April 22, 2018

The Airlock

Our house, an older, four-bedroom colonial, felt spacious when we bought it right after we were married. But then seemed to shrink. What had first made the house quaint and charming – small, cozy rooms all separated by labyrinthine walls – made it a bit tight when you were chasing three little kids around.

In some houses, dining rooms, living rooms, and guest rooms can end up being wasted space. Not for us. We had a small kitchen, no room for a table or island, so the dining room got plenty of use as our everyday eating spot.  We had a living room, but our front door opened into it as our primary entrance. No matter how organized and “zoned” I tried to make it, the room was always littered with jackets, shoes, school bags, all the detritus of a family of five. Upstairs, we had no room set aside for guests.  All our bedrooms were filled, intentionally.  Not complaining! I was satisfied that even though we sometimes felt like we were bumping into each other (or were, literally, bumping into each other), we used every square foot. 

But sometimes I craved it, an unused space.  As a mom on the introvert side with three kids, two cats, a dog (and a husband), the flip side of using all our spaces to the fullest was that no space remained neat, clean, quiet, and empty – ever. 

Eleven years in, though, the house had of course become our home. We had friendly neighbors, we were very close to the greatest elementary school and our local park.  We didn’t want to move. So, we bit the bullet and signed up for some major renovations.  We didn’t go crazy. We weren’t going to be extravagant.  We just wanted to open things up to create easier flow. And maybe gain just a few little inches or feet, just a bump out?

Well …

The initial idea included adding onto the back of our kitchen. Maybe we could create some space for an island, and then the dining room could be a separate, serene space?  Turned out that couldn’t happen because behind the kitchen was the septic tank. And we weren’t putting in a new one!

The next idea included space next to or behind the garage to function as an office/guest room/whatever room, the malleable and removed quiet space we didn’t currently have. However, strict township building codes around adding impervious surface to our existing footprint made this idea impossible within the footprint of our budget.

So, we changed course again. Knocking down the existing garage and rebuilding a two-car garage (with a door into the house, yay!) became the most practical course. It would allow us to build a large room above to be used as a fill-in-the-blank room. In the process, I would gain a cool back staircase, adding some “old house with character” vibe to my 1972 colonial. In the end, after plotting out all the possibilities, the plan changed one more time, and the new room above the garage became our master bedroom and bath, and our old master bedroom became the guest room/extra space.

For awhile I lamented that the extra footage, both in our kind-of-too-large master bedroom and the guest room that doesn’t see many guests, was wasted. Since it wasn’t on the main floor as originally envisioned, it wasn’t as accessible as I’d hoped our new space would be. Even though logically I knew 

we’d used our time and money to the best advantage, it took some time to not still wish for a larger kitchen, or a downstairs office, or a real dining room.

But I’ve realized that I gained something better than what I’d thought I wanted.

The Guest Room: I’ve kept it streamlined, uncluttered. Even though the closet is used for out of season clothing, sheets for all the other bedrooms, camp cots, loved stuffed animals who’ve been put out to pasture, etc., the room itself is spare.  Because it sits between the busyness of our original upstairs hallway and the kids’ rooms, and our new room and back stairs, it’s sort of like an airlock.  To go from my room to the kids’ rooms, or vice versa, I pass through the guest room, and most times I pause.  It’s quiet in there, there’s no mess, no dirty clothes on the floor, no pet evidence because I’m militant about keeping doors closed and animals out.

And no one knows I’m in there. Sometimes I just stand there for a beat.  Sometimes I lie down for a few minutes on the fresh, neatly made bed. Sometimes I just stare out the window down into our driveway and street and the softness of the night. Often, I listen to my kids as they go about their mostly independent lives – finishing homework, singing in the shower, facetiming friends, puttering around getting ready for bed.

This ended up being the best reconfiguration after all. Tucked away in a downstairs office or sitting in a removed dining room, I wouldn’t really be able to immerse myself in the embrace of my home and the precious presence of my kids, yet also be removed, the way I can in this in-between room that we never really planned for.


About our Blogger:

Elizabeth Dougherty is a freelance writer in Chester County, Pennsylvania.  Her blog, Plan Q, chronicles real, everyday experiences and viewpoints — funny, stressful, tearful, mundane — and how they all tie together to define our lives. She aims to make her readers laugh, cry, feel, think, and wonder.  That’s what writing and reading do for her, and if she can pass on any of that, then all the twists and turns that whip her right past Plans A through P and land her at Plan Q are more than worth it! Visit Plan Q at www.elizabethdoughertyfreelanc ewriting.wordpress.com or connect with her on Facebook.

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