Design for Life: This Imperfect House

The quest for the perfect eco-home.

| September/October 2006

My family had been looking for a house for nine months—which our realtor kept reminding us was much longer than any of her other clients had taken. We’d gotten pretty good at it: We knew the neighborhoods we liked and disliked; we’d developed a list of must-haves, preferences and deal killers; we attended open houses every Sunday. We had the checking-out-a-house routine down to a science. We might have become too good at it, in fact; we could always find something wrong with a house.

Finally, we faced the best house we’d seen yet. It had the basics: all the rooms we wanted (without being too big), a pleasant neighborhood, no serious structural or moisture defects, no major noise or air pollution, walking distance to shopping. It had some big plusses: beautiful hill views, mature fruit trees, an open living room/dining room/kitchen.

So why was I holding back? Why was I having anxiety attacks about whether to commit to this house?

The problem was, I knew too much. I knew that the beautiful, old oak tree growing close to the house could drop a limb on the roof or crack the foundation. The floor plan had some lovely aspects (a great room overlooking the lush back yard) and some awkward features (long halls and bedrooms facing the street). I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable until I’d replaced the hollow-sounding laminate flooring. I wasn’t delighted with the vinyl windows or the color scheme or a gazillion other little things.

Is this love?

Throughout our house search, I couldn’t escape the parallels with looking for a life partner. With each house visit (or first date), you wonder “Will this be the one?” You have a hard time just enjoying it (or him/her) in the present moment; you try to imagine yourself spending years, a lifetime in this house (with this person). You wonder if its (her/his) flaws will drive you crazy or cause you to grow in wonderful ways—or both. You wonder if something (someone) even better for you is right around the corner.

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