The Allure of an Open House


May 13, 2012, Washington, DC: Are you someone whose curiosity draws you into open houses? Someone who asks questions about the narrative of a place? The floorboards? The history? The windows? I inherited my open house syndrome in large measure from my mother, and on this mother's day, I thank her for passing it along. With my grandfather in the Navy, my mother moved constantly as a child, often spending just one year in a school before moving on. My parents would also move frequently as  adults, routinely bringing my siblings and I along for the house hunt. At some point, visiting open houses went from being a burden to a passion, and the habit stuck. I often pop into homes for a look, even when we're not planning to move. My brother does it, too, and our spouses are equally perplexed by our shared hobby of weekend wandering and collecting ideas. Apparently not all families grow up on the move or captivated by the idea of it. What I love about open houses and house tours is that every home has a story. There's the story, for instance, of an old carriage house in Southport, CT that operated as a speakeasy during the days of Prohibition. To this day, a rusty, old bike pump sits in the corner behind the original bar, once the means of pumping beer upstairs from a keg hidden behind a wall below. I heard this story last week on a house tour with my mother. The man restoring the place showed us the pump, as well as an old captain's safe they'd discovered in another wall of the home, long ago emptied and left behind in this town by the harbor.

I've collected stories during other house tours recently, too -- on a house tour in Logan Circle, on one showcasing the houseboats along the Southwest waterfront, and on another featuring the homes competing in the Solar Decathlon. Each time, I walk away with a new narrative about a home's built environment or its inhabitants or its history or its future.

I thank my nomadic mother for sparking my curiosity about the places people live and for remaining a great companion in these adventures. She joins me to gape at homes both modern and historic, to talk fabrics and floorboards, layouts and landscaping. We file away the elements that strike a chord. We bike through new neighborhoods and return to old hometowns. We debate about whether we could live there and what draws us in.

There's another lesson we bring home from these places, too. We share a belief in creating the type of home where the door is always open.

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