HOME-ISH: Rebuilding a Time-Honored Concept for the Modern Age

Some years ago, I looked into the blank-eyed stare of someone who had no idea what they were doing. I don’t just mean relative to the action they were about to take. I also mean how they were functioning in the interim, uncomfortable moments of change between what’s-now and what’s-next, which is to say, how they were adjusting to an idea they had supposedly undertaken with great confidence.

In fairness, it is quite impossible to know how your life will change when you leave home for the first time. Even after you leave, and have been away awhile, you still don’t really know. It takes a long, long, long time to understand. And even then, as anyone who has been away longer will tell you, you still haven’t got it except for maybe by a thread. And even that grip is tenuous.

This is a lesson we are all learning now, in a time of immense cultural, political, and yes, also necessarily personal change. We must address them — all of them — and we must do so closer to us, not further away, at least not at first. There is no more room or time for work-avoiding beliefs that look, sound, and act like any of the following: “If there’s a problem, it is over there,” or “If there is a failing, it must be someone else’s,” or “If there is a grievance, surely another individual will make it right.” Each of these statements, though perhaps momentarily pacifying, are not in anyone’s long-term interest, so we shouldn’t tolerate them in the short-term.

It should be noted that this is not the same thing as acknowledging shared plights or shared sins. If anything, right now we are called to acknowledge the great expanse of things long-overdue for our attention. But we cannot do this — or, we cannot do this well — if we are unwilling to acknowledge our roles in the care and keeping of that great expanse.

At first, this might make you feel alienated. The current political and cultural climate has unsettled many time-honored ideas in favor of reimagining a way forward that is more inclusive, and this is something we should celebrate. However, it is alright if, for a moment or fifty, you need to grieve what it is you had no idea you were losing until it was lost. This is especially true if you’re the type of person who usually notices the fabric of your life in distress only after overt, theatrical rips at the seams, instead of, say, small threadbare corners that become larger and larger over hours, and days, and weeks, and months and OH MY GOD HOW THE HELL DID WE GET HERE? It’s okay. Sometimes that’s me, too.

Even for seasoned folks, life can be overwhelming. We all struggle, we all fall down, we all have moments where we’re overcome with exhaustion, where we’re running on fumes. We’re all human. That is to be expected. And! We must still choose to stay committed, honoring our selves by first getting to know ourselves — yes, so that we know what we have to give, but also yes, so we know what we have to lose.

When I’ve said in The LibraRYAN Reading Group posts that you shouldn’t rely on my response to get started on your part of the assignments we’ve all been handed (many times, not just recently), I’ve meant it. Me sharing this context is in support of that statement, not in argument with it. Especially because I want to leave enough space for folks who are striving towards being better in new ways. In lots of places, I see messaging that essentially says “sink or swim,” and I don’t know about you, but that ideology is part of what got us here, no? As a result, I won’t be operating by or with it. Good, glad we cleared that up.

I am in the business of sharing things I’ve learned along my journey, in case they might be of service to anyone else. Therefore, with the seriously immense disclaimer that I am not an expert in anything, that I am a relative nobody, and that just like you, I have, do, and will get life very wrong on more than one occasion, here is one take on a starting place, from someone who gives a $#@^ about you — yes really, you the person, not you in general. That’s the entire point.

How to Plan a Stronger Home in Five Steps (and then a lot more):

(1) Accept responsibility for the fact that you, personally, are responsible for the marks you leave on yourself, on others, on your homes, on others’ homes, and on the world.

(2) After you fight me (yourself!) on that, seriously, accept responsibility for the things that happen (and have happened) on your watch, under your leadership, and in your presence or company. This is a lesson we learn in early years and then conveniently forget while in pursuit of whatever lofty goals we acquire “on our ways home.”

(3) Still struggling? It’s ok. Another way to look at this is to look back at your past (start more recently, then work backwards). See if you can find an example of something you’ve done, willfully or not, to fundamentally harm someone. If you can’t find an example, look closer and/or go back further. Then keep going. Finding more than one example certainly won’t get you a sticker, but you might learn something, and that should be enough.

(4) Ah! Now you’ve got the hang of it! It’s going to get a little harder, though. Are you ready? Once you’ve located those memories, sit with them for a minute. Think not just about how they changed the other person/s, but also how they fundamentally changed you (and they did, I promise).

(5) Now, here’s where the Big Work starts. While I regret to inform you that you cannot go back and un-do whatever nastiness you discovered, you can absolutely move forward in a new spirit of just-as-broken-as-the-rest-of-us-ness, and resolve to do better each and every “Next Time” you’re gifted (none of us ever deserve second chances, but we get them, and what we do with them matters).

