Saturday, February 18, 2012

Suburban Abbey


The Victorian house we saw today in Quincy is incredible. We fell in love. It has original, natural woodwork and flooring in every room — all of its original moldings, windows, doors, and built-ins. There are elaborate fireplaces and elegant period light fixtures and wallpapers, plus a pantry and three original slate laundry sinks. The old push-button light switches were replaced with new push-button reproductions. The owners have filled its many rooms with oriental carpets and Gothic-Revival antiques, icons, religious paintings, and stained-glass windows. It appears that their hobby is robbing churches. It could be the set for an Anglican vicarage on Downton Abbey. Outside, there's a large back garden and two century-old copper beeches.

The kitchen has its original call bells. My imaginary servants would love that! It has been updated, but not much. The cabinetry is all original. The upstairs bathroom has its original marble-topped sink and wainscoting. The downstairs half-bath does, too. No pull-chain toilets, but that's easily fixed....

It's a museum-quality house. It ought to be lived in as such, not adapted to modern tastes. With so many authentic details, any 21st-century piece of furniture — even an English-country sofa — would look out of place. It would be folly to furnish this house in an eclectic style or bring in anything much past the Edwardian era. It also needs a certain amount of clutter to complement all those fancy finishes. (That's probably why the owners have yet to receive a single offer after months on the market.)

I never saw a phone or computer anywhere, although there was a huge TV in a corner in the basement (which also has original wainscoting and a splendid fireplace.)

I'm suddenly not sure if we have the desire, energy, or funds to furnish and live in a museum piece, although we love the idea of it.  We don't mind surrounding ourselves with antiques; that's mostly what we have. But I draw the line at upholstery. No hard, horsehair sofas for me: I like to sprawl on shlumpy down cushions, not perch on tufted settees. It would be a problem.

Another problem is that the house is four-and-a-half times bigger than our apartment. It's at least twice as much house as we need and that doesn't include the attic rooms, which we'd just ignore. It would need vast amounts of furniture, carpets, pictures, lace and velvet curtains, lamps, and frou-frou to look right. Although I love all those things, I've never wanted to own that much stuff.

I know it sounds like I've already talked myself out of this house, but I haven't. We loved it; we kept discovering new rooms and saying, "Oh, my god!" in amazement. It's wild to think that we can easily afford it, although we don't know what the heating bill says. It's the kind of house we've fantasized about, a once-in-a-lifetime house. We can't easily walk away from a house like this without giving up a long-held dream.

We could have sooo many cats. And a little swimming pool, away from the beeches....

I say all this knowing that I would also have to resign myself to a dramatically different lifestyle. Instead of being a delightful, ten-minute stroll from everything I want or need, I'd be taking very long, dull hikes to get to a gym, the library, some bananas, or a single interesting store. Since I'm used to going out on such errands every day, my entire existence would change. People in that neighborhood drive everywhere, although they are close to the Red Line for commuting into town (it's about 50 minutes to Back Bay).

Until I learn to drive — and it's about time, I know — I could get a bike. But it would be a nuisance to ride in a corset and bustle... huh? Hmm, you know, I'm not sure we ourselves are historically accurate enough to suit this house.

The more I think about it, this house is a lot like Downton Abbey. Remember last season, when Lord Grantham told Matthew that Downton was his life, his work, and his legacy? Do I want all that responsibility, in a yellow Queen Anne in Quincy? Without Carson, Mrs. Hughes, and Mrs. Patmore?

Why is life so complicated? Why are we always driving ourselves crazy over problematic real estate?  Still, we know it's a very nice dilemma to have.

Time to sleep on it.


  1. How far would it be to the nearest Anthropology? Ah, but you wouldn't have time for that. That house would own you and you would spend all your time caring for its aging bones.

    Add, full time house caregiver to your list of chores.

  2. You've been watching too much Downton Abbey. First find out if it has oil heat, and then think about the heating bill, either way. Plus...Quincy???

  3. It's true I'd need at least a weekly housecleaning service to keep up with the dirt; it's too big for one person to handle, even a person who likes cleaning. And I sure don't.

    It's true I'd have to really dedicate myself to the cause, being the steward to what is essentially a house museum, or museum house...

    It has gas heat, by the way, with multiple zones, so large portions of the place could be shut off during the winter.

  4. Please buy the house! I'll come visit you and love on the cats all day while you take long treks to your stores.


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