I grew up in a beautiful Victorian house in upstate New York. The place had five bedrooms (six if you counted the upstairs back kitchen where my elderly aunt once slept), a wraparound porch, a walk up attic, and plenty of closets that were great for playing hide and seek. After my great aunts passed away, my parents expanded into the use of the entire house, and I was happy to call a huge bedroom with bay windows and antique chairs and a non-working fireplace my own. Let me just say that even though the house was in need of a great deal of repair, it was a wonderful space in which to grow up.
My parents took advantage of the space they had, and over the years opened the house up to everyone in the family. I stayed there many a time between jobs and schools, as did my siblings, nephews, niece, and cousins. After my Dad died my mother took in a border or two to help her pay the bills; these people ended up being just like family members, joining us for Christmas or Thanksgiving dinners. Relatives traveling through our town would often spend the night or the weekend with my mom (of course, she kept track of everyone’s birthday and never let the birth of a baby slide).
I learned from an early age that although my parents owned our house (having bought the place for a song from my great grandfather), our doors were always open (and back in the day—at least during the day-- they weren’t even locked). There was always a sense that although the house remained the same on the outside (always green, my mother’s favorite color), the insides were constantly evolving. What was an empty bedroom one month became a temporary home for a cousin the next, or a place for me to stay while working on a book, or a refuge for grandkids with trucks, trains, and Legos or a place for teenagers to hang out.
Fast-forward a few decades to purchasing my own tiny bungalow in the suburbs of New Jersey where I raised my three (now grown) children. The house that we live in has no wrap around porch, not enough bedrooms or closet space, and a tiny kitchen with barely any counter space. And yet my little home—just like mom’s—is a refuge. My boomerang boys move in and out (one just arrived again last night). Friends who come for dinner often end up staying until 3 or 4 in the morning. Though others in my family have far more space, we always end up hosting Christmas; in fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I learned from my mother that a home has nothing to do with square footage, granite or marble countertops, or window treatments. Instead, I was taught that a home is all about opening your doors wide and saying “welcome.”