The first time I lived in Santa Rosa, I, like many others from my hometown, under an hour and a half away, moved here for an education. The junior college is one of the best in the nation and the perfect distance from mom and dad’s, far enough to exercise one’s independence and close enough to make day trips back for laundry and fridge raids. When I left Santa Rosa, freshly twenty-one, I didn’t see myself coming back. I felt I had experienced everything there was, overstayed my welcome and needed to move on. I didn’t think I’d return for a weekend, let alone for good.
When I “re-met” Ryan, coincidentally a Santa Rosa resident, I came back to a town I had vivid memories of, all dictated by the strict “not a college town” atmosphere I had parted ways with so many years ago. I drove my trusty Jetta up that trip and took a nostalgic cruise downtown. Passing by the mall I used to work at, stuck in surface street congestion, I found the place I once called home barely recognizable. The growth had been tremendous. The traffic felt like it had more than doubled and streets that were once mellow seemed chaotic. Throughout my and Ryan’s long distance dating we traveled back and forth monthly. During that time Sonoma County and I became re-aquainted, this time as someone old enough to enjoy the fruits of the county’s labor. Sonoma County in your thirties is very different than in your late teens and early twenties. When I made the decision to move back it didn’t feel like some grand return, instead, it had the familiar feeling of being a new kid in a new town full of new opportunities. Santa Rosa and I had both changed dramatically and, much like Ryan and me, the timing hadn’t been right for us the first time around. It needed a second chance and, much like Ryan and me, the second time around was cosmic perfection.
We have been in our new home for a solid two months. Remodel construction has been ruling our lives and we’ve been happy to oblige. Before we moved in we had the main living space opened up, wall removed, hallway exposed, upper cabinets torn out and kitchen floor removed. The closed-up floor plan was dark and heavy, begging for renovation so we did what we felt was needed to let it breathe. After that came floor refinishing, pulling up the aged, sage green carpet and reviving the beautiful, original, white oak hardwood that had been preserved for decades. Then came our move date. Along with that came one disgruntled cat–she’s still adjusting. Shuffling and shifting from room to room, the three of us have lived through dry walling and skim coating which, like most projects, went from an estimated five day timeline to over a week and a half. As we dragged our mattress up and down the hallway we reminded ourselves that in the end it would all be worth it. Once the walls were finished it was time for our own labor to kick in. Paint, base board installation, trim work and molding application has been our every weekend for weeks now. The more boxes we check the bigger the reward feels. Every completed task is greeted with a sigh, from both us and the house. Never has anywhere I have ever lived felt so grateful. Laying in bed at night, staring at the fresh white ceiling my husband’s hard work is forever cemented in, the house and I exchange “thank you’s”. I fall asleep dreaming of what we will take on next.
There have been numerous lessons learned throughout our remodel journey thus far. Beer, specifically 805, is essential. Mid to late 90s alternative rock, it turns out, is also quite crucial. Paint is capable of getting in spots that will leave you baffled. I found a patch on the back of my elbow, two days and three showers after painting. You can never make too many lists. You can never regroup too many times. Picking the right shade of white is an artform. Crown molding is much more challenging than base boards. A floor built in the forties can be what some would call drastically uneven. An uneven floor can require a tile guy. By the way, does anyone know a good tile guy? You will experience new levels of “logistical nightmare”. Sometimes, putting down the hammer, walking out the front door and driving away is the only answer.
We have learned an immense amount of neighborhood knowledge as well. Our neighborhood dates back to 1946 and we live in a Codding built home which holds local historical value, a history that we have found delightfully fascinating. Most of our immediate neighbors are much older than us, most of them have been here for over forty years and most of them have children that have gone through the same high school as my husband. In fact, coincidentally, our neighbor’s son played baseball with Ryan many moons back. Everyone has been overwhelmingly welcoming. Each house in the neighborhood has it’s own individual motif while the common thread, post war, colonial-bungalow architecture presents us all as a complimentary collective. Many if not all the homes have survived remodels much like our own so we have found empathy from everyone we have met, putting my worries of people annoyed with our loud hammering to rest. There is a sense of community here that makes us feel like we are a part of something bigger than just us and our own space. Home has found us and it feels quite good.
Before any contractors were inside, any carpets were removed or a single drape was touched, to record the memory of how it all once was, we had a photoshoot, naturally. In an attempt to capture the house in the era of it’s most recent remodel, 1980, a year determined by our neighbor’s memory, I pulled random articles from my own wardrobe that fit my idea of what late 70s, early 80s looked like. Babe, I, our lens and a whole bunch of Led Zeppelin followed the light as it set over the house, shooting everywhere from the living room to guest bathroom. It was a great way to bond with our new space, feel our way through it’s quirks and absorb the style that it was left in by the only owner to ever be before us.
Although we are loving every design decision we have made and relishing in the facelift progress, we will never forget what this house has been through. The hundreds of wallpaper decisions it has endured. The yards of drapery fabric that have adorned the windows. All twenty windows. The mauve stage chipping through on the fireplace. The years it sat covered by carpet, some of them under a green, teal, purple, orange, extra long shag carpet we discovered during demo. We kept a piece to frame and keep forever. You just can’t find a good rainbow shag anywhere these days. So much history, so much love. We feel honored to come in on year 70 and hopefully see it through at least 40 more.
Cheers to our little vintage spot of heaven, thank you for taking us in. We promise to do you right.
Bonus cheers to my insanely inspiring better half. Every day you show me a new skill, some hidden ability I shouldn’t be surprised you have as you have proven to be a man of many talents. I love you. Let’s do this.