On New Houses

American houses – at least, the American houses I’ve lived in – are oddly laid out. There’s no entrance area, for a start. There’s the front door, and it opens directly out into the living area. I like a transition from outside to in – like a decompression chamber between the outside world to my home – but apparently this isn’t something Americans are overly concerned with.

Our new house has been added to in a fairly illogical way – this means we need to learn about where the light switches are and which rooms they actually work with. Some rooms work fine if you come in through the front, for instance; others only make sense if you come in through the garage. I’m still trying to map out the most efficient route to take at night as I check the doors are all locked and the lights are all out. Most nights I’m still standing by the bedroom door, wondering why it’s not as dark as it should be. Mostly, it’s because the kitchen light switch is not in the kitchen, and so it didn’t feature in my pre-bed sweep.


And then, like a new relationship, where both parties must approve mutually agreeable terms for things that don’t usually get discussed in polite conversation, we have also had to name the rooms.

Obviously, bathrooms are easy, bedrooms and kitchens equally so. The dining nook was a no-brainer, for us at least. I just like the word – nook – and I think my wife likes the Hobbit-esque sound of it. I’m learning to call the back garden the “back yard” so it makes sense to the people around me. To balance things out, I used my veto on “TV room”, replacing it with the more general “living room”.

Most controversially, we have mutually agreed on the front reading area being the “parlor”. Technically, Google tells me, a parlor is a sitting room in a private house, so that kind of works in the area at the front that holds our reading chairs, small bookcases and, inevitably, a coat rack and piles of shoes because we don’t have a hallway.

I lobbied for “library” but that could get confusing as, you know, we have proper libraries in Austin. And text messages that say “I’m in the library, where are you?” take on an added ambiguity as a result.

But no one we know has a parlor. But then no one we know has such a huge space dedicated to reading and listening to Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me on a Saturday morning. So, for that, we get a parlor. And I don’t want to hear another word about it.

As the days go by, I work hard on plotting my own mind-map of how the house is laid out: not its physical rooms but its topographical layout – and how to navigate it. As it was built in stages – the front first, and then the garage and back end – it’s not exactly straightforward to travel through. At somewhere near the middle, it turns itself inside out.

And the thermostat is beyond my understanding, but this is not unexpected. Luckily, we are in the part of the year where we can keep it off most of the time. When we turn it on, it does what we ask for a little while and then switches to some internal programming, where it decides how hot or cold we should be. It’s either a very old device or sinisterly new; this is how we will live when the thermostats and other devices finally throw off their digital shackles and show us meat-based lifeforms who is really boss.

We are now living in the nicest area I have ever lived in. It’s not a part of town that has apartment complexes on every corner for students and immigrants like me to first touch down. It’s houses worth high six figures; it’s joggers pushing strollers on Saturday mornings; it’s yards with cute dogs; it’s shiny cars and empty lots with beautifully designed new houses shooting up on every street. You know, as you drive through those areas, there’s always one rickety, shabby, desperately-in-need-of-an-update house? That’s the one we’re renting. We don’t belong here. But as long as we keep up appearances for the short time we’re going to be here, we should be OK.

I really need to be working on a superhero screenplay/magical boarding school book series/fail-safe bank robbery plan, though. I’d really like to spend a few years around here.

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