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  • Frances Schwabenland

10 Things I learned while redesigning my Home

  • It was decision I move or do I stay? With home prices soaring through the roof and certainly way past my bank account, I decided to stay in the home I grew up in. I so love living in the city and I have wonderful neighbors. The house was built in the 1950's by a gentleman who designed it for himself...parquet wooden floors, two car garage, a nice backyard and the strength of brick. Unfortunately after a few years, he had a heart attack and needed to move to a state with a warmer climate. At that point, my family became the second owners. Parents, 5 children and a grandfather all moved into this home. Fast forward to the present day and the question became, "What work would be needed to bring it up to date?" The words "gutting" and "it needs extensive work here" seemed to be in the daily lexicon. The past 10 months have taught me many lessons and many things about myself and only if you are interested, read on.

1. Right from the start, I needed to develop an attitude of gratitude that was strong and sustaining through all those "dark nights of the soul" when fears, worry, demolition and more dust than I ever could have imagined found every crack and crevice. I lived out of boxes for months on end. Reminding myself how fortunate I was to be able to do this and have exactly the right people helping me was huge in living through this transformation. I was getting to be creative...I was birthing newness and birthing is always messy so I needed to say, "Thank you!"

2. When I create, I tend to see the end project and then work backwards. Seeing the whole picture made decisions so much easier and less time consuming. I created a "Mood Board" knowing I was seeking a French and Scandinavian look and then went on different sites to stoke my imagination with beautiful possibilities. My vision was:

- everything white - the color of beginning again, renewing and transforming

- clean Scandinavian design with the overarching sense of hygge (cosy, charming, comfortable conviviality)

- marble to provide the feel of moment

- beautiful touches of velvet to bring in the classic French touch and adding in another texture.

Once I had the vision, I just went off in search of all things white, grey and simple elegance. Daydreaming is a wonderful use of time when redesigning a home and with a balance of grounding in keeping site of the final goal, things flowed so much easier.

3. The process of gutting seems to me to be a metaphor for life. I had to look at what was there, critically and unemotionally. Change first required letting go, seeing the faults and problem areas clearly and then eviscerating it. Little by little, with a lot of patience and flexibility, the building back up in new and different ways took place. In my case, I required someone else's expertise of seeing. I needed to trust in these trained professionals who spoke honestly to me and walked with me through it all. So now when I come up against needed emotional changes or updating, I just recall this process, seek out those wise souls who can guide me and finally relax in the joy of accomplishment.

4. An article published by Science Direct on Cell Metabolism states that, "The principle of stress-response hormesis is nicely captured by the well-known maxim of the nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: 'That which does not kill us makes us stronger.' Renovations have many inherent stressors so by hanging tough and getting through each day I was able to develop a bit more flexibility, openness to the unknown, taking setbacks in stride... except for the time I had to wait two months for a washing machine! Then it took every zen bone in my body to deal!

5. It became important to me to provide a meal, snacks and drinks to those contractors who were artists in their own right. Each one was putting their imprint into the new energies of my home and I wanted it to be positive. We got to know each other. We became friends and shared life's ups and downs over these breaks. It was definitely a win win situation. Just letting them know they were important to me and that I appreciated their help kept things flowing and flourishing. I often thought of the movie, "Under The Tuscan Sun" where Frances Mayes would gather all the men working on her home around her dining room table and present them with her latest attempt at Italian cooking. Along with all the repairing going on was all the camaraderie that was also being built. Hospitality can be elevated to a much needed art.

6. My dining room table was the only piece of furniture I saved. Many would come and share a meal on a weekly basis and I wanted this continuity. I set out to establish a feeling of unhurried calm and zen so the dining room became my homage to Asia. It is decorated with photographs, art, sculpture, singing bowls, a hand painted tea service, etc. that I brought home from my travels. I wanted each room to take on its own identity with things I love from around the world which should be displayed and not hidden away. My kitchen is my French experience. It is decorated with my photographs from Paris and Alsace-Lorraine. I have pops of color with professional cookware from Staub and Le Cruset . I never cooked before the pandemic but with these, I am trying to flex by culinary muscles. My living room is dedicated to Philadelphia with art from my cousin, Laszlo Bagi. I could feel the places far and wide even though I was never leaving home. It became my haven of "roots and wings". Decorating with things that hold special meaning is so very necessary to make the house a home, a unique place of sanctuary.

7. Mozart said that, "The music is not in the notes but in the silence between." I think the same concept applies to design. Since I was using art and pieces that held meaning, I wanted each one to have its due and that was only possible if there was a spacious emptiness that each piece could live in. Sometimes, less is truly more. Spaciousness invites an expansive breath. I was definitely following Marie Kondo's advice to keep only things that speak to the heart and discard items that no longer spark joy.

8. White certainly heightens mindfulness. Dirt is seen in an instant and I have had to become much more attentive to cleaning and decluttering. This is totally all new for me and again a metaphor of life. Focusing and cleaning each day is a path of respect for my vision and for each item. Balance between resting, relaxing, renewing and refreshing are all needed for that wonderful dance we call living.

9. Hospitality and welcome so enliven the home. To invite others to share in the new space blesses it with laughter, love and friendship. In so many cultures, such a high value is placed upon having people gather and share a meal. On the website, it was fascinating to read that in ancient Ireland, hospitality was mandated by law. Welcoming a stranger was an enforced cultural norm with a detailed set of customary guidelines. With few major roads and areas isolated by huge forests, encouraging a culture of hospitality promoted travel, trade, the exchange of new ideas and helped forge a cultural identity. Each time I have to leave Ireland, I end up standing there crying while I am saying all the goodbyes...the people, the warmth and the hospitality shown to me was always so incredible. I have also found in so many countries I have been fortunate to visit, the people, whether poor or rich, in cities or high up in isolated mountain regions, welcomed me in often unannounced. I was always offered something to eat or drink. Nomads in Morocco and Egypt, the "Long Neck" Auntie in Myanmar and the list goes on an on. People with huts that I and other photographers would walk up to as strangers and leave as friends through the great gift of hospitality. I want to take all that I have received and return the gift of hospitality to many. As my Irish mother always said to me, "The work will always be there but the people won't"."Céad míle fáilte" which translated means ‘a hundred thousand welcomes.’

10. Since life is often thought of in terms of a cycle...I would like to again return to number that my home has been transformed, before I turn off the lights each night, I just take a moment to silently be in gratitude. I try to not take any of these blessings for granted! Gratitude is not a stagnant emotion but needs to keep moving, flowing out and returning. My gratitude calls me to not just stand in my space but help create spaces for others who have no home to welcome friends and share a meal. Home is where the heart is reaching out and embracing each other. Home is the shared planet that we are called to respect and honor together. I pray that gratitude, generosity and consciousness for our shared humanity will just keep growing stronger within me in my home here and all those I enter far away.

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