I saved these two bedrooms for last. Because wallpaper. Ugh! It was a chore (details here), but I finally got it done. I’ve used neutral paint colors throughout the house, but I made an exception in these rooms. I painted the outer wall in each room a bold color, one a deep green and the other a dark blue. We love having room for guests!
I have a love/hate relationship with paint colors. Like a kid in a candy shop, so many delicious choices! But it often doesn’t look like I expected once its on the wall. Finally, I feel like I hit upon a color scheme that works. Sticking to neutral colors, which used to feel boring, now feels calming and cozy to me. Here are the Sherwin Williams paint colors I used:
Thank you for coming along on my holiday home tour! One of these days, we’ll be able to see each other face to face and enjoy a cup of coffee together. Until then, friends, stay safe and take good care of each other. Here’s to a brighter 2021!