Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Perfect Houses, or When is it Good Enough?

I'm finally coming to grips with an imperfect, old, crooked, old, worn, old house.  When I moved in I was determined to remove paint from the woodwork and the outside clapboards.  Really?  In this lifetime?  I've come to understand that it's usually not necessary.

My clapboards were covered in asbestos shingles and the lead paint had basically turned to chalk, leaving very little chipped or peeling paint.  For some weird reason I don't get, some doors and trimwork inside had been stained a chestnut color.  The trimwork is pine so I don't think it was ever meant to be stained, just painted white.  I did try to remove some paint and stain inside.  It came off fairly easily with an infrared paint remover and a heat gun.  I don't like to use liquid removers because they're so caustic, and slow.  The paint on my porch, however, has been very difficult to remove.

The trimwork is dented and worn so I'm not sure the work I put into removing it in the kitchen was worth it.

This is during construction.  I stopped removing paint a year later when I still hadn't painted the trim!

I think I'm the only one who can tell which parts were sanded down to bare wood and which weren't.

I get some relief from the pursuit of perfection when I see other old houses, with their trim and clapboards sporting many alligatored, uneven layers of paint.  It's old; it's supposed to look like that, right?

I also wonder how painted trim can be so perfect in houses online or in magazines.  I have a friend who is wealthy, and has a fairly new house.  I actually sneaked a peak at the trim in her beautiful living room.  Guess what--not perfect!  So my new goal is to have everything look okay from about three feet away.  It's good enough, I have to keep telling myself.

I remember reading or hearing somewhere that Shakers always left some little imperfection in all their crafts in order to acknowledge in humility their own imperfection, and God's perfection.  This seems to be the only perfection we'll see on earth:

Some roses in their first flush in the backyard.
Gardening humbles me because I can't control it.  It teaches patience, wonder and gratitude.  Nature has its own rhythms, order and beauty.  It isn't static.  That's why it's so compelling.