Moving house has never flustered author Jane Christmas. She loves houses: viewing them, negotiating their price, dreaming up interior plans, hiring tradespeople to do the work and overseeing renovations. She loves houses so much that she’s moved thirty-two times.
There are good reasons for her latest house move, but after viewing sixty homes, Jane and her husband succumb to the emotional fatigue of an overheated English housing market and buy a wreck in the town of Bristol that is overpriced, will require more money to renovate than they have and that neither of them particularly like.
As Jane’s nightmare renovation begins, her mind returns to the Canadian homes where she grew up with parents who moved and renovated constantly around the Toronto area. Suddenly, the protective seal is blown off Jane’s memory of a strict and peripatetic childhood and its ancillary damage—lost friends, divorces, suicide attempts—and the past threatens to shake the foundations of her marriage. This latest renovation dredges a deeper current of memory, causing Jane to question whether in renovating a house she is in fact attempting to renovate her past.
With humour and irreverence, Open House reveals that what we think we gain by constantly moving house actually obscures the precious and vital parts of our lives that we leave behind.
This is a memoir that will appeal to anyone whose pulse quickens at the mere mention of real estate.
Statistics reveal that Britons move on average three times in a lifetime, Canadians about seven times, and Americans about eleven times. I, however, have moved thirty-two times.
To some people, thirty-two house moves looks like recklessness; to me, thirty-two moves looks like life. And life is one big open house.
A track record like that does not come without personal stocktaking. Here is one: I have had more homes than lovers, by a long shot. A virtuous statement, and one that I wear proudly. Thirty-two homes in sixty-three years works out to one home every second year. Would I trade that for a new lover every second year? Are you crazy? But while I am not sexually promiscuous, when it comes to homes I am a shameless, serial adulterer. I have cast a covetous eye over other homes in my neighbourhood. I have brassily walked up to a new neighbour and drawn him or her into such intimate conversation, twirling the ends of my hair around a painted fingernail, that within seconds I am purring my way into their home just to check the layout and decor. I have sat on the sofa in a home I have just moved into and immediately started swiping left and right on Rightmove or MLS. Sex toys? Forget it. But give me a pencil and a floor plan and, oh, baby, I can reach ecstasy before you can say “stud wall.”
Second fact: I fall in love faster with a house than I do with a person. This I am not so proud of, because it probably puts me at the wrong end of the Asperger’s spectrum. Nevertheless, it is the God’s honest truth: I get more excited about meeting a new house than I do about meeting a new person. Perhaps that is true of most introverts. No tedious or awkward conversation required, no probing questions to circumvent. Does that make me cold-hearted? Indicate intimacy issues? Does it mean I relate better to buildings than humans? Does it look like I care?
For their part, houses are not as obviously discriminating as people, but they size you up—oh yes, they do. They absolutely pass judgment on you. For that reason, I am always on my best behaviour when I meet a new house, especially one that is for sale. A house can smell desperation on a potential buyer as surely as you can smell damp on it. There have been times when I have been actually flustered, almost on a crush level, about visiting a particular house. I think a home can smell that, too. Where I draw the line about lusting after a house is when it is a friend’s: I never flirt with or fantasize about their homes. I will cheer their own plans, and gush about their decorating expertise, but I will not so much as tamper with the placement of a sofa cushion. Unless, that is, I am asked.
Like lovers, houses can and do disappoint; on the outside they can be as sleek as a runway model, but on the inside they are vapid—a few radiators short of a heating system, if you know what I mean. The seasoned homebuyer deftly learns to separate the pretentious from the practical.
That is not to say that I can’t easily be seduced by a house. My pulse quickens when my eyes land on something that I know was built for me. There are some that I have actually stalked—online and in person—and I have occupied pleasant hours gazing at photos of its interior online or in a realtor’s brochure, imagining the place decorated and arranged with my furniture, and me cuddled into it with the sort of happy contentment that puts an end to my roving eye. When the object of my affection falls into the hands of a real buyer, I have been known to become distraught and to tumble into a period of deep mourning.
I love the search for a new home, the packing up and the subsequent assessment and de-cluttering of all that I own, when old and new face off in a fight to survive the charity shop box. I love planning a new space, designing and styling the interior, thumbing through stacks of paint and fabric swatches. I love the ruminating, the budgeting, the logistical organization, the legal details involved in a title search. I have even grown to enjoy the chaos that is part and parcel of the moving experience.
Buying a home has never frightened me or kept me up late at night; buying a car, yes; perhaps an item of clothing; but never a house. I am completely at home with homes in the same way people are at home with horses or recreational drugs. Nothing scares me about them. If a house intrigues me, and as long as a murder has not taken place in it, I can work with anything. Actually, if a murder has taken place in it, I will still look at the floor plan. I have been in houses where the layout was not appealing or where the scope and the result of a renovation would not produce enough of a satisfactory buzz, but I can pretty much look at anything and envision a spotless transformation. No floors? No problem. Leaky roof? Whatever. Dated and ugly bathroom? Piece of cake.
Thank you ,Jane Christmas and Rhoda Hardie
About the author
Jane Christmas is the author of several bestselling books, including Incontinent on the Continent and And Then There
Were Nuns. Born and raised in Toronto, Jane moved to the UK in 2012. She has lived in Walthamstow, Brixham and
Longwell Green, and now lives in Bristol with her husband.
Amazon UK/ Paperback: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Open-House-Life-32-Moves/dp/1443458767/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1UJIV06BYWGQU&dchild=1&keywords=jane+christmas+open+house&qid=1605088144&sprefix=jane+chris%2Caps%2C148&sr=8-1