BY JEAN MARIE JOHNSON
When you look at this photo, what do you see?
I see a nest built by a determined pair of house finches, a fanciful home built with grace from “local material.” Look closely and you will discern a fine bed layered in fresh sage and walls intricately woven of flowering thyme and steadfast oregano. I don’t understand the ways of birds enough to know if the choice of materials was an expression of mere pragmatism, based on what was abundant and available, or something more. Who knows? Perhaps herbs prove sturdy when Mother Nature sends the wind and the rain. Or, could it be that herbs provide a welcome scent, a distinctive touch to mark this nest as “our home”? While I wonder, I marvel, and I speculate, I know that I don’t need to understand.
In thinking how I set about feathering my own nest, I flash back to a realtor who commented that my last home in Connecticut was “highly-stylized.” While I respected her observation and chuckled at her tactfulness, I also knew that, beyond helping me sell my place, she didn’t need to understand. A home is a nest, and a nest is nothing short of personal.
My home shelters only the three of us: Dean, Miss Noelle – my ancient mini poodle – and me. It serves our needs while it invites us to create a space that is functional, true-to-who-we-are, and beautiful. These words have subjective meaning and how we define them – separately and together – evolves continually, just as we do.
In September of 2017, we purchased our 1968 ranch house here in North Carolina. We had seen the house online, done a virtual walk-through, and quickly went under contract. The night before the closing, we drove down from Connecticut and saw the house in real time, for the first time. Suffice it to say that I am known to make significant leaps of faith. No matter; I already had a good sense of how I would transform this house into my home. I knew that the light-filled dining room would reinvent itself as my office, a place to think, work, and pay my bills. I also knew that my 19th century carved Victorian dining table would be my desk, and the accompanying sideboard would store my office supplies and reference materials. By moving these much-loved pieces into this room, I gave them a new and useful purpose, exercised my pragmatism, and something more: I created a space where the practical and the poetic peacefully co-exist. That matters to me.
Next, I moved on to the living room, an unusual space with crown and dentil molding uncharacteristic of its mid-century origins. This dark and dreamy space became my drawing room – more formal, distinctly feminine, and suited to reading, intimate conversation, and book club gatherings. I have filled this room with estate sale finds, personal mementos from my life journey, and of course, my husband’s floral masterpieces. On a small marble table sits a humble set of Russian nesting dolls. These I sought out on eBay to remind me of “the story within the story, within the story” that is my life.
And so it goes, this business of transforming a neutral and impersonal house into a “personally-stylized” home. It’s not for everyone, and it needn’t be.
Perhaps this year’s experience of sheltering-in-place has got you thinking and dreaming in new ways. Beyond man caves and she-sheds, perhaps you will reconsider the nest you call home, reimagining how it serves and expresses who you are. Others can wonder and marvel at your choices, as I did with the seemingly-whimsical finch house, but they don’t really need to understand. Stay true to who you are and where you are right now. That clarity will guide you to address your practical needs while responding to what speaks to your soul.