House Hunters International

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

House Hunters International

Despite a certain fellow’s embarrassing pronouncement that he found their state of preparedness “disconcerting”, the people of Great Britain once again lived up to their country's name by giving the world a truly great Olympic games. They all should be extraordinarily, rightfully, proud of their accomplishment. Even the weather cooperated, which is no small thing to control, I would well imagine.  Night after night, I surprised myself by watching sports that I didn’t even know existed and found them all to be excellent companions to knit with.  And let’s face it, these British games provided a colourful oasis in that mind-numbing desert that is television programming in summertime, an interminable stretch when our choices for even vaguely intelligent viewing options are decidedly thin on the ground.   Let’s see, we have the house full of edgy, unusual people all locked up together for a lengthy period of time, the essential entertainment being, I can only assume, the ever increasing anticipation of the inevitable day when one of them will finally experience some sort of psychotic break and run screaming, and hopefully naked, from the premises.  Or let’s see, we can watch those folks appearing on “So You Think You Can Dance”, only to rapidly discover that none of them actually can.  We can keep up with the Kardashians, a program that has the unique ability to humiliate both  “performers” and viewers alike.  Or we can always watch reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond, a show that seems to be on somewhere every hour of every day which only serves to prove that everybody does indeed love the fellow, I guess. For myself, I am now waiting for Wallander, that morose and haunted Swedish detective played so wonderfully by Kenneth Branagh.  Adapted from the novels of Henning Mankell, these PBS productions are imminently watchable and a new season is due in the first weekend in September.  Till then, I shall have to content myself with House Hunters International, a program I simply cannot seem to resist, no matter the season.  

If you’ve never seen House Hunters International, the premise is simple.  Americans looking for holiday houses outside the US.  This gives us all exactly what we dream of - the chance to jump in the television alongside these intrepid souls and follow along, dragging our own dreams behind us.  For whom among us hasn’t fantasized about that golden stone villa in Tuscany?  The tall-windowed atelier in Paris?  The rose-covered Cumbrian cottage?  I know I have.  

  Most prospective buyers on this program seem inordinately concerned with the size and a few very specific attributes in the houses they seek.  In fact, I’ve often thought it would make an excellent drinking game if one took a shot of whisky each time one of them said “it’s too small” or “granite countertops”.  One would be drunk out of one's mind before the first commercial break.  But I hasten to say, I would make a horrible participant in this program.  The questions I would ask these poor realtors would seriously make them question their chosen professions, I have no doubt.  Homes, to me, are so much more than mere investments.  I am not particularly concerned about reselling or entertaining.  I couldn’t care less about a barbecue. I have no interest in impressing my friends and family with either the size or the grandeur of my abode.  What I’d want to know....
Are there enough bookcases?
Where would the Christmas tree go?
Is there a window where Edward and Apple can keep watch over the garden?
How does the light change when it snows?
Do all of the windows open?  Wide?
Are there owls that hoot in the trees at night?
Are there fir trees in the garden large enough for Christmas lights?
Do the windows sing when the wind is high?
And could I perhaps stay here alone for an hour or two, 
just to listen to the personality of the house?

When The Songwriter and I found our cottage, he was immediately sold on the old stone fireplace - rough grey rocks that touched the ceiling and promised many cozy fireside nights to come.  I myself was seduced by the trees - towering hardwoods that encircled the house like a necklace of green.  We wanted to know how the rain sounded on the roof of our bedroom.  Which windowpanes best captured the light of a setting autumn sun.  Upon moving in, we soon set about making this old house our own, infusing every single inch with parts of ourselves so that now, many years later, this house is as much as part of us as our ticking hearts.  With kitchen cabinets painted with replicas of Maxfield Parrish doorknockers, ceilings papered in Sanderson flowers and stars shining over the guest room bed, our cottage might be difficult to recreate elsewhere.  Difficult, but not impossible.  That’s why I keep watching House Hunters.  I just know there’s a quirky Scottish croft with my name on it.


No matter their size or their countertops, my favourite houses are always those in which the owners, be they celebrated or unknown, have made their homes  extensions of themselves.  One of the best examples of this type of home has to be Charleston, the Sussex farmhouse of Vanessa and Clive Bell.  Along with artist, and sometime lover, Duncan Grant, Vanessa created a unique home that one can still visit today.  The photograph below shows a corner of the sitting room.  My favourite book about Charleston, one I find I go to over and over again, was written by Vanessa’s son, Quentin.
 It is simply delightful.
Find it HERE.