Sunday, December 23, 2007

Finding Room

One enters our house into a 9' x 16' room we call the parlor, for it is where we keep the piano. We also keep the washer and dryer there, in a closet along one side. Because that's where they fit.

And although we both sort of sighed about that -- a house too small for a laundry room -- it is a very convenient location for laundry, not being stuck down in a cellar. The closet has a sliding door that hides the unsightliness, there are cabinets above, the machines are super-quiet, and you don't have to be sequestered to wash the clothes and can keep an eye on the kids, if they're about. So let's just shhh about the laundry, then. It's the parlor.

Like most rooms in our house, it does triple duty, so it's also the entry foyer, with a rack of coathooks artfully hidden behind the door and a shoe rack underneath it, piled with thousands of boots, work shoes, running shoes, hats and gloves. The hooks periodically swell with an unsightly mass of coats; this week we instituted the If It Wasn't Worn this Week, Put It in the Back Closet Rule. There are two armchairs just inside, which, although designed to accommodate the human form, are typically occupied by briefcases, backpacks, coats and coat parts, purses, tote bags full of necessaries, and books. No different from your house, of course.

This room's primary characteristic is that it is not a space for socialization. You don't Go there; you either pass through or you do laundry. We do keep the stickers in a secretary bookcase there, as well, so you might stop in when you require an adhesive-backed Parasaurolophus to shut someone up reward someone for good behavior. Otherwise, it's a way station, despite the chairs, despite our sense that space is at such a premium that we should make this room usable, desirable, worthy of attention.

To add injury to the insult of the room's uselessness, in the fall we had an Incident. Back then I crowed in this space about the installation of new baseboard moldings, an event that had been awaited since we moved in a year earlier and removed the old ones to allow the laying of new floors. And more recently I alluded to the fact that, during that process, a contractor drove two really thin nails directly into one of the radiator pipes in the wall. No problem, until you add cold weather, the heat goes on all night, the pipe expands, radiator water pours out into the wall and seeps into the (new) floors and subfloor and sheet rock and insulation and eventually pours down the outside of the foundation, which is when you notice it.

Part of the process that followed involved removal of the lower half of the sheetrock wall and insulation in the parlor. The wall behind the piano, half gone. The wall you face as you enter. And so it will remain until we get the scratch together to fix it up. (The contractor's insurance will pay, but we'll pay first. And yes, I could learn, but it would be my first one, and it would be ugly, and it would be prominent.) We're not in despair over this, precisely, but there it is, half a wall missing, just as you enter, sigh.

This weekend we invited some locals over for afternoon eggnog, so we snugged the piano up against that wall, performed precise calculations to dim and redirect the lights, put two large portraits of our kids on the extant half of the wall, and assumed that the room's standard traffic flow would prevail and that no one would see the exposed studs and electrical conduit as they headed for the dining room.

What was funny, though, was that on entering, people subconsciously hesitated a second to process the two portraits...they slowed, and lingered in there, and even stepped back into the parlor after settling their coat and getting a drink...a switch had flipped, and the room's energy was now curiously social. As the party wound down a couple of hours later, it gravitated toward the parlor. A couple of people sat in the chairs (relieved of their household burdens for the occasion). Our friend and his daughter began playing the piano. We went in there. After the last guests left, we sat down in the chairs ourselves, until two other neighbors came over with a bottle of wine, and our smaller party found itself seated entirely in the parlor for another hour.

Maybe it was the exposed wall letting something in. Maybe we subconsciously steered people into our unused social space. Who knows? Our parlor made music and laughter last night. Missing sheet rock or no, we keep growing into this little place, finding that its modest boundaries hold more than we noticed at first glance.


Antonia Cornwell said...

I once threw a house party and, in preparation, tidied every room except the bathroom on the top floor.

It was a large bathroom, with plants, a coffee-table and, as it turned out, enough floorspace to seat a dozen or so people. The bath was long enough for another three guests to sit with their legs hanging over the edge, while the sink and toilet provided seating for two more.

Lovely party.

JB said...

I loved this post.