It’s easy, with Instagram and Pinterest and the rest, to see your home (and basically everything else) as a blank canvas. Who are you? How can you make your home express the best possible you?
These are not stupid questions, to a point. While I think there are more pressing areas to direct most of our time and effort, beauty is important, and cultivating coziness takes deliberate effort. The problem with the questions, I think, is their premise that your home is a blank canvas reflective of you.
Cottontail Cottage has a yard, and while it’s small, it’s the only one I’ve ever really owned. As we approached the final sale, I started haunting gardening blogs and drawing up lists. Though I’ve only ever managed a few cherry tomato bushes and a few herbs, I was excited to expand my gardening repertoire. We closed at the end of March and moved in mid-April and I was raring to go. And then…we stalled.
But in the meantime, I’m getting to know what’s already here, just as I did in our last house.
At our old house in the suburbs, we had forsythia and daffodils, tulips and hyacinth. At Cottontail Cottage, we have a lot of dead grass, but also two dogwoods, and an azalea and a thing that might be a rose bush and might be a weed, and some tulips which I step on all the time getting out of the car. There’s purple stuff the lady next door says is columbine. We have a big brush heap that is going to need to be addressed, and also we have a peony bush that I’m crushing on pretty seriously.
Peonies are what I would have had in my wedding bouquet if money were no object, but they don’t grow in Florida.
So instead of jumping into gardening and then leaving everything to languish through the heat of the summer, I’m trying to embrace the slow landscaping of a lifetime. One of our first weekends here, Pippin and I planted a freebie redbud tree — twig, really — in our yard, and it seems to be taking. I love the idea that if it survives and prospers, we will always be able to measure our time in the house by the growth of the tree.
I’m making dream-lists in my head, and asking all the gardeners in my life for advice. I want a kitchen garden, and so my sweet friend is starting herbs for me while we are away. Another friend has offered me hyacinth from her yard. I want something tendril-y to cover the ugly chain link fence that surrounds our backyard. I want forsythia, which reminds me of my mom, and lilac, which reminds me of my granny. I want irises, which are what I had in my wedding bouquet instead of peonies, and which bloom magically every year about the time of our anniversary.
It’s a fine thing to dream, but in the meantime, I will watch, and wait, and enjoy the sweet surprise of a garden worked by other hands than mine.
So, at the end of March we entered the ranks of homeowners, and mid-month, on a random Thursday evening, we decided just to get it over with and move. That means we’ve been sort of camping out here and bringing carloads over, setting up slowly as J rounds out the semester and fights a terrible case of not-flu.
One of the important things we had to settle was what to name our house — we loved the idea of our home having its own name. We consulted the names of some of our favorite literary houses (Ingleside, St. Anne’s on the Hill, etc.), and this British list of house naming conventions. Some possibilities we considered:
Avonlea Cottage (I’ll just have to wear J down into letting me use this for a baby girl someday.)
Benison Cottage (discarded because J thought I was saying “venison” and I doubt he’d be the last one)
Dogwood Cottage — our yard is pretty bare of vegetation, except for the two dogwoods outside Pippin’s window.
We eventually settled on Cottontail Cottage, because like a lot of this town, it’s overrun with the little guys.
We also spend waaay too much time trying to figure out how to incorporate our mostly mid century modern furnishings with the Craftsman bones of our house. Apartment Therapy has been a good resource here. Behold this looker:
A friend mentioned that she’d read the advice of keeping in mind friends’ houses you love, and I’ve tried to do that. I often think in particular about the home of Scout’s godparents. It’s not fancy or even especially intentionally decorated, and children are piled in. But if you run into one of the parents on campus, they’ll invite you to dinner and slide over to accommodate your whole family — the food is always unfussy and excellent. You’ll never worry about your kid making too big of a mess, and you’ll always feel welcome.
I think too of the houses I’ve found most beautiful, and most clearly a reflection of their owners’ taste: my grandparents’ light-filled Danish modern treehouse in Sarasota when I was growing up; the lovely Alabaman Craftsman that perfectly expresses my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s eclectic antique tastes, my sister’s densely layered apartment, filled with art made by her friends. There are more, of course. We are lucky to have such warm and hospitable friends.
And let me say right here — and hold me to this — I promise you I won’t go around talking about how we just need the exact right shade of linen curtain, how I’ve looked everywhere for the perfect piece of art for that wall, how frustrated I am that I’m stuck with this kitchen layout. Because I’ve never been very tolerant of people who complain at length about the enormous privilege of getting to feather a nest that belongs to them. So while I’d like to talk to y’all about my adventures in homeownership and making this place our own, I’ll try not to be completely insufferable. Mmkay?