History of a House

Quick read before you start the visit

This is my father’s childhood home. My Grandparents moved here in the sixties, just before Dad was born. They sold their family home in the city to move to a larger home in the suburbs; Hoping to better accommodate three boys and my Grandmother’s parents. My Aunt Margaret didn’t come into the picture for another decade or so and was brought to us by ‘accident’, as my Grandma used relay while mischievously chuckling. This house is a classic mid-century suburban home in the Greater Toronto Area. You reach the front door through a covered carport. It takes eight steps to walk across its tar-black paved surface to the front stoop. The stoop is a light grey with chipping paint, revealing a lighter grey underneath and flecks of brown further beneath that. To the right of the stoop is the front door and behind the stoop is a light brown wooden fence. Along the right side of the fence and adjacent to the front door is a gate that leads to the backyard. To the right of the gate is a red sign that reads forebodingly ‘BEWARE of DOG’. The current dog’s bark is much more intimidating than the dog itself—a low resounding bass of a bark coming from a short and stocky wiry haired mutt. Her name is Lena and upon meeting strangers, lies low to the ground wagging her tail excitedly, turning into a puddle of affection at the opportunity to make a new friend. When you take a single step up to the grey stoop, you will find a white screen door with two windows. If you take two steps toward the door, you can open it to reveal a large oak wood door to the home’s entryway. There are three windows on this door, framed by decorative wooden panels. The windows are encased in colored and textured plexiglass. The top two windows have a greenish-yellow hue with inlaid diamond patterns. The bottom window is blue-green with linear patterns. The door handle is gold, with a worn rectangular gold plate behind it. When you turn the door handle and open the door, a cow bell jingles, announcing your arrival to the home. To enter, take large step up and in.

When you enter and close the door behind you, you’ll find a long narrow entryway. Nearest to the door and on the right is a coat rack, adorned with a row of gilded gold elephant heads, their snouts’ extending upwards to us as hooks. A few inches further away from the door and to the left is a storage and seating bench. The wood of the bench has been stained a dark brown color and along its seat rests a particularly plush long olive-green cushion. Under your feet is a long, well worn, purple, green, pink, and tan area rug with frayed tassels on either end. All across this home is a patchwork of linoleum and hardwood floors, covered in an array of colored and patterned area rugs. Various patterns of linoleum tiling can be found in the bathroom, kitchen, stairs, and all across the basement (aside from the utility room, which has concrete flooring). In the rest of the house is a lovely warm and light oak hardwood floor that creeks lightly in certain places and is worn tenderly in high trafficked areas.

Three steps from the door and to the right is the entryway to the living room. There are two white wooden sliding doors that always remain open, framing this room. In five steps, you will find yourself in the center of a rather large living room. Take two and a half more steps forward and around the coffee table to the right. Turn around and sit down to find yourself in the center of a large brown, tan, and blue tweed couch. It is well loved, so when you sit down, you feel yourself being swallowed into its expansive comfort. When you look to your left, there is an oak wood rocking chair, upholstered at the seat and back with an ivory fabric. Along the fabric are embroidered bouquets of pink, blue, and purple flowers, widely and evenly spaced. Between the rocking chair and couch is a tall oak wood side table. On it rests a lamp with a funky geometrical light-colored wood base and floral-patterned ivory lampshade. There is also a rectangular pale faux wood framed placard in which you can change and rearrange tiled letterings. Today’s lettering spells out, ‘STAY WEIRD!’ Behind the placard is a framed photo of my Aunt Margaret, Grandma, and Grandpa sitting on the same couch you are now seated in. They are smiling warmly up at the camera, with a collection of throw pillows on display, lined up neatly behind them at the top of the couch. They are interlocking their arms with one another, forming a chain of affection between parents and child. I took this photograph several years ago, while I was visiting from Providence, Rhode Island, where I was attending graduate school at the time. The three pillows behind them were gifted to them from me. Two of the pillows I gifted them on previous visits and the blue one featuring the state of Rhode Island was gifted to them during the visit in which I took this photograph. Directly in front of you, is an art deco-like oak wood coffee table. It moves between the center of the room and uncomfortably close to the side of the couch often. My Aunt Margaret likes to use it as a side table while she is drinking coffee in the mornings and watching tv in the evenings. Right now, it is right up against the couch’s edge, leaving little room for your legs. In the corner of the room, to the left and opposite the couch, is the television. It is angled so that you can view it more comfortably form the couch without straining your neck. There is a row of decorative candle holders and battery-operated tea lights arranged in front of the tv. On the wall opposite the couch, is an accent table that hosts a couple of plants and another decorative candle holder with a battery-operated tea light inside. To the right of the couch are two arm-chairs. One is a modern black cushioned and faux maple wood IKEA lounge chair and matching ottoman. The other is a blue fabric recliner with buttons stamped into the back. Behind these two chairs is a large window that invites in a warm stream of light throughout the day. ( click here to see the image; upload here what you see in your space) The living room and dining room are an open plan concept, so you can see into the dining room clearly from where you are currently seated.

