The Lion House

I’ll begin by digressing with a pointless anecdote about other stuff

Our house hunt always started with the same ritual. We’d get in our car (the Econobox lives on readers…it will never die, we’re sure of it at this juncture), argue over taking the Holland Tunnel or the Lincoln Tunnel, settle for Lincoln, do an exhausting stop-and-go drive across Manhattan, cross over into the Dirty Jerz and start making our way to my in-laws’ home to park our car and be picked up by our agent the next morning. Generally we’d stay over at my BIL/SIL’s house on Saturday night so we could all chill together, and also because they’d always point out that if we were going to make a $14 trip back through the tunnels, so why not enjoy the Jerz and sight-see a bit and chillax with family? I am lucky enough to really like my in-laws, so we’d usually make a Saturday night/Sunday morning expedition of the whole house hunting rigamarole. One thing I found out about Jerz as a result of these over-nighters…it has really really nice beaches! One time this summer B and I decided we were going to go out to Montauk, but the traffic got so heavy that we aborted our mission in the middle and ended up at Far Rockaway instead. It was okay-and I am not slamming it due to Sandy damage because I think if anything Sandy probably washed away some of the grime and skeeze (along with the boardwalk). The shoreline is definitely long, but I don’t think it compared with the cleanliness of the beach my BIL and SIL took us to in the Jerz. Plus, Far Rockaway was really rocky and I didn’t like the water as much as the Jerz beach. The Jerz beach also had nice dunes with grass, softer sand and a really clean and beachier foreshore. After we came home I was telling B that I sort of want to invest in a volleyball net and make a trip of it with friends because the whole atmosphere was so pleasant.

ANYWAY, I told you all of that only to mention that every time we’d drive over to Jerz to see homes we’d park at my in-laws’ house. And every time we did THAT, we’d take exactly the same route down the cliffs of NJ and pass this one house. The cutest Victorian house. It was an attached Victorian row house, but it was the end-unit so we knew it was the one with the drivable backyard/parking. The exterior is original stone and there were 2 excruciatingly awesome lion statues out front by its cherry red door. The whole home looked like it belonged in England. Every single time we drove by The Lion House (as we began to call it) we’d always say things like “man, wouldn’t it be awesome if the LION HOUSE went on sale? We would buy that house in a hot second.”

You know where this is leading, don’t you? We’d put an offer on the carriage house (which btw, is a gut reno of some Victorian stables!) and were in the middle of negotiating the price when the Lion House went on the market. GAH! So I put in an emergency call to our realtor and we rushed over to the Lion House to check it out. And readers, I would describe it as the home of my childhood dreams. B was sold on it for 2 reasons. First, the home has incredible curb appeal, with the original stonework, original ornate gatework, original Victorian statuary (except the new cherubs they replaced out back, horrid, cherubs are truly grotesque) and second, due to being the end unit, they had a paved patio out back that worked as a combination of an outdoor space and parking. Our carriage house has an amazing deck (with an attached grill), but the one thing we are lacking, as is everyone on our street? PARKING. There is a total of maybe one or two homes in our carriage house neighborhood that come with deeded parking. This was pretty much one of the only things that gave us pause about our property. In the end we decided to overlook it because a) we weren’t in a radically different situation than the rest of the properties in our area, since none of them come with parking either, b) we live a mile away from my brother-in-law who said he’d let us park our car in his garage as long as he lived in the neighborhood, which will be for a while and c) we will likely buy an investment property in the next few years and we decided firmly that we’d buy it with parking.

So the lion statues and parking sold B, and I’ll admit that I also fell for the home’s curb appeal, but what of the interior? One of the things I heard people talk on and on about for years was the issue of over-use of space in modern construction as opposed to Olde Timey Constructione. “There’s just way too much space,” people say as they wave their hands about. “And what happened to having rooms, open layout is so awful. Back in the day, people really knew how to build homes!”

