Kristin’s Column: Flexible Walls
by Kristin Armstrong
Illustration by Kristen McGinty
OUR ARCHITECTURE NEEDS ARE ALWAYS CHANGING.
After my kids were out of the “little kid” zone I could not wait to downsize. Truckloads of toys, children’s books (I kept the favorites!), outgrown clothes, errant Legos, and abandoned stuffed animals went to Goodwill and other donation sites. I sorted through boxes of kid artwork and agonized over what to keep. I threw away bags of old art supplies, dried-up paints, bottles of glue, broken crayons and scribbled-in coloring books. I finally admitted that I was single and approaching middle age and unlikely to have more children so I parted with old cribs, dusty folded strollers, high chairs with unidentifiable crust still lodged in the cracks, dog-eared copies of “What to Expect” and “Girlfriends’ Guide” and hideous maternity clothes that I was saving “just in case.” We moved from a house that was way too big with a pool and a guest apartment into a cozy, efficient house that had not one inch of unused space. I felt clean and new and purged, ready to start a fresh chapter in my life.
But wouldn’t you know, my kids kept growing! And we started growing right out of that perfectly proportioned little house. It turned out that Luke and Grace could not share a Jack and Jill bathroom (Duh, what was I thinking? That always leads to broken crowns and tumbling after.) Territorial wars broke out over the upstairs media room. I started to question how boys and girls just two years apart, with all their assorted attractive friends, would safely navigate close quarters through the teenage years. As much as I loved not having a yard and a pool and the bills that go with them, suddenly my kids were never home when it was hot. I didn’t like it.
So after our downsize, we upsized. Now we have a pool and a grill and I see my kids again in the summer. I capitulated and let the kids have TVs, in hopes of boy-girl separation during sleepovers. I have places to hide, read, work and escape the madness. We have a large kitchen suited to cooking an endless supply of food and a pack of kids are typically anchored and floating around the center island. We live two minutes from the high school and our home is the stopping point and launching pad between every sport and activity. My driveway recently had seven, yes SEVEN, pickup trucks parked in the driveway and on the grass. I love this. I grew up this way; my mother was mom to the masses and our house was always full of people, food, acceptance and love.
In the past year and a half, my beloved boyfriend Matt entered the scene and together we have six children and four dogs. This means a lot of laundry, dog hair, chaos, food and fun. We don’t live together yet but on alternating weekends we usually have all our kids and their friends around. My architecture needs change yet again, and I’m not sure who on earth specializes in designing the unique space that we need now.
MY DRIVEWAY RECENTLY HAD SEVEN, YES SEVEN, PICK UP TRUCKS PARKED IN THE DRIVEWAY AND ON THE GRASS. I LOVE THIS.
We need a house that adjusts to fit all these kids, with enough room to sleep, do homework, play and relax. With six kids aged 16, 14, 13 and seven, we need to separate boys and girls. We need teenagers with friends sleeping over to watch late-night movies in different zones, ideally with an Invisible Fence between them. We need enough room to manage moods but not so much room that we aren’t working through them together. We need the space to expand to fit all the people when we have them, and contract to be cozy and not lonely when we don’t. To contract when they leave for college, and expand again when they come home (to visit). Matt and I need space to be a couple, to be alone, to parent together, to parent apart. We need sufficient space to create and eat meals as a family of eight, yet not feel cavernous and desolate when we’re just a party of two.
The home we would need is basically a design enigma, an architectural impossibility, an AutoCAD quandary — a challenge requiring divinely inspired creativity, flexibility, optimism and courage. It’s not easy to find a house that reflects the sweet compromise between not settling and settling in.
Exactly the way I felt about finding love again in the first place.
Read more from the Architecture Issue | October 2016