On Desecrating Shrines

The house is slowly being emptied of all my possessions.

Eliza and I will be moving to a much smaller terrace about a half mile away from the old place.

We were starting to feel a little silly knocking about this big place all by ourselves, with the spare bedrooms in our house acting as shrines to our kids’ long-lost childhood.

We’ve been ruling this empty roost for around 5 years or so now since our youngest left to study at University in 2012. Since then we’ve celebrated our independence as much as we’ve commiserated the loss of having our kids. The time has definitely come for us to move on and for us to make a final move.

Ironically, it’ll almost be like starting all over again.

When we move into our little 2-bed place, we’ll only be bringing a few suitcases of clothes.

In addition to the odd wall hanging and potted plant, we’re leaving pretty much all of our white goods and big pieces of furniture here. So when we move into our new place, we’ll have to do what all my kids did when they moved out: make a trip to Ikea.

I can tell that Eliza’s eager to make the move. She’s loved living in this home, but has been itching to get away from it since the kids left home. As soon as we confirmed the move, she began to bring boxes down from the loft and started clearing out rooms.

Eliza thrives under a large workload. Suddenly, just like me, she had a million and one jobs to get done. Before I knew it, the precious shrines that were once living tributes to my children had been cruelly pulled apart and packed into boxes.

Empty rooms make voices echo in an unnatural way.

Now, when we shout to each other from other ends of the house, our voices bounce off the walls with a rigid reverb that just seems wrong. Still, it’s exciting to be making a change and it’s fun to see the house in this dressed down style.

With every box that we shift out of the house, it becomes a little bit less ours and a bit more our daughter’s. Now all that remains are the scuffs, marks and holes in the walls – markers of childhood and experience that will soon be erased with the next few weeks’ work.

The kitchen has been completed.

The units have been completely cleaned and matching knobs have been screwed in. The floor is set and the refurbished furniture is now sitting pretty in the centre of the room. Looking at it in this pristine state, I’m struck by how similar it looks to the kitchen of my childhood.

The red bricks on the floor have been brushed clean, revealing a bright terracotta that gives the whole room a vibrant feel. The freshly painted cream walls compliment this, simply adorned with the quaint Pastoral paintings that my own Mother bought at a flea market when she was a child.

What Eliza and I have done with the last few months has been a cathartic and tough experience. We have attempted to create a historical reproduction of my childhood home, effectively erasing our existence from the place.

What remains is a slightly modernised version of the home that my Father built.

This is a house that will be the stage for my Grandchildren’s childhood and will continue to be the base of our family for the next 50 years.

Redesigning & Reconstructing

The family kitchen in the house my Father built is one of my favourite places to be.

Built in 1963, just before I was born, he often told me about his struggle to get it complete in time.

But against the odds he did it. Since then the house has stayed in the family, passing down to each generation of Austins.

The kitchen, above all else, holds many memories for me. It’s a room that has been battered by use over the 50 years since it’s construction.

When I sit in the big kitchen-diner, I’m brought back to countless family dinners spent eating around a forever scarred dining table that Mum never stopped fussing over. The chairs still have the same wobble that always sent my sisters flying whenever they lent back on them – bored from their homework.

The faux-marble work surfaces are the same ones that served as the stage for my Mother’s excellent baking projects and our disastrous ones. Little marks in the door frames even stand as a testament to the rate of our childhood growth spurts.

In 3 month’s time, I’ll be moving out of the old place to make way for my own daughter.

She’ll be taking the place off my hands and will be bringing her own young family in. Now that the house is about to change hands again, the time has finally come for a bit of a refurb. She holds just as many cherished memories for the place as I do, so I now have a real challenge on my hands.

I need to find an affordable way of modernising my old family home, whilst retaining the original charm that my Father endowed it with. It has to be redesigned to suit the needs of my daughter’s growing family, whilst keeping the little touches that will make it feel like the home that she grew up in, all those years ago.

There’s a lot to get done.

The battle-worn kitchen will be the biggest job. We’ve done our best to keep it clean, but that hasn’t stopped the now retro fittings wearing. I’ve spent the last 3 decades lovingly patching this kitchen up, but the result is less than aesthetically pleasing: a Frankenstein’s Monster of odd handles, mismatching doors and knobs.

The floor tiles have been kept sparkling clean by my wonderful wife, but that hasn’t stopped cracks popping up in the odd place.

The grouting between each tile has also slowly been crumbling away. My Father did a fantastic job in ’63, but it looks like his work’s slowly being undone by time. I’ll be reusing what tiles I can and finding a few matching ones to fill in the gaps.

Lastly, my daughter has begged for me to restore the furniture. I’ve never been that handy working with wood, but I have to admit that it would be a shame to simply throw away the table and chairs that have served two generations of Austins. My final job will be taking these old pieces apart and putting them back together.

All so this kitchen can play host to another 50 years of boisterous dinners and homework marathons.