When it came down to the Lion House vs. the Carriage House, the places were so totally different in every respect that we had to, at the end of the day, re-evaluate how we felt about Olde Timey Architecture vs. New-Fangled Modern Architecture. Even our real estate agent was like “I think this really comes down to which house you think will fit your needs from an architectural standpoint.”

First things first. The Lion House had been put on the market last year, or the year before, and then quickly taken off again. From what we can see, the owners spent that time putting a great deal of working into cosmetic refurbishment, as well as some structural improvements. I don’t remember if they upgraded the wiring/electrical stuff, but they did replace all the windows if I remember correctly. The floors had been polished and the bathroom upstairs had been renovated. The flow of the house was not bad but Victorian architecture ultimately fit Victorian needs. The vestibule was adorable, and huge, but also made me think “hmm, wasted space that could have gone towards living areas.” The parlor was a decent size, but the entry to it cut the room in a way such that absolutely no big screen television could be placed directly on the wall…for obvious reasons, I get it. But when you’re looking at the house and your husband slowly says “well, we can’t put a big TV anywhere,” you suddenly start realizing…modern homes are built for modern needs. Still, I won’t deny the home’s Olde Timey Charme. Were I 15 years old I know I’d be like “BABA, WE NEED TO BUY THIS HOME BECAUSE I FEEL LIKE I AM IN THE PAGES OF A CHILDREN’S FANTASY NOVEL.” That’s how cute and olde timey it was-I felt like I was in a C.S. Lewis novel while walking through it. The dining room was large and spacious but the kitchen? Oh readers. THERE WAS NO DISHWASHER. And after that I fainted dead away. The kitchen, as compared to the carriage house, was also fairly dated and we could tell that they had made a decision between an expensive reno of a kitchen or the upstairs bathroom and chosen the bathroom for cost purposes. We would definitely have been on the line for a kitchen renovation were we to stay in the house for any extended period of time. I think the owners had put in new cabinetry-oh, and I’ll say this-I know white cabinetry is all the rage right now and I do like it quite a bit and half-toyed with the idea of painting our cabinets white-but when it’s cheap white cabinetry, it looks terrible. I’ll take our reasonably expensive oak cabinetry in the carriage house any day over cheap white cabinetry.

To make things worse, the home had been classified years ago as a multi-family, which automatically made B want to rent out the basement. The basement “apartment” was nice but also slightly damp and housed the second bathroom, which totally and thoroughly unacceptable due to being small and dated and cramped. I saw it and thought, holy crap, they just made the teeniest bathroom down here they could.

After we toured the basement, which had a staircase that would pretty much kill most people, I realized that the home did not come with a washer and dryer and my realtor read aloud “remediated lead paint” off the viewing sheet and I hit my tolerance limit. I could have worked around the dishwasher with a portable one and lived with a dated kitchen. But when you say sh*t like “doesn’t come with laundry” and “lead paint” in one breath I feel like my 21st century self, at 35 years of age, just thinks “frock you Victorians.” Because right now I am stuck with things like carrying the laundry out for servicing-and while I understand I sound like a spoiled brat because we don’t even do it ourselves and how bad could it be-let me assure you, that NYC habit of getting laundry “done” is not worth it. Aside from having to drag large loads of laundry around, you also will never ever own a pair of matched socks and your clothes get mixed up with others and disappear at a reasonably consistent rate. And I supposed I could have forced B to help me with it but realistically I know that I end up gritting my teeth and doing some things out of frustration (just like he grits his teeth and cleans because FROCK THAT) and one of those things is the task of routinely dropping off laundry.

Oh yeah, and the lead paint. After we escaped the clutches of our agent I kept asking B, “do you want your kid to be dumber than a dolphin? Because that is what we are heading towards. Your kid wouldn’t even be allowed to perform at Sea World!” After the dumber than a dolphin question failed to dissuade him, I tried some new tactics. “Are you trying to doom us to a flipper baby?” I’d say while making little fin hands and nuzzling his knee. A couple days later when he still wasn’t convinced, I pulled out the big guns and started drooling and looking at him cross-eyed in order to give him a taste of what a lead paint baby would be like in person. “I coulda been smurt, but Dada wanted a purking spot and some statues,” I’d slur at him cross-eyed over dinner. “Please don’t make that face MONKEY” B would screech in between giggles.