Once you carefully pull yourself up and out of the couch’s cushy grasp, take a step and a half around the coffee table, and walk six steps diagonally to the right. You’ll find yourself at one head of a small four-seater dining table. Delicately laid across the table is a white plastic table cloth with illustrations of exotic summer fruit in bright poppy colors. These plastic table cloths change to match the seasons. Atop the table are a small bouquet of roses, gifted to me from my Aunt Margaret on my thirty-second birthday. This room is adorned in warm oak wood paneling that stretches from floor to ceiling of the walls to the left and in front of you. To the right is a large window that matches the one in the living room. Between the two windows, is a light walnut wood curio cabinet that hosts my late Grandmother’s collection of glassware.

Two steps forward and to the left, you will find yourself in the kitchen. It is large and hosts much of the house’s original cabinets and features, my favorite of which being the nineteen-sixties convection oven. It resembles an appliance you would find in the Jetsons. Four steps into the kitchen will bring you to the front of a modern stainless-steel refrigerator. The front, top door, is decorated with a collection of magnets from around the world.

One step to the left and two steps forward will bring you back out into the entryway hall. To the left is a large cloak closet and to the right is a row of four steps that lead down to a small mud room/storage shelf and the back door. On either side of the stairs are banisters to hold on to for support. The left banister is a reddish mahogany, that matches the wood paneling that glides halfway up the walls on either side of the stairs. The right banister is mid-century sleek plastic seafoam-green, that is a shade darker than the walls of the stairway above the wood paneling. The back door is painted a light teal color and hosts a large window at the top. The window is decorated with a plastic coating of patterned cross hatches that allows in soft stream diffused light onto the stairwell. After you’ve descended the steps to the front of the backdoor, take one step forward and one step to the left. Then descend another seven creaky stairs. You’ll find yourself in the basement. In front of you, across from the stairs is a tall rectangular shelf. Inlaid at the top of the shelf is a terrarium that hosts a cacti and succulent garden. To the left of the terrarium is a long teal bookshelf that temporarily hosts a large collection of my books.

Take one step forward and two large steps to the left. There, you will find my Grandfather’s old study on the right. My Aunt Margaret has now made it her own, but the traces of my Grandpa are still here. His massive display of National Geographic magazines, which he’d been collecting since nineteen-fifty-nine, line the built-in shelf of the back wall. On the built-in shelf to the left of the room also hosts an impressive collection of my Grandpa’s wooden smoking pipes. If you take two steps into the study and take a deep breath, I swear you can still smell him in there.

Turn around and take four steps back to the middle of the hall on a diagonal to the right. There, you will find yourself at the entryway to the basement bathroom. Along the left side of the bathroom is a small shower, toilet, and sink. Along the right side is a large storage closet that extends from the ceiling to the floor. Beyond the bathroom, is a door that leads to a massive utility room. The utility room holds the washing machine, dryer, cat litter pan, shelves of cleaning supplies, my Grandpa’s tool storage shelves, and my Grandpa’s electric saw bench.

From the main hallway, when you take one large step forward, away from the bathroom, you’ll encounter a large bedroom on the right. In the bedroom is a white metal framed bed at one end and boxes of my belongings at the other. In the middle of the room is an exercise bike and elliptical machine, where I do my cardiovascular exercises on rainy or snowy days. In front of the basement bedroom, the hallway snakes to the left to reveal a large entertainment room. In this room, there is a medium-sized faux leather futon, three armchairs, an entertainment center that hosts a tv, a large desk, shelves of books and DVDs, shelves for art supplies, and a corner cabinet for more art supplies.

At the end of the hall in the basement, however, between the bedroom and entertainment room is a large walk in closet. When you open the door, you will find shelves that host my Grandma’s collection of Christmas themed dinnerware, more glassware, and a collection of analogue photography cameras. There are also large plastic tubs that contain an extensive collection of negatives from my Grandpa’s photographic hobby. In the utility room, he used to have a darkroom set up, where he would develop his film and print his photographs. One day I’d like to go through his collection of negatives, print my favorites, and host an exhibition of his work in a local art gallery. My paternal family helped to foster my love of the arts when I was a child and that passion has carried me into adulthood with increased fervor. My Aunt Margaret taught me how to draw and paint and we used to put on elaborate performances for my grandparents in this very basement. Close the door to this closet, turn around and walk back down the hall and up the stairs. It is twenty-one steps between the closet door to the top step.

