Mayhem. That's the best way I can think to describe my home life for the last three weeks. I’ve been riding a mounting wave of panic and chaos, culminating in hours of absolute madness last Saturday morning. People were running. People were yelling. There were cuts, and bruises, and heavy things being dragged across the floors. At one point people were wearing PROTECTIVE ARMOR.
And then…. a celebration.
You see, back in early April, my husband dropped me a line. An innocuous line: “Hey, honey! The folks at the Preservation Society are looking for houses for this year’s historic tour, and they asked if they could take a look at our place. That’d be fun, right?”
Good lord, I thought. “It’s in September, right? Think we’ll have everything finished up by then?” I took a look around. Our petite patio had been half-excavated, and only a portion of the stone and brick had yet been replaced. We had a death-trap of a door leading out from our kitchen onto nothing—a safety hazard, to put it lightly. We hadn’t yet put up the balcony on the back of the house, or begun to design the railings and stairs that would lead down to the garden level. We had just swapped out our thermostats, leaving patches in need of spackle and paint in every room. Boxes of backsplash tile, bathroom wallpaper, and light fixtures were stacked in the hallways, waiting to be opened and dealt with. Rooms were full of furniture pieces I hadn't had time to replace.
We said yes. Because, number one, we are optimists. Number two, the event raises money for a really great organization that helps keep the history of our Boston neighborhood alive. But the third and most compelling reason was one I learned fairly early on in this renovation journey of ours: how important it is to have milestones along the way, and to give yourself reasons to celebrate your own hard work. It’s like buying yourself a new outfit when you're halfway to your weight-loss goal. You need to pause and appreciate how far you've come.
To that end, at several points in the past seven years of residential upgrades, we have sent invitations for parties that our under-construction home was in no way prepared to host. These deadlines gave us a reason to stop and declutter, to organize, to decorate what we did have, and to enjoy our space for one evening. For one blessed night, there would be no ladders to be seen, no drill bits on the dresser. We’d arrange flowers, light candles, get catering. It was always a scramble to tidy up, but it was always worth it.
This advice doesn’t just apply to renovators. For anyone with a busy schedule and/or crazy little kid-monsters running around, it’s easy to just let things pile up in corners, or to say “What’s the point? We’re just going mess this up again.” It’s easy to put off hosting a grown-up get together because your home is “in transition.” I say: All the more reason to host a party.
Now, I’m not saying you MUST dress your house to have people over, or that you can’t have just invite your friends over for pizza amid the dust. You should do that. But when you take a bit of time to stage your own home so that you’re proud of it, you not only gift yourself with a few lovely weeks or months of not feeling like everything’s a mess, you also gain some perspective on what’s working and not working in your space. You can see what you actually have, and stop stressing about what you don’t. All you people pinning “dream house” pictures online while lamenting the fact that your space looks like crud? Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you just need to invite all your friends over for cocktails, and spend two days rearranging your stuff so it looks nice. Maybe all you need to make your home feel welcoming is a new pillow or a new lamp, but you don’t know it because you’ve written off your current space off as a permanent mess. Why not give your house a chance to shine from time to time?
So… the house tour. We spent the last part of the summer marking off items on our gigantic punch list. We had our new fence built, joining forces with our neighbors who all wanted their fences replaced at the same time. We finally had the balcony installed, and we leaned on our stonemason to finish paving the patio. We ordered new furniture, a sectional that would make the space truly cozy.
Dave and I came up with our own design for the railings, and shortly after Labor Day, they went up, too.
Part of them, anyway.
As the day grew closer and we started to see our hard work coming together, Dave and I decided to turn House-Tour Day into Party Day, and we sent out invites to a bunch of the neighborhood parents in our kids’ classrooms to join us for cocktails after the tour. After all, why waste a clean house on a bunch of strangers?
The week before the tour, we combed through bins of old books, clothes, photos, and college notebooks, figuring out where we could consolidate and donate. We got rid of old kids’ toys, rusty paint cans, and catalogs. Dave touched up all of the walls and changed the window latches to brass. I had some vintage prints framed and hung in the hallways, hung art in our master bath, bought plants for the back patio, and put a new bistro set on our balcony.
It came down to the wire. Twenty-five minutes before tour guests began lining up outside our front door, tickets on hand, metalworkers were still scrambling to install the new railings on our new balcony stairs. A guy with a mask and blowtorch fused metal outside while I arranged flowers in the dining room.
The day was a smashing success. Over 600 ticket-holders came through the tour houses that day, and while house-sitters managed the crowd at my house, we got to spend a few hours snooping around other families’ quirky old abodes. After the visitors left, our kids ran circles around their suddenly spacious-seeming, clean bedrooms. In the evening, our friends filled the kitchen, drank cocktails under the patio string lights, and had a legitimate, ear-splitting dance party in the living room. I couldn’t have asked for a better reward.
My house is by no means finished yet. I still have a mud room that doesn't open to the outdoors. There's cracked plaster in the stairwells and skylight. There are closets we intend to build and fireplaces to restore. Heck, we want to bust through the ceiling and build a roof deck at some point way, way in the future.
But for now, I have a home I'm ready to push "pause" on and enjoy. The work we've done is looking its best. I love my home, and it's worth it to create that feeling every now and then, if only as an excuse to throw a dance party.