Listening to Your House
An interior designer shares six lessons that apply to any home.
This is a story about a woman in love with her house. It’s also about your house. Your sister’s. And your best friend’s. It’s about intuition, and some fundamental principles of design. And it’s about how we all can learn to love our houses a little more.
Nora Murphy wasn’t looking for a house. At least she didn’t think she was. Nora was perfectly content in the cozy, ivy-covered cottage she shared with her husband, Rick, and young son, Conor. After all, she’d spent 10 years decorating that intimate and romantic old home. She is an interior designer who was inclined toward a layered look, so she’d upholstered the living room walls in Scottish tartan wool. Her sofa was slipcovered in a tea-stained English floral print; her dining room table was skirted to the floor, and she’d filled the house with needlepoint, oil paintings, and English Staffordshire. The place was exactly the way she wanted it. And yet, one late-summer morning in 2001, none of that seemed to matter.
Nora was driving down a familiar country road when she glanced over at a farmhouse and saw a for-sale sign out front. “I’d driven by the house hundreds of times, and I always loved the way it looked,” says Nora. “I always thought the people who lived in it were so lucky.”
What happened next is something of a blur, but she remembers going to look at the 1767 house and feeling terribly guilty about it. “I know this sounds crazy, but I felt like I was cheating on my house,” she says, and yet: “I just knew it was right for us. And I needed to convince Rick so he’d feel the same way.”
Nora made her case, but it took months to close the deal. Then a curious thing happened as soon as they moved in: The house started talking to Nora.
“I was walking through the rooms, and I experienced something. There was a purity of moment that’s hard to describe,” she says. “I sensed the history of the house.” She emptied her head of all her plans and decided to listen. “What I heard was that this house didn’t want to be covered up.”
“It has beautiful, simple bones, and it needed simple, straightforward furnishings.” She observed a distinct quality of light as it washed over the rooms, and she shuddered to think of those windows covered by anything at all. She knew she needed to rethink her design plan, but that would require buying a few things.
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