At the top of the stairs take four steps forward and turn to the right. There you will see a long hallway with a white and grey area rug that is spread across its expanse. Take three steps down the hall and you’ll find an L-shaped family bathroom on the right. There is a white and blue marine life shower curtain running along the bathtub and grey bathroom mats in front of the toilet and cabinets below the sink. Take another three steps down the hall and you’re now in front of a small bedroom to your left. It hosts a black metal framed day bed, storage cabinet, a large black freezer, and a collection of old photographs of my grandparents framed on the accent wall behind the daybed. This is the room I used to sleep in as a child, when my parents and I would visit my grandparents. I used to love the Scottish terrier bedsheets my Grandma would make my bed with. One step further down the hall and to the right is the master bedroom. It used to be my grandparents’ bedroom, but now is my Aunt Margaret’s. She has a faux maple wood platform bed in the middle of the room. She has decorated the wall behind her bed with mirrored discs in a gradient up the wall. To the right of her bed is a mahogany vanity and further right from that is another entryway to the family bathroom. One step further down the hall, at the hallway’s end, you’ll find yourself in front of my bedroom, Margaret’s old room. It is a fair-sized room that holds a mahogany twin bed with bookshelves built into the headboard, a night stand to the right of the bed, two dressers, and a built-in wardrobe. Now, turn back and walk down the hall. Turn left and walk down the first set of steps to the back door. This should take about eighteen evenly spaced strides.

The backdoor is open, so all you have to do is swing open the screen door. Then, carefully step down the steep back step. This will bring you onto a second smaller concrete step. Turn to your left and step down again. Then walk fourteen steps down the long narrow paved path lined with forget-me-nots, daffodils, mint, lemon balm, and sweet woodruff. You’ll pass through a small rust colored gate that is usually left open and step out into an expansive backyard. Here you’ll find a garden bed lining the back of the house with alliums, irises, peonies, Shasta daisies, day lilies, hosta plants, and asters. The paved path extends to the left and parallel to this garden bed. In front of the garden bed and path is a nice stretch of grassy lawn along a gradually sloping hill. At the bottom of the hill, to the left is an oval garden bed which is home to lovage and rhubarb. Along the back fence are trees and shrubs that offer some privacy to this natural sanctuary during the summer months. On the other side of the fence is a small creek that runs down to the lake just a few miles up the road. Continue along the path by taking two steps diagonally to the left then walk thirteen steps forward.

There, you’ll encounter a large light yellow and white galvanized shed. To the right of the shed is a small assemblage of potted plants containing various vegetables and herbs. To the left of the shed is a Spirea bush, adorned with tiny lilac flowers. The path angles sharply at a ninety-degree angle to the left. Turn left to continue down the path walk ten more steps. It will take you to a set of rust colored wooden stairs that lead you up to a little patio. To the right of the stairs is a compact fern garden. Take four wide steps up and onto the patio. There you will find a round black metal and glass top patio table and two black folding patio chairs. Along the banister to the right of the patio set are rectangular window-sill plant boxes, secured to the top with green gardening twine. In one box is baby kale and in the other is Fenugreek. Directly in front of the stairs and to the left of the patio set is the back gate that leads back out the carport. Before you leave, have a seat in one of the patio chairs to rest for a moment. Enjoy a nice glass of iced tea while listening to the robins, blue jays, gold finches, chickadees, cardinals, starlings, and sparrows twittering, chipmunks and squirrels chattering, bees buzzing, the trees rustling lightly in the wind, the faraway hum of cars driving, and the creek lightly trickling in the distance. (click here to listen) Take several deep breaths to fully breath in the sweetness of the fresh cut grass, the peppery scent of herbs tickling your sinuses, the syrupy and sensuous fragrance of the garden’s flowers, and the warm musky smell of damp dirt. Allow the soft tendrils of the early summer Ontario sun to tickle your skin with its soothing warmth. Remember the memories that were built here—in complex layers of love, joy, sadness, regret, illness, pain, loss, loneliness, suffering, longing, comfort, pleasure, and pride—and the people that are no longer with us, but continue to make this space incredibly special.

Vanessa Godden
check Vanessa’s art practice here
more about History of a House here

ALTERNATE VIEWS (images uploaded by visitors)

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