Again, this is only your starting place. My hope is that you’ll start from a place that is open to the kinds of work that need to be done, and that when you make mistakes, you know you can come back to this home base and rest, re-learn, and get going again.

In the meantime, know that if it takes you longer than others to get through these steps, that’s ok. If it takes you less time and then you need to go back and re-take this course of action, that’s ok. Falling down, messing up, taking your time, these are all ok. The most important thing to remember is that we have a million moments to do the right thing, and in as many of those moments as possible, we should.

xoxo,

Ryan

North by North Carolinian

P.S. I’ve written about the concept of “home” many times, but here are a few that might resonate in new ways. I’d love to hear how your thoughts on “home” have evolved over the years, too!

Home

Hiraeth: A Movement in Three Household Things

Sometimes I Feel Like Celia Foote

In the Middle with You

We’re All a Little North by North Carolinian

Reading Words: Last Ride to Graceland

Reading Words: TIME’s Special Issue on the American South

Full content and concept by Ryan Vale McGonigle

Design in the Age of “For Now, Forever”

It’s no secret that this isn’t a buyer’s market. As a result, you might be considering staying put for awhile. We certainly are. Why? Because as much as hot seller’s markets help maximize profits, they can also put homes you were previously eyeing just out of reach. This is before you address monthly costs that will never go away, no matter the market or your personal finances. Diamonds might be forever, but so are taxes and utilities. Remember that.

Don’t get me wrong. We love our current home, so the momentary decision to stay isn’t “settling,” and it’s also not taken without deep awareness of other, favorable alternatives. Hubs and I are ultimately pragmatists who’ve learned not to get too attached to anyone or anything else around us — and with good reason. It’s simple: the most powerful levers in anyone’s life, jobs and real estate, are finicky as heck, and no one has the control they’d like to believe they have over either of them.

The good news is that even in this reality, we do have some power over what happens. By this I mean that if we make the right choices, we can protect the future kinds of decisions we’ll make, no matter what circumstances surround us.

Relative to building a life in the places we call home, this means we can decide to love things… for now. We can decide to fix things… for now. We can decide to stay… for now. And if things change, however suddenly, we can decide to leave… you guessed it, for now. The strict dichotomy of “love it” or “list it” just isn’t fair or true. Someone better tell HGTV.

Which brings us back to the current market. What’s a homeowner to do — about homes, about life — in a wildly unpredictable time like this? Well, the honest answer is that I have absolutely no idea, but here’s one possiblity: strike a delicate balance between what strikes your fancy, and what might strike the fancy of the most number of others.

Yes, that’s as difficult as it sounds. Luckily, purchasing and living through the renovations of a charming suburban fixer has prepared us well for this way of life. It’s been a humbling, but ultimately love-filled experience. We do something, we take stock, we do something else, we take stock again. Nothing is forever, but everything could be. The reality of our “for now, forever” life is that we are both tethered and free, both kept and wild, both at home and away. It’s strife and success all wrapped up in one. And we love it.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for ways to apply this strangely freeing mindset to your life or abode, here are some “current” ideas I’ve long-since loved, being someone who grew up in a place where these things are less often branded as “new and fashionable,” and more often beloved as “tried and true:”

(1) Color! More “traditional” colors, like greens (my favorite, favorite, favorite), yellows, blues, terra cottas, deep charcoals, and wispy creams are shoving “greige” out where it belongs, which is to say, in the fashion rearview. From pastels to super-saturated and more stately or refined, colors of all kinds are making a serious comeback and I! am! here! for! it!

(2) Texture! Ok, so I’d be lying if I said that my more minimalist self didn’t love part of the industrialist look that was oh-so au courant through the mid-late 2010’s. But it would never cut it as a lasting and intentional design aesthetic, at least not for me. Instead, give me all the textured carpets, textured window coverings, textured seating options! They demonstrate there’s more to life than stark urbanity, as defined by bare white walls, exposed beams and A/C ducts, and “dimensional wall art,” whatever that was…

(3) Nature! I’ve always been someone who’s wanted to bring the outdoors, in. As a child I preferred to play outside over anywhere else, and I try hard to honor the spirit of that girl as much as possible in my adult life. One of the ways I do this is by keeping little moments of nature tucked in surprising places, which is a technique that’s worked wonders everywhere from my first studio apartment to our current suburban sprawl. Give it a try!

Alright, those are my top three design picks for the age of “for now, forever.” Beyond the specificity of those choices, what makes me most excited about changing public tastes is the return to what I’ll call “natural joy.” Sure, I mean to the world of design, but I also mean to the world at-large. We’ve whitewashed, stripped, and quieted too many things in the name of “style” over the years. It’s about time more of us stepped up to fix that. And guess what, you already know how. You just have to make your home for yourselves, and keep doing that for as long as you want. After all, at least for now, it’s yours and no one else’s.

