A few months back, my husband Matt and I sold our home on the outskirts of Atwater and bought a home in the middle of Merced. I suspect that we were influenced to sell our home, at least in part, because we watch too much HGTV. I can’t seem to get enough of House Hunters and any renovation show that happens to be airing when I click the remote to “On,” and at some point my obsession with watching others buy and renovate had to bleed over into real-life experience.
It took us a long time to find the house we wanted, and in fact we never really did. Instead, we found the neighborhood we wanted, and the lot we wanted, and a house that seemed nice until we started thinking about all of the changes we wanted to make to it, most of which we cannot afford.
Another justification for moving was that we wanted to downsize, but the more we saw what downsizing might look like, the more I became convinced that maybe we wanted to downsize just a little bit. We saw some charming homes that were about half the size of our current home, but they always made me think the same thing: How would Matt and I ever get away from each other?
Too much closeness can ruin a perfectly fine marriage, as far as I’m concerned. So we chose a house slightly smaller than the one we’ve been living in for the past twenty-six years, and a lot that is considerably smaller but still big enough that I can be at one end of the property and plausibly pretend to not hear my husband call my name from the other end. This is of utmost importance, especially because when Matt calls my name, it almost always means he wants me to help him do something. With a bigger lot, such scenarios can end with a conversation that might go something like this:
Matt: Where were you earlier? I was looking everywhere for you.
Me: I was just out pruning the roses. Why? What did you need?
Matt: Well, I needed you to help me move my band saw. I called your name about a dozen times. Never mind now, though. I already did it.
Me: Gee, that’s too bad. I would’ve helped if I’d heard you.
If we lived on a 6,000 square foot lot, I could never get away with that kind of deception.
So we chose lot and location over everything else, which we all know is supposed to be the wisest course of action in the world of real estate. And in some small way, we did get the mid-century style we wanted: we got all of the downsides to homes built during that era, with only a few of the charms. Hence, we have pocket doors, built-in hampers, and pink sinks—a big plus according to my aesthetic sensibilities—but we also got an electric cooktop, beige (beige!) wallpaper, and Formica countertops. Formica was all the rage in 1968 when the home was built, but I had hoped for something less, well, Formica-y in our bathrooms. Formica is essentially plastic, and I cannot look at it without thinking about the scene from The Graduate when a middle-aged man, Mr. McGuire, advises recently-graduated Benjamin that the future is in plastics. The Graduate was released in December of 1967, and perhaps the builders of our Merced home took McGuire’s advice to heart, as did plenty of other builders of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Of course, our Merced home was built eighteen years after the actual middle of the century, and so it is really a home with a transitional style. And of course, 1968 was a terrible year: the Kennedy and King assassinations, the Zodiac Killer, the Tet Offensive, and the election of Richard Nixon, to name just a few horrors, and maybe our nation’s collective depression somehow filtered down to construction. After all, there is something slightly forlorn about plastic countertops.
People in the 1960s were also embracing carpeting. My parents bought their first home in 1968, and we thought the best thing about it was that it came with wall-to-wall carpeting. It was a new home in a tract development, so my parents were able to choose the carpet color. They opted for green. Everyone in the neighborhood came by to admire our green carpet, tapping on the door briefly before sauntering in.
“We heard that you got wall-to-wall. And it’s green!” they would say, and then they would proceed to examine every room of our home, checking out what we had so they could compare it to what they had. Our green wall-to-wall was the envy of many.
Matt and I will bring three dogs and three cats to our new home, and so carpeting is not practical for us. So we will be remodeling the kitchen and bathrooms, painting, and laying down new flooring, all of which will be costly and time-consuming. Another rule of real estate is to buy the worst house in a good neighborhood, and so my husband and I are two-for-two, rule-wise.
We are telling ourselves that we will not stay in our new home very long, that we will live there for about five years, remodel it a little at a time, and sell it for a handsome profit before retiring and moving to Belize, where we will buy a home right on the beach. We will put Adirondack chairs in the sand that will be our front yard, and all day long, for the rest of our lives, we’ll drink whatever they drink in Belize while resting books on our laps and looking out at the Caribbean, waiting for something interesting to swim by.
But I know that we will probably stay in our 1968 sort-of mid-century modern for much longer than five years. After all of the remodeling, we will finally have no energy left for moving again. We will instead sit in our old-people recliners in the family room, nodding off in front of the TV, watching episodes of HGTV’s newest home renovation show.
Brigitte Bowers is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at UC Merced.