One of the most challenging creation exercises of my adult life has been creating our dream home here in Hamburg – a project that began in 2006 and is still underway. The everpresent question has been “what do we want?” – four small words with very big implications (and no right answers!) When we sat down with our builder and were informed that - without much exception - we could rearrange every room and wall in the model that we had selected, I suddenly understood how an artist must feel when handed a blank canvas or a chunk of marble.
To get a grip on what we were trying to do, we established some themes for our project: beauty, warmth, light… and budget! We wanted the inner and outer result to reflect our individuality and create a warm sense of home, but didn’t want to over-deplete our financial resources in getting there. We first both agreed that we preferred California architectural styles, and attempted to manifest this by raising our roofline as high as the building codes would allow, inserting extra-large windows to ensure plenty of natural light, creating a huge “master retreat” in lieu of a standard-sized master bedroom, and designing a vibrant terra cotta stucco exterior (much to the surprise of our neighbors!)
Once the walls were in place, an important basic component of our interior creative process was color. As my husband will attest to with rolling eyes, the color selection program was an arduous one (at one point we had to bring in the big guns – Kirstan Böttger, resident color expert – to rescue us). I desired a comforting array of pastels to see us through the winter months – ones that would reflect light and provide a soothing backdrop for furniture, window coverings, and our eclectic collection of “art” accumulated from many travels. After about 87 trips to the paint store, we finally agreed with much relief on a California- inspired palette of warm browns, greens, aquas, and yellows.
Unbeknownst to my husband, the “fun” was just beginning (phase 2 – flooring!). It perhaps would have been more efficient if we had pitched a tent and camped out at our local tile store for a few weeks in order to facilitate the stone-selection process. The dizzying selection of tiles from every corner of the globe kept our relationship on edge – he, initially wishing only for some nice white German tile, and I, imagining glorious travertine and exotic mosaic stones surrounding me while I bathed in our oversized soaking tub. Our budget and desire for compromise brought us to the middle ground. We did bedeck our upstairs bathroom in soothing beige travertine, but chose an inexpensive textured grey stone for the downstairs hard-surface areas. Our tile installation crew was interested in our choice of colorful river stones (a surprise bargain) for our downstairs shower pan and the use of floor tiles to adorn our shower walls. My husband approved a very small mosaic-stone backsplash to indulge my Italianate bathroom tendencies, and I acquiesced to his interest in the apple-green ceramic tiles for our kitchen backsplash. Perhaps the result is a bit of tile overkill, but why not?!
The lengthiest part of our multiyear creative process is putting the furniture, wall coverings, and decorative touches in place. With a baby and two careers, this last phase seems to have been permanently relegated to the back burner. While planning for an overall balance- beauty-and-flow effect, I also believe in taking the time to examine each item in a room and asking myself “Does this remind me of something positive? Does it bring me joy? Does it add beauty and balance? Does it harmonize with the other components of this room?” If the answer is no, I get rid of it.
As much as my husband has complained about getting rid of “perfectly good stuff”, he begrudgingly admits that the result is starting to unfold pleasingly. Given another year and a lot more bargain hunting, our cozy California-Hamburg abode should finally be complete.
We both made an important observation during this creative process. As our awareness of the many possibilities increased, our creativity correspondingly increased. The more we realized we could do, the more we wanted to do! I suppose that’s the same in life. Sometimes somebody has to ask us “what do you want?” before we ever start thinking about the answer. And there’s nothing more thrilling than seeing what we can create when we get motivated.
originally published in Currents Apr/May 2008