One of the driving forces in our lives is the pursuit of what we call the “Newer, Better Life” feeling. Sometimes Newer, Better Life manifests itself as an actual activity (like the time we impulsively decided while in London to attend a free outdoor screening of Charlie Chaplin shorts with live music on a drizzly night in Trafalgar Square, something unlike anything we’d normally do), but most often it presents itself as atmosphere. It’s difficult to describe, but maybe the best way to put it is that NBL is a combination of the feeling of that perfect-weather day that you know didn’t actually happen but which you remember vividly from your youth, with the idea of what you wish the most perfect “everyday you” could be. This is a long-winded way of saying that we often look at houses, or furniture, or design elements and decide they are especially Newer, Better Life, and it leaves us with this wonderful yearning sort of feeling.
When we lived in Arizona there was an especially glaring lack of NBL in our world. We didn’t have downtown Princeton to wander on a crisp fall night, peering in the windows at the book-filled rooms of our professorial neighbors. We didn’t have the friscalating wintry dusks. We didn’t have leafy backdrops outside big, sunny windows. Hell, we didn’t have mullions. Moving back East was like an explosion of NBL, except we ended up owning a dark, cavelike townhouse with eight windows total, a northern exposure, and a little paved “backyard” that opened onto I-95. So one day we went out for a Sunday drive and spotted an open house in a tree-filled neighborhood. We thought the house didn’t look like much, but as soon as we walked into the backyard, we knew we were home. It was Newer, Better Life embodied. It was the yard in which every day is the perfect, archetypal day of that season, and it’s impossible to live in such a yard without being the people we’d always wished we could be.
(This picture really doesn’t do it justice at all, in case you were wondering.) The back of Maple Hoo has a whole bunch of strange additions on it, starting at the left in that shot with the sunroom, then there was the strange little alleyway of deck, then the infamous breakfast nook/pantry room. The kitchen was nestled into the middle of all that, with a window over the sink overlooking the narrow spit of deck and down the canyon created between the sunroom and nook walls. We originally anticipated being saddened by the loss of several windows (on the side of the nook and on the canyon sunroom wall) in this remodel, and never really put a lot of thought into what the new windows would be like. When construction started, it was hard to get much of a grasp on what the changes were going to leave us with:
When the new exterior walls were finished off and the old one taken down, we started to get antsy. It was like we were creeping toward Christmas morning or something!
Then… the new window went in. And we were disappointed. Here’s the view from the old sink, where you can see the framing from the old window:
It just seemed cavernous. And dark. For three months we tried to keep our worries to ourselves that we had made a terrible mistake in turning our kitchen into the world’s most elaborate reenactment of our cavelike townhouse. Of course, part of the problem was that we’re not very smart. We were never factoring in for the door, which we knew was going to be a full window, but which was, during construction, a sheet of plywood. That really cut down on the amount of natural light and the view into the backyard. In the end, our worries were for naught.
With the sink now under a window that much closer to the yard, it’s like you’re standing under the canopy of our beloved maple tree. Hey, look! It’s one of our woodland friends, traipsing through the backyard in search of plants we’d rather she didn’t eat:
(It should be noted that I only took that picture because I was trying out my iPhone, not because it’s at all remarkable that there was a deer under our maple tree. Just today, Boomer counted 12 of them in the yard. We hate the deer. We have to fence everything to keep them from eating it, but our township won’t let us fence our entire yard, so we’ve got little tents of deer netting propped up around all 10 of our fruit trees in the front yard. It’s very attractive.)
And the door? Well, that was a bone of contention with our designer in the early days of this project. He drew up a glorious, symmetrical plan originally with cabinets wrapping entirely around the perimeter of the room, leaving no spot for a door. However, the door is kind of essential, because after the maple tree, the second best thing about our backyard is the giant deck.
John kept trying to tell us we could just go through the dining room and out the sunroom if we needed access to the deck, but that simply would not do. So we insisted, and we got this door.
Perhaps the thing we most often find ourselves spontaneously exclaiming about in the kitchen now is that these windows are the very embodiment of Newer, Better Life. The way they frame our backyard, the way they have a leafy backdrop of the season, the way they let our kitchen be entirely unlike a cave and instead take the changing (and dare we say friscalating?) light of the day… well, it makes the heart of our home feel like the room we always wished we had.