I read enough bedtime stories to my four children through the years to fill a public library. Most of them were sweet and forgettable, but one, Eric Carle's "The Mixed Up Chameleon", sticks with me to this day. It is a tale of authenticity, about identifying the essence of something and celebrating it.
I use what I learned from "The Mixed Up Chameleon" on people, places, and things. Things like real estate. Authenticity applies to everything.
More about chameleons and houses in a moment, but first, the tale.
We meet the chameleon who has the unique ability to blend in with his surroundings like a tree...
We've all felt the futility of trying to be all things to all people.
With the various qualities of so many animals applied on the chameleon, hunger comes around and he realizes he can no longer catch the fly.
The moral of the story? Realize you can't be anyone else but you, which is special enough.
The chameleon lived happily ever after, and that leads us to the subject of houses.
How many times have you seen an older home with pieces of every decade attached to it? There are porches with skinny columns protruding from a craftsman home with dominant wood, you'll see an enormous 1990s garage larger than the home it serves, or a modern addition boldly competing with the classic design that was there first. Drive nearly every neighborhood in any town in America and examples of muddling abound.
Here are some examples of some "Mixed Up" houses.
Can you identify the issues with this one?
Let's begin with the flat facade. The owners could have added what looks like a giant sunroom stacked with firewood, by adding on at a right angle.
The inappropriate and teeny skylight in the center of the roof does not help, but the biggest offender is the pressure-treated front stairs-deck combination which screams "we did this ourselves in a weekend".
Even without seeing the entire house at left, we know the garage is going to eat it. The homeowners must love their vehicles because they are building a shrine to them.
The height of a garage should always be subordinate to the home. The addition of a dormer over the farmer's porch adds to the imbalance.
Look! They put a small grain bin beside the house, watered it and overnight it grew up!
Why the owners of this smart little English cottage chose to build a warehouse on their home is a mystery. It can't be very safe in there. How do you get out if the place catches fire?
When my teenaged son and I drove through western New York on a trip years ago, we passed a Casino near Buffalo. My son isn't the negative type but he does have an eye. He stared intently out the passenger side window trying to articulate what was wrong with the design of the building, and in the end he said simply, "It kind of hurts to look at it". Boom.
We can't always explain why something looks wrong, the fact that it hurts is enough. Like "The Mixed Up Chameleon", some things are better left intact, and appreciated for what they are.
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