Welcome home, My Loves. For now and forever, welcome home.

xoxo,

Ryan

North by North Carolinian

Full content and concept by Ryan Vale McGonigle

The Surprising Power of Pinterest

Pinterest is my favorite (anti)social media platform. I love to vision, to collect, to create. And I love to revision, recollect, and recreate. Pinning allows me to do what I do best: be in progress. And with that approach, the applications are truly endless.

These days, I use it mostly for home inspiration and visioning our lives forward. Those of you who’ve followed me on this or previous journeys know that Husband and I live partly between two worlds. We dream of living fully in both of them. A predicament. We aren’t there yet, and may not be for awhile, but until then, Pinterest allows us to move closer in spirit. And I don’t just mean toward our goals.

Husband and I are first-time homeowners. A couple years back, we bought a beautiful “fixer” in a place many people would love to live. The neighborhood is super-established and actually, I’m still shocked they let us buy here, because it’s one of those places where families spend generations in the same home.

When we closed, we knew we had years — maybe even decades — of work ahead of us. It was a challenge we took on fully and with love. In the relatively short time since, it’s already seen some massive changes. The house breathes again and with each project, it grows stronger. That brings our hearts such joy. But the process hasn’t always been easy.

For as much as Husband and I are well-suited, we are also very, very different. I’m the extrovert to his introvert. I’m the free spirit to his rule seeker. I’m the explorer to his homebody. And we wouldn’t have it any other way. Still, building a home together — especially when you approach it as restorative like we do — can be challenging.

We have all the difficult time, budget and style discussions most couples do. But we have them twice over, once for our lives in his home and once for our lives in mine. Finding balance is really hard, and as we’ve discovered, so is moving from the theoretical to the concrete. They don’t teach you about home renovation or how to build the perfect bi-state lifestyle in school or in pre-cana.

Lucky for us, Pinterest helps fill the gap. It allows us to daydream, search, and ultimately plan for the lives we want to construct, in a process that’s as healthy and iterative as our actual lives. The importance of that gift cannot be overstated. Sure, we have these big, sometimes impossible-feeling dreams, but with a little help from crowdsourcing and my love for organization, we’re beginning to find that some of those dreams are (dare I say it?) becoming a reality. In celebration of that milestone, I offer this ode to Pinterest and the joy-filled life it helps us build together. Here we go. Pinterest, thanks for giving us the push we needed to:

(1) Replace pining with pinning. For the longest time, I had zero faith that we could afford to build a life in New York. Then we found our neighborhood and our house found us. Part of that was our stellar realtor, and part of that was my by-then obsessive pinning. Before we knew what we were looking for, Pinterest helped us narrow our list of “must haves” and “nice ifs” down to something manageable. The result was really close to the place we call home.

Recently, we outgrew unflattering pining of another variety. As we started to feel that familiar itch, it was reassuring to know that we could replace the pine with a pin … or two … or, I believe, 55. But who’s counting? In all seriousness, no matter where this road takes us, with any luck we’ll end up just as happy, in a completely different way, in the not-too-distant future.

(2) Build on tradition for the modern age. Our home was built a hundred years ago — really. That was part of what drew us to the house. Two other families, and three generations, called it home before us, and in some ways it showed. Lime green paint from the ’70s? Check. All over the house? Check. Early 1900s tile adhered directly to plaster walls in the bathroom, with no hope for removal except by professionals? Check.

Needless to say, we have some work to do. But we don’t want to lose the character and charm of our home in the process. So, keep the picture railing and vaulted ceilings? You bet. Pick neutrals that are both easy on the eye and get the historical stamp of approval? Of course.

We aren’t rolling in dough, so we won’t be hiring an interior designer, but we absolutely can pin away to our hearts’ content. Things like paint colors, period pieces, and old blueprints for similarly-styled Dutch colonials? They’re all there, alongside plans for the renovated kitchen, bathrooms, and garage we hope to one day have. Part of the joy in owning an older home is adding your page to its long history of style. But in our case, first we needed to ….

(3) Arrive at a common style. I tend to be more casual and minimalist. Husband tends to favor things more formal and traditional. When we first got married, we lived in this insanely small apartment in the city and there wasn’t much to argue about, because not much would fit in the space.  When we bought our house, that changed.

