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HousesInside and Out
By Mariette Himes Gomez
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Mariette Himes Gomez
All right reserved.
My First Houses
I grew up in a small Midwestern town where families ate meals together and chatted on porches. Ours was a stone house, with a big glassed-in porch and neoclassical columns. The houses of my grandmothers, my aunts, and my mother were welcoming, attractive places with loving people and good food. The emphasis was on comfort and family. The houses wrapped themselves around our lives, and they had love in them. They echoed with years of stored family life. These warm memories are with me all the time.
I remember the snowstorms and the backyards filled with flowers and my favorite trees and asparagus plants. I knew our garden by heart. An important part of childhood, especially in the Midwest, is playing outdoors. I remember the porches: the stone porch, where I had my tea parties; my grandmother's porch, where we would go after Sunday lunch and sit and talk; and the front porch of my other grandmother, where we would sit in the early evening with her neighbors in the small town in northern Michigan. Porches gave a sense of community. They were for being with people, with neighbors and family, for togetherness. They were between inside and out, house and garden.
Kitchens, too, come to mind from those early houses. There was my grandmother's kitchen, where I would wait while she made me a snack. My mother and her sister would go into our kitchen to do the dishes after dinner, to chat and catch up. When I design kitchens today, I make sure they are spaces that encourage families to gather, as we did then. There were always comfortable chairs in those houses. There were windows that allowed the sunlight to stream in, and there was a piano in every house.
As I grew up in that small Michigan town, I became aware that there was more than one kind of house. My friend's house was laid out differently. The features of the houses affected me. Even as a child, I was conscious of where I was sitting or the lamp I liked, of the coziness of the house or the way the dining room was set up. I remember the wallpapers—some floral, some geometric. I always reacted to these things, and very early on I knew that I wanted to be a designer.
I believe that I was born with the gene for design—it was not a matter of circumstance, there was no request to decorate a friend's house, for example. Something inside me told me that I was going to do it, and I did. My mother and my aunts became my role models in decorating.
When I married and we bought our first house in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, and renovated it, I did the same kinds of things my mother would have done. I made a cozy dining room, a kitchen that worked, and a living room that was interesting for friends when they came over.We had moved to Brooklyn because we thought we were going to live in a big house there with our children. But then the commute to New York necessitated a change in location. We decided we needed to be in the city again, and so we had to forgo the luxury of space and air and trees. As a solution, we bought three barns on Long Island and renovated them. They had been dairy barns, and their history became part of the experience. Planning how the rooms worked and what they would look like—to make a barn work as a living environment for a family—was a new project altogether. And it turned out to be a spectacular success. Doing the barns and the house in Brooklyn with my husband, Raymond Gomez, an architect, enhanced my love of houses, and I have learned much along the way.
It was a different time then. With more experience and education, my style now may have become more sophisticated, but I still emphasize coziness. When I approach a house, the comfort and warmth, the dinners and evenings on the porches of my childhood, are part of my awareness. It was all about those houses. The houses I live in reflect, in part, my past.
All houses tell stories of past and present. It's in the choice of chairs and in the collection of painted boxes on your coffee table, and it's in the house itself. The past gave the Long Island barns we renovated a particular originality. The past gives character and spirit to my house and yours, setting them apart from others, making them unique.
I like to recognize that all houses are repositories of history and stories and meanings. You feel that somewhere in the air there are the lives lived and living under the roof. That is how a particular house can develop a mystique—one that a room does not have. Think of The House of the Seven Gables or Wuthering Heights. Houses reverberate with the color and character of all of their inhabitants. I like to be aware of this dimension, which goes beyond the visible, even if it is not directly reflected in physical details. It gives an aura of many-layered experience to the life of the house, an added depth and richness to the perceptual grasp of walls and windows.
To me, houses are mirrors. From childhood, I've known that one of the most important things in life is your house and how it reflects your personality.
Your own space will be your own space, even in an apartment, but a house is an embellished extension of your ego, not just a costume party. It has to have humor and spirit and soul, and even a flourish!
I especially enjoy the process of turning houses into homes. That is why I feel strongly about writing this book about houses, because it is not about decorating alone. I see a house as a living concept and as a . . .
Excerpted from Houses by Mariette Himes Gomez Copyright © 2007 by Mariette Himes Gomez. Excerpted by permission.
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