a car dealership, a podcast, & a life saving renovation

Listen to the TED Radio Hour episode here: The Power of Spaces

Earlier today, while on my way to get an oil change, I found myself wondering if the renovations underway at the car dealership were finished. The last time I was there the whole front of the building was hidden by scaffolding and blocked off with a chain link fence. Renovations are so exciting! Well, for me anyway. I don’t think the employees working in the tent in the parking lot were as enthused. As I pulled into the parking lot I saw, to my supreme disappointment, that the tent was still there. Bummer! After handing over my car keys, I asked the cashier how much longer until they could move back into the building. She was hopeful that it would only be about another month. Hmmm…I’m going to have to come up with some excuse to stop in and see the finished space, I thought to myself. Ha, I’m such a design nerd!

Truth be told, my original visit to this dealership was the best car buying experience I’ve ever had. That’s probably why I’m so interested to see how they’re going to improve it by changing the space. I’m emotionally invested! The showroom was full of natural light that poured in through floor-to-ceiling windows. The cars were punctuated with well-placed spot lights that made them look like they were in a glossy magazine. The reception and sales areas were open and accessible, accented with pops of bright colors, and sporting a sparse, industrial, Ikea-like aesthetic. There were silver and white high-top tables with mobile phone chargers built into the tops in the service department waiting area. Each one was surrounded by a few black leather bar stools so I could perch, charge, sip my complimentary coffee, and wait while they worked on my car.

I’m dying to see what the space feels like when it’s done! Will there be a new layout to accommodate the social distancing protocols made necessary by Covid-19? What happens to the complimentary coffee?! I wonder if I’m the only one who thinks about this stuff while waiting for an oil change?

While all this was bouncing around in my brain, I decide to listen to a podcast to pass the time. TED Radio Hour is one of my favorites since the ‘D’ in TED stands for design. I came across an episode called The Power of Space. How appropriate!

Michael Murphy

In this episode they talked to several guests including architect Michael Murphy (MASS Design Group), musician and author David Byrne (Talking Heads), installation artist and set designer Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri (Hariri Pontarini Architects). It was fascinating to hear how people from different disciplines feel they and their work are affected by spaces. I want you to listen for yourselves, the link is above, and see what rings true for you about the spaces in your life. Have you been sheltering at home and finding yourself missing the hum of your workplace? Have you been more productive or less? Have you started projects like painting, organizing, or decorating to make your home feel more comfortable since you’re spending more time there? Have you purged to make space for a home office, school room, or home gym? Have these changes made you feel differently about your home? Do you love it more, or are you wishing you could escape to the office or coffee shop?

The first guest on the podcast is Michael Murphy. He tells us a story about his father who was diagnosed with cancer at 52 years old and given just weeks to live. It was tragic and unexpected news. Michael moved home immediately. The family home had been an ongoing project that filled his father’s weekends for years. The two of them began working on the house together, bit by bit, trying to finish the work before the cancer took his father. Weeks turned into months and miraculously his father went into remission. Michael’s father felt that working on the house had kept him alive. There was catharsis in the work, something to focus on and keep him looking forward.

Then Michael raises some questions worth considering: Was it maybe something deeper than just keeping his hands busy that healed his father? Was the work part of a spiritual connection to the house? Was it the daily “ritual and practice” of creating a safe place for his family that gave his father the motivation to live? Michael goes on to talk about how the spaces we create for ourselves and our families have meaning, they become characters in our lives, and they contribute to our sense of well-being.

Out of all the guests’ stories, Murphy’s resonated with me the most. I have definitely felt a deep spiritual connection to many of the places I’ve lived. When I was young, my parents’ home was a cozy, safe haven warmed by a wood burning stove in the kitchen and always scented with something savory cooking for dinner. In my thirties, I lived in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago and it was a fourth floor walk-up with a huge west-facing window that stole my heart. The sunset would turn the whole front room golden, and the kitchen was absolutely perfect for hosting parties with its wide, black granite counters. It was my first home with my husband and our oldest son. A couple years later, we had another son and bought our first house in Chesterton, Indiana. We were just a few miles south of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan, one of my favorite places on Earth. Working on that house and our huge, organic garden was a labor of love for eight years. As our children grew we made changes to accommodate our family’s needs. We finished the basement so my in-laws could come spend time with their grandchildren. We hosted many Thanksgiving dinners for family and friends, once festively squeezing in sixty people for a roaring good time! Each of these places meant more to me than just a place to live. They were sanctuaries where our family felt safe. They were the backdrops for bittersweet memories: first-step bruises and kisses to heal them, tomatoes that flourished and apple trees that didn’t, celebrating our kids’ birthdays, and drinking scotch in the kitchen after funerals.

I believe it’s true, that our homes are extensions of ourselves and our dreams. All the work we put into them, decorating, arranging, purging and cleaning, repairing and restoring is in an effort to make that space more personal, a truer representation of what we value. Each project is a transaction, a transfer of energy. We give to the house and it gives back to us. It’s a worthwhile way to spend the weekend, and one day it might just save your life.

Til next time, thanks for stopping by Raebird’s House!

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