Mar 31, 2016 10:23AM
By Matthew Schlueb
She had tutored a young Iraqi woman in English, who had immigrated to America with her husband. She had a daughter and a second on the way. The woman's heart had grown close to this family, and her two-bedroom house, one more than needed, had planted a seed in her mind.
As we sat at this painted wood table, its surface a witness to a lifetime of home-making, she explained to me how she wanted to add on a mother-in-law suite to her home, one she could move into so that this Iraqi family could have her existing house. "My happiest times are when I have people sitting around the fire circle, talking, laughing, singing into a night sky,” she said. “Why not create a home to have more experiences like that?"
So, we met a few more times at the table, reviewing drawings, discussing plans to build such an addition. The table’s four legs defined a space we shared in those meetings, just as four tall trees stood sentry outdoors at the corners of her home, defining a space where this new suite would be placed. The original house was a gabled box with painted blue siding, with an entry in an oddly placed side door. We decided to create a new entry, a connector between her new suite, modeled in character but scaled slightly smaller, and the original house.
In the spring construction began, and her excitement spilled over into endless smiles each time I saw her. Walls were painted, wood floors laid, cabinetry placed. It wasn't long before her new family moved in—their first night on Thanksgiving day. I imagine the fire that night was memorable for all of them; a new family made from two homes of distant cultures, now close in proximity of space and hearts.
I returned the following year after some time had settled in. The kitchen table was still there, in the same spot snugged against the same window, facing a setting sun. However, the top was now masked by a printed cloth trimmed with embroidery. Much of the woman’s original furnishings remained, handed down along with the house, for another lifetime of use. But the space had changed, a new layer was added to the stories these things told, rendering something different, something special.
In such instances we see the full significance of the flower sacrifice. Perhaps the flowers appreciate the full significance of it. They are not cowards, like men. Some flowers glory in death—certainly the Japanese cherry blossoms do, as they freely surrender themselves to the winds. Anyone who has stood before the fragrant avalanche at Yoshino must realize this. For a moment they hover like bejeweled clouds and dance; then, as they sail away on laughing waters, they seem to say: Farewell, O Spring! We are on to eternity.
If an architect is lucky, just such a flower blossom drifts by, offering a rare gift into the true measure of a home. It is not the timbers felled, squared and plumbed to support a roof overhead. It is not the room they define, decorated with finger paintings, tablecloths and flowerpots. Nor is it the people living inside, sheltered, warmed, sharing their time together.
It is the mixture of all of these things, a blending that makes a home. An aged painted table, edges eased by endless caresses, hands in conversation, communal meals, moments shared. An aged tree canopy, limbs lowered sheltering shade, protective of this woman reading stories to a granddaughter, making a happy place.
Matthew Schlueb is a registered architect and owner of SCHLUEBarchitecture. For questions or comments, contact Matthew at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is part of an ongoing series addressing architectural issues for homeowners.