Wait wait…I haven’t even gotten to the upstairs yet. It was pretty nice, but the Victorians definitely were…smaller. It was also pretty funny to see the maid’s room. Because it had been turned into a reasonably sized walk-in closet to the next door master. HA! None of the rooms came with real closets. Instead, they had the original wardrobe built-ins, straight out of the Chronices of Narnia. I quite liked them but B started narrowing his eyes since he pretty much loathes anything Olde Timey and boy were these Olde Timey. “Do you think Narnia lies on the other side?” I asked B as he struggled to get one open. “We might be able to escape the Jerz for a magical land!” The bathroom reno was pretty nice, all things said. Except…realistically speaking it would be the only bathroom in the house. Which is fine when it’s the 2 of us, but I think would be horrible down the line with children, as well as when B’s parents or my parents or friends visit.

Modern houses are built for modern needs. Olde Tymey Homes are built for olde timey needs. This is my conclusion. It comes down to what you want most-can you deal with the discrepancies between how you live your life today versus how olde timey people lived theirs or do you want a place that fits your lifestyle as it is?

In spite of the dumber-than-a-dolphin baby questions, we dragged out the negotiation on the carriage house and ended up doing about 3 viewings of the Lion House. The third time I took my in-laws (who had seen the carriage house) and my realtor’s husband, who used to be a contractor. Aside from the issue of lead remediation and kitchen renovation he inspected the house and told us that the only space for a washer/dryer set would have been in the basement. Which B wanted to rent out. Which made the multi-family benefit to the home moot unless we wanted to be locked into the same cycle of resentful laundry hauling we were in now.

As a bonus, my nephew was sniffing around the window ledges (low low low in keeping with Victorian architecture) and the first thing my brother-in-law said was “I think you should chemically strip the home of lead before you move in.”

So the Lion House, which we both admit has charm came with the following built in costs:

Remediate lead for entire home

Buy washer and dryer and give up basement apartment income or blow out back of home and add washer and dryer at huge cost due to historical refurbishment of back wall or do nothing and take laundry to laundromat

Buy dishwasher

Complete kitchen renovation within 1 to 2 years

Live with 1 bathroom for everyone

Birth baby dumber than dolphin

Aaaaaaaaaaaand that’s when I turned to B and was like “I can’t do it. I can’t live in the Lion House.” After some thought, B agreed that the modern house was made for…modern human beings and we agreed on a price and closed out the negotiations.

I’m disappointed readers. For years I was one of those people who said things like why do modern homes have to be so big and in Europe people live in apartments their whole lives and we should all ride bikes everywhere like the Dutch. But when it came down to brass tacks I went for a well designed larger home with no wasted space, more than 1 bathroom, a modern kitchen and closets.

At least I still think we should ride bikes everywhere like the Dutch.

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2 Responses to The Lion House

  1. pris72 says:

    I feel ya. We spent 18 years in a house that had been built in 1916. We lived for years with one bathroom (picture a 4 member family with stomach flu) got rid of asbestos, survived an addition, the whole nine yards. Now we’re in a house built in 2007. I miss some of the charm of our old house, but you two are avoiding a *lot* of headaches (literally and figuratively.)

  2. I hate to be the person who rejected a house with charm for bathrooms but it goes beyond that-it’s also wiring and asbestos and lead, big ticket fixes. The lack of bathrooms and closets is just the cherry on top of what lurks underneath the walls and everything it will cost you. Plus it had a certified abandoned oil tank underneath it…Victorians never thought about environmental disasters because they were too busy building stone edifices with charm! And lion statuary.

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