Hairspray and Hamburgers

When our house empties of our children and grandchildren, Mary and I have been settling into wine and just about whatever is on HGTVFixer Upper, Flip or Flop Atlanta, House Hunters International, Love it Or List It, and Beachfront Bargain Hunt.  (Neither of us like Property Brothers; it earns an immediate mutual groan and channel change to some sort of soothing crime documentary.)

“Wow,” I said, last night, settling into the couch, “where is that?”
“Belize,” Mary said, “But you won’t like her.”
“I won’t like who — the agent or the wife?”
“The wife,” she said.
I never got to document my aversion because the credits were rolling and the couple had already settled into exercise with their new personal trainer, on a beach pier cabana, with their palatial home in the background.

We both tend to adapt immediate like, or dislike, of the house-hunting couple. A few nights ago, two folks were setting up a new life in Denmark, complete with a pretty outlandish rental budget and their entire search was dog-centric. Where would their two dogs exercise? What part of town had the best vets? Would the dogs have free access to house and yard in a dense, urban setting? I had the uncomfortable feeling the husband’s commute to work was entirely secondary to the dog care question. These people would sacrifice their own routines to the pooches.  The thought of this woman supervising their trans-Atlantic passage was fatiguing to imagine. I saw her seeking special permission to inspect the cargo hold of an Airbus.

“Have some children,” Mary said.

Usually I find the idiosyncratic desires of people very touching — proof that God made us very unique.  Last night, a real estate power couple went in search of a new home in Oklahoma.  Whenever the camera took them into the master bathroom, the husband would say something like:

“Those sinks are really close.  I think she needs more room to spread out.”  Or…
“Lots of distance there. I won’t have to fight the hair spray.”  Or…
“Very good. Basins on opposite sides of the room.”
“That’s just not going to do it. I don’t want to fight my way through a cloud of hair spray.”

He also had a particular concern about his barbecue.
“I don’t want any house with a backyard that faces west.  That’s my grill time. I want to grill the burgers in the shade.”

When it came down to picking a house, hair spray and burgers were on the absolute top of the list.  “Well, it has a staircase,” he concludes (my paraphrase), “and I hate two levels, but the barbecue situation is good and the hair spray environment is manageable.” This man’s finite list of concerns was endearing. I think all is more or less good in the world knowing an affable real estate salesman is now driving around town, content to baste burgers in the shade and enjoy a shave in his own corner of the bathroom.

Mary and I actually built our home, and we’ve added on to it, and endured the pain of remodeling, and I don’t have any particular desire to do it again, but I find an evening with Chip and Joanna Gaines (Fixer Upper) strangely soothing. There’s something about watching the light come in, watching the kitchen spread out, watching a  chopping block and breakfast stools grow up into the room that feels renewing; almost as though you were sitting down with a nurturing life coach.  “You’ve been walking around on that shag rug and sliding that ugly screen door, haven’t you?  Close your eyes.  Now open them up.  That’s a real maple floor underneath you and there’s chair rail and wainscoting on the wall and that’s sunshine coming into that new little green house I’ve built you off the back porch.”

“Do I have to leave?” you yell.  “Can I keep the furniture?  Joanna are you really going to make me leave Emerald City???”

I get that same calming, optimistic vibe from Hillary Farr of Love it or List It.  There’s nothing quite like a beautiful interior decorator with an English accent letting you know that you actually can have a study, with a stately library of books behind you, and a cup of coffee and a little walk through the garden to the pond under the arbor, draped with wisteria. She isn’t just remodeling your home.  She’s making a new you, the “you” that is worthy of one of her spaces.  It’s not just soothing to watch these transformations;  it’s flattering.

We deserve that?  Really?

Whenever one of these shows features a perky, enthusiastic real estate agent or property manager who seems to be able to picture the new family’s life in Singapore or New York or Charleston, I find their welcoming vision intoxicating. I find myself thinking, “does her friendship come with the deal? Because she looks like she sells more than just furniture and views; she’s adopting us, right?”

Then again, it could just be the wine, but I don’t think so. We need nurturing in our lives; we need someone to build a space where celebrations can be held and bread can be baked.  We need what my mom did for my brother and I when we were small; she painted a entire hillside village on the wall behind us.  We need women and moms, feminine cheer — someone who can smile at you, look at a barren wall, and say, “we can do this.”

That may be why we don’t like Property Brothers.  There’s no cool older sister with faith in your new life.