My wife and I like to talk about packing up our 90-year-old house and finding our dream home. “Walk-in closets,” Sarah says with a sigh.
“A library, with bookcases from floor to ceiling,” I add. We jokingly plan to sell everything and move, like young lovers scheming to elope. Our 5-year-old son interrupts this fantasy with a sharp voice that is both serious and adorable. “Don’t say that. I love our house.”
We laugh, but it wasn’t long ago that Sarah and I had felt the same. We no longer see it through the eyes of two newlyweds, punch-drunk in love with each other and the dream of owning a home. What had changed in the 10 years since we bought it?
Growing up in Lakewood, I have always loved old houses. My mother would pedal her bike along Lake Avenue with me riding tandem behind her. I’d look up at those early-century relics and imagine what they looked like inside.
After we married, Sarah and I relished the idea of taking up in an old house. Rather than being tucked away on some suburban cul-de-sac, we wanted to be a part of an established neighborhood, where generations of families had made their lives before us.
We found the perfect house in Old Brooklyn. Built in 1925, it looked like a storybook cottage — gray wood shingle siding, a steeply pitched roof, multipaneled windows and half-timber framing over a welcoming front porch.
We fell in love on a walk-through, where we discovered refinished hardwood floors, original crown molding, arched doorways, built-in corner cabinets, a breakfast nook and an antique crystal chandelier that sparkled in the sunlight pouring through the dining room windows.
The house had flaws, but we didn’t care. Its smallness felt intimate. The cramped bathroom was just large enough for two newlyweds who didn’t mind bumping into each other while getting ready in the morning. Our light wardrobes fit snugly in its tight closets. The detached garage held everything we needed at the time — a two-door car, a pair of bikes and a lawn mower.
After we were deemed Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner, we began to fill the space with things we loved and paid homage to its vintage roots. I displayed my antique camera collection on a bookcase. We found a midcentury tube stereo at a Lakewood resale shop. But the first addition to our new-old house was a butler; not the living, breathing kind, but a 3-foot statue sporting a black jacket, gray top hat and a bushy mustache. We called him Sir Charles. He held an umbrella with one arm and a silver tray with the other, where I’d often drop my keys and wallet when I walked in the door. We had pieced together our dream house.
A few years later, my wife sat beside me and said she had something to tell me. She placed her hands on her knees, looked me in the eyes and whispered two words that changed our lives: “I’m pregnant.”
That summer, she gave birth to a baby boy. We put a bassinet in the corner of the living room and stared at him while he slept. At night, we were too nervous to move him, so we slept next to him — my wife on the couch, me on the floor — for the first week he was home.
As we settled into our new role as parents, the house did some settling of its own. We converted our guest bedroom into a nursery. When our son started crawling, we fitted our glass tables with corner pads. When he stood and took his first steps, we covered the living room floor with a brown area rug. And when he ventured into the backyard, we enclosed it with a wooden fence.
Three years and another baby bump later, we added a little girl to our family. The house shifted once again. To make room, I packed up my home office, carrying boxes of books and a desktop computer down to the basement. Sarah took down my framed movie posters and rolled pink paint over my office walls.
With each change, our home looked less and less like that house we had initially fallen in love with. But we couldn’t see it happening; it’s change you don’t see every day, like the fine lines that form across your face.
Our once immaculate hardwood floors are now covered in nicks and scratches. Sir Charles’ umbrella is missing — lost in an unfortunate accident — and he leans to his left with a permanent limp. Lego pieces, crayons, action figures, stuffed animals and other tiny things have taken over downstairs. Princess stickers decorate walls and doors, dried Play-Doh has crusted to the dining room table, stick-figure drawings of our family and rainbow finger-paintings hang in the kitchen.
This beautiful mess is not what we had envisioned a decade earlier, but it says something about us. We no longer want a spotless, everything-in-its-place house. We’ve embraced its imperfections and welcomed its surprises.
I realize that what has always drawn me to old houses is how they seem to have stories to tell. As we join the kids in the dining room with paints, brushes, scissors and glue to craft some new artwork for their bedrooms, this aging house tells ours.
If a dream home is a space that houses the moments that shape a family and draws them close, then we’ve had ours all along.