I dream of houses with undiscovered rooms.
I dream of a ranch house with a back door that opens into an unexpected series of rooms like those in a shotgun house, one room leading to another in a straight line stretching out across the backyard and then oddly over the property line shouldering aside the neighbor’s shed and mysteriously continuing on, one room after another straight over streets and even through other suburban ranchers. I dream each room is bare of furniture and the floors are covered with linoleum. I never find the end of that straight stretch of rooms in a ranch house, even though I have dreamed of it over many years.
The Victorian-styled house of my dreams has only one undiscovered room. This room is an octagonal one on the second floor. Its discovery quite delighted me in my dream and I recall trying to figure out how its existence could have been concealed from me. The answer of the room’s location went unresolved (dreams have architecturally imprecise plans). Returning to the octagonal room on another night, I decided that it could be my writing room.
However, my favorite set of imaginary rooms is on the third floor of a white Colonial house, which is set amid trees on a pleasant corner lot. These rooms are furnished – a suite of them – with white curtains blowing in a breeze in the bedroom. They wave to the white coverlet, its folds tossed aside as if someone just arose from the unmade bed. The rooms speak of morning, of slippers shuffling across the Persian rugs, and of pleasure – the shelves lined with books (only good and worthy books). The layout leads one in a circle through the rooms – each with large windows through which are the tops of trees in summer leaf. There is no bathroom, but once I found a door leading to what appeared to be a maid’s laundry room. In the opposite wall from the entrance to the room, there was a small exterior door with a window in it. In my dream, both stooping and stepping up, I came out onto a tiny roof porch. Sitting in the low striped cloth beach chair that I found there, I could hear the sound of children’s laughter as they played ball below me, unaware of my presence high above them.
I don’t know what to make of these dreams. But last week, when an appraiser arrived at my doorstep, intending to assess the value of my very real 1904 Queen Anne house, she entered with a clipboard in one hand and my real estate sale flyer fluttering in the other. She was flustered having arrived two hours late (a family emergency) but smiling as if presented with some delicious house puzzle. She startled me with her introductory words.
“I couldn’t make sense of your real estate flyer – too many rooms. I couldn’t place where they all might be.” She waved the flyer in front of me with its colored photos depicting the house, the yard, the living room and the huge long kitchen and dining room. The flyer read, “5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms”. For a flitting moment, I was afraid that, as if dreaming, I had made up its inexplicable claims of lots of rooms and then the appraisal would come in too low for the new buyers to get a loan. Waving towards the house next door, she said, “I appraised that house a couple of years ago and from the street, yours looks to be about the same size, but that house has only two bedrooms.”
From where she stood inside my front door, she could see through the kitchen doorway to the big glass-fronted mercantile cabinets hanging high up on the wall and the schoolhouse style fixtures dangling from an unseen ceiling – both speaking of a generous room. She listed in its direction as the location from which to begin unraveling the mystery of the diminutive house with the big claims.
Once upon a time, this was a modest house with an outhouse, a stable and an unfinished attic. It had two exterior back porches – one on either side of the thirteen-foot-by-thirteen-foot square kitchen. (I know this from the public library’s fireman reference book. Before the book’s retirement, it would be scooped up by the firemen on their way to an emergency in order to determine the layout of the house on fire.) Eventually, a bathroom with a flush toilet and a laundry room were constructed on the footprint of one of the back porches. The laundry room’s rough ceiling boards acquired a painted cardboard-like covering. I removed the cardboard with a steamer a couple of years ago and white washed the boards.
By the fifties, the other porch was enclosed in order to make an eating area and Olin, the previous owner, installed its big corner windows and then he expanded the space by moving a wall inwards. Gary and I remodeled the kitchen once again, pulling out the drop ceilings, removing an awkward mid-century wall and making a wide welcoming room. When it was first completed one of my friends, Anne Weatherill, came by to see the completed work and as she stepped into the space, she actually lost her balance as if a huge chasm had opened up and surprised she almost fell in.
The appraiser peered in and up. She stepped in gazing about. I explained how I had spotted the kitchen’s cabinets in a field and yelled at Gary, “Stop! There are my kitchen cabinets.” They were originally mercantile cabinets from North Powder, Oregon. They took two years to strip using dental tools removing all of the white paint lodged between the bead board cracks. Now they were mounted on the wall, refinished with a deep dark brown stain. The appraiser stepped around the center island counter and pulled out the striped cutting boards admiring the workmanship.
Room by room, we walked. Me telling the tales of how rooms appeared in the attic. How 1895 newel posts now stood at the foot of a stairway that didn’t exist fifteen years ago and how new dormers elbowed their way into the roof structure.
When I showed her a photo of the downstairs bathroom, which once resembled a mobile home windowless room and now was transformed into a light-filled space, she said, “Let’s sit on the couch and look at the photos.”
When I dream of houses, I wander them alone. I found it pleasing to guide someone through my real rooms – one surprising space after another. Finally, we walked the yard and as we stood in the shop/garage with its wide back door open to the shady stream area, she noticed the opening and said, “You have a stream.” I have always thought of this outdoor space as another “room”. The willow arching overhead like a ceiling, the hammock like a bed and the metal table and chairs the dining room. The stream is the cat’s drinking bowl. Yes, yet another room.
Finally, preparing to leave, the appraiser said, “One would not know what is here from the road. The rooms and this yard.”
I think now that I should have titled the real estate flyer: Dream House.