Suddenly, as we started to fill rooms, it became clear that we weren’t on the same page. Trips to the store or online shopping weren’t fun, they were torturous for both of us. Part of that was the struggle to imagine individual pieces in rooms with barely anything else in them. And part of that was that we didn’t want to admit we weren’t seeing eye-to-eye.

When we’d had enough of that charade, Pinterest was there for us yet again. I pinned things I thought I’d like, things I thought he’d like, and led weekly reviews each Sunday. Over brunch and every single show on the Food Network, we kept what worked and culled what didn’t. And guess what? A style emerged. I think designers call it “contemporary coastal.” We call it a miracle.

I recognize that Pinterest didn’t do this for us. However, it made our process of home-making a lot easier than it would’ve been otherwise. Checking to see if something  meshes with the vibe? Yep, we did that. Searching for an image of something your loving partner can’t quite visualize in the space? Yep, we did that. Wishing we had done so before rushing out to buy something that ultimately didn’t work? Yep, we did that too.

While all this was going on — and yes, it was a lot — Husband and I didn’t even realize that something else, something far more important was happening. Sure, we respectfully refreshed the house, but we also refreshed our relationship. Our marriage was strong beforehand, but this process taught us how much more learning and growing we could do together. Frankly? That’s what marriage is about. Did we need that reminder? Hell yes.

Now, nearly two years, hundreds of pins, and what feels like endless home improvement projects later, we sit in our living room and enjoy each other’s company, taking in the progress we’ve made. And while one of us occasionally asks how we’ve managed to do it all, by the time Sunday rolls around, we both remember. The secret to making home is right beside us, and has been all along. It’s us, with a little help from Pinterest.

xoxo,

Ryan 

North by North Carolinian

northxnc_3.13.18

Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle

When Without Internet

So y’all … I spent ALL of last week without the Internet.

know, I was surprised too. Nary a day goes by where my view doesn’t resemble the featured image (a flat surface and a computer). But we’re having the house painted, which is a huge job, so there’s been no web access here.

I wasn’t sure what to do with myself for the first few days. I hate sitting still, and watching paint dry isn’t as fun as it sounds. Thankfully I got past it and ended up living a way fuller life than I normally do. During our post-net reality, some of the biggest wins became:

(1) I talked to people — with our actual voices and sometimes even in person. Did you know that it’s possible to be social outside the world of social media? Spoiler alert: it is. And it’s glorious. We’re social creatures, humans. So put down or walk away from whatever screen you’re using to engage with the world … and actually engage.

(2) I cleaned my house from top to bottom. We do a major surface scrub down every week. Last week I also did the chores we have a habit of making less time for (i.e. wiping down the space between the window and the sill, where dirt and bugs can accumulate if you aren’t careful). While I can’t make this an honest celebration of willpower, I totally plan to celebrate not doing gross chores for at least another week.

(3) I thought up a bunch of cool places to go visit on Long Island. Husband is from here but I am not. This makes us in the extreme minority of couples, at least in the part where we live. One of my goals this year is to get out and experience more by myself, so I can feel as much at home independently as I do when Husband is around. Currently on the list? A few gardens and museums, the aquarium, and finding more small/local businesses to explore.

(4) I read two books. One was a novel from a Long Island-based author. One was history-based from a North Carolina journalist. Both were spectacular and you’ll hear more about them later — stay tuned, friends. Meanwhile, I had a blast kicking off my “find more local art/ists” project with these reads!

(5) I spent time outside. Beyond daily walk(s) with the dog, or short trips to the mailbox, my time in the great outdoors has been limited of late. Part of this is the weather — raise your hand if you’re over “Spr-inter,” too!  — and part of this is me. Last week I had a good excuse to get fresh air, so guess what? I did. Must remember to make more good excuses going forward.

(6) I joined a community group. I have this nasty habit of not wanting to get close to people, because I’m never in one place long enough to properly deal with the inevitable heartbreak of leaving. It’s been over a year since we moved into this house. It’s high time I put my self(ish) preservation aside and became a contributing member of our community. I was proud of myself for this small act of courage. Let’s hope it sticks.

(7) I got my introspection on. I hate, hate, hate to think about my life. It stresses me out, either because it’s not moving fast enough, or because it’s moving too fast. So I tend to avoid introspection. Sometimes it’s helpful, though. This was one of those times. Last week I reassessed some big goals, came up with creative approaches to current and future work, re-prioritized the people and things that matter most to me, and put the rest aside for the moment. That felt really. damn. good.

In the spirit of that feeling, I encourage you to spend less screen time, and spend more time doing the things you love, with the people you love, in the places you love. Because that’s what life is all about, no matter what corner of the world you call home.

xoxo,

Ryan

North by North Carolinian

northxnc_3.13.18

Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle