A heart's wish for a cosy home
The New Straits Times - 11/29/1993
by Anusha Anantha

We did not set out to be different when we chose to renovate our house. It was just that our plans to honeymoon in our very own home fell through when the former owners refused to give us the keys. We could afford to pay the nominal rent of RM350 but somehow it went against the grain to be cornered this way.

When we finally acquired the keys and walked into the house we bought, we couldn't believe our eyes. The sound track that had been playing sweet, happy, dippy strains all this while, went dead. The house looked sullen; stained, unevenly plastered walls and discoloured terrazzo and mosaic glowered at us. As we wandered about the house, hurt and bewilderment spread across our faces. We wondered what might have possessed the two of us to buy this house.

"We can't just wash the floor, paint the walls and move in!" said my husband angrily. The house was filthy. The kitchen was dark and had no built-in cabinets. The third toilet was squat next to it and one of the two bedrooms opened into the kitchen.

The backyard was broken cement and crowded with rubbish, wire fencing, a rusty gate and a plant with deep roots running into the cracked cement. By knocking down the third room and adding a bathroom and a corridor leading to the master bedroom, the former owners had created a situation where they lived on one hand in privacy, as in a hotel, and on the other, in a dreary condition akin to that of squatters. Eating, sleeping and answering the calls of nature were all crowded into one space.

However, we reached into our toolbox, recovered some good, black Hindu humour and made the acquaintance of a contractor. To ensure that he would be available to us, we chose someone with a permanent business address and excellent references.

On our little street, the houses all look the same, on the outside. Most people have done some renovations but it closely follows the original design. We like to think that our exterior is distinctive because we have not cemented up the patch of grass in front. Neither do we park our car in the porch. Otherwise, our house looks nondescript. We have that much more green and a single-storey terrace house that is completely unlike one inside.

We replaced the slated windows with sliding glass so we can enjoy an uninterrupted view. The view is not that of a sprawling bungalow perched on the top of a hill but a slice of life. We share our street with people as diverse as doctors and hawkers; people who must be like-minded in some ways.

The house adheres to an open concept. Walk on our green carpet. Throw the sliding glass doors open, push the grill gates to one side and you are in your home. The continuous, broken marble floor reinforces the sense of spaciousness. The modern kitchen, way back on your right, which is visible from the living room, also has wide sliding doors. The breeze can literally blow its course through the house! As one acquaintance exclaimed, "It looks a condo!".

When my husband and I sifted through our childhood, memories, we found that we had favourite places in the houses we lived in. That secret place or makeshift tent was always in or near the kitchen. He admits to having spent a fair amount of time under the dining room table and I liked to sit outside on an overturned chair and read poetry to my cousin. I also liked to serve real tea and chocolate biscuits on a toy tea set outside.

Our kitchen is cosy and open air like that. We have a breakfast counter and three chairs. As we spent a fair bit of time with our contractor thinking about where and how we'd like to cook, what we'd use and how we could both reach things, the kitchen cabinets are designed for convenience and easy access. The fancy term for it is ergonomics. Whatever the term, the idea is to think about how you'd like to live in each space.

We don't have a conventional dining area or table. The air well is an open space and part of the kitchen. The backyard is tiled and again with the grille gates and sliding wide doors pushed aside, we feel we are dining outdoors. A thin leafy tree bends its green over and shades our gate.

Other people plan for holidays. What with the housing and renovation loans, our son and other time commitments, we can't afford that. We do, on the other hand, plan our weekends with enthusiasm. Like I said one night to my husband, "This place is like a holiday. People get away to hotels and apartments to unwind and make use of the modern cooking facilities, we get to own all this!"

A single-storey terrace house is not everyone's idea of a dream home. I just like baking cakes or making chocolate doughnuts with my son on rainy days and watching the water drip off the leaves of the tall, scrawny tree in the backyard.

We disparaged the previous owners for knocking down the third room and adding a bathroom but once we corrected the ratio, our two bedrooms with attached bathrooms are about right.

Our master-bedroom shares the living room wall and can be entered through a short corridor in the air well. To save space, we gave the bathrooms sliding doors. In the bathroom we have a mirror, waist up, over a tiled counter, on one side of the wall and a shower and toilet. The tiles are colour of cream with blue flowers.

The other room which doubles as a study and playroom has a built-in bed and cabinets. In the original design this room opened out into the kitchen but we moved the entrance to one end of the living room. Right now our son sleeps with us but eventually the study will become his room, and my husband and I might just have to spill and spread our work space out into the air well and kitchen.

Again, it's a question of how one chooses to live. When we first acquired the house, there were so many things wrong with it. To make it what it is now, we had to start over. We also made decisions that not everyone would be comfortable with. We don't own a television. Energy- saving lights cut down on the electricity bills and our washing machine and drier are out in the tiled and covered backyard. Despite the inconvenience, we don't dry our clothes in front.

None of this is as extraordinary to others though as the lack of television. People come to visit, wander about the house and exclaim in disbelief, "You don't have television!" We choose not to. It is a focal point in most living rooms we can do without. Often we are urged to buy a set but life is oddly enough more exciting without it.   

The house, as it became our home, matures us. We learned and are still learning the value of money, sacrifice, compromise and conversation and all this will, I believe, outlive the house. In a sense, the former owners gave us an invaluable wedding present. By withholding the keys to our house, they gave us the opportunity to find the meaning of the word "Home". When we read Carl Sandburg's poem on the subject,   Here is a thing my heart wishes the world had more of:

I heard it in the air of one  night
when I listened to a mother
singing softly to a child
restless and angry in the
darkness.

something clicked and we found ourselves at home.

Anushka Anastasia Solomon was known as Anusha Anantha before coming to Jesus Christ.