Elena Bowes

New York-London travel & design writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

House Lessons: Renovating a Life- Q&A with Sage Author Erica Bauermeister

August 28th, 2020
Lovings: Books, Writers & Film

House Lessons is a memoir about renovating a house, a marriage, a family and a life. The decade long renovation (much done by the family themselves) taught Bauermeister many lessons, far beyond how to use a power chisel.  She and her family dragged out 7 ½ tons of trash from the house, including a lavender padded toilet seat. (If only it had been cornflower blue.)

Before…

After…

Bauermeister compares saving an old house to “picking up a lost puppy, on a very large scale,’ and the dilapidated house her family saved, ‘a big asbestos-covered marriage counsellor, forcing the issue’. I talked to Bauermeister about what she learned from the ten-year project.

  • Which life lessons do you find the most valuable?

Renovations are marvellous classrooms, and most of the lessons I learned in the process have a more universal application.

  1. Pay attention. Details are what bring a house or a life together.
  2. Give respect. A good renovation takes into account the original character of the house, along with the needs of its current inhabitants. How do you bring them together? By respecting both.  It’s the same with any relationship.
  3. You will never have enough time.
  4. Most people have too many things.
  • You’ve written four novels and now a memoir- how was the process similar? Different?

I think the main difference is that with memoir, unlike fiction, you already know how the story ends and you’re bound by the events that occurred. That could make it sound like memoirs are less interesting to write.  But here’s the thing I found fascinating—I was still constantly surprised by the things I learned as I looked back at those real events and dug down deep, to figure out why they happened or how I changed because of them. Trust me, there is plenty of magic in reality.

  • You and your family removed 7.5 tons of trash from the house in Port Townsend- Which five things did you find the most intriguing and why? And maybe give us just one of the most disturbing?

Five intriguing things:

— 25 bowling balls

— A lavender padded toilet seat

— Thirty-two pairs of size thirteen wing tip shoes

— Everything necessary for a kitchen remodel (oven, counter-tops, cabinets, etc) all in the basement in their original boxes with a Sears invoice from 1975.

— A wooden-handled jump rope in a hermetically sealed package (which is mostly strange because it was the one thing our ten-year-old son had said beforehand that he hoped he would find).

As for disturbing (children, avert your eyes)-  The first thing our 13-year-old daughter picked up from one of the mountains of objects in the living room was a small white packet. The cover read “Instant Pussy: The Perfect Answer for the Busy Man.”  Need I say more?

  • How can houses bring out the best in us?

I always encourage people who are looking to buy or remodel a house to consider both how they live now, and who they want to be in the future. How important is family to you? Having people over? Cooking? Having quiet spaces to read or create? Try thinking about a house not as a set number of bedrooms and bathrooms, but as a fluid space that can invite you to live differently. A kitchen that is open to a dining or family room welcomes group participation and informality. Easy access to a yard invites you to go outside.  Smaller bedrooms and a comfortable living room encourage a family to gather together. When I built my writing shed, my whole process changed. It’s a small space, but it is separate and undisturbed, and my productivity has soared. There are so many opportunities for our houses to help us live our best lives. We just need to pay attention.

You can read the rest of my interview with Erica here, on 26, a site to inspire a greater love of words in business and in life.

August, 2020