This Old Casa

I like a house where the trees lean in a little, where the landscaping hugs the front door, where the willow rakes the gabled roof.

When I was in architecture school (Editor’s note: He was never in architecture school), we spent an entire hour just talking about the role of landscaping in residential homes. My takeaway, it’s very important. It gives the home a sense of place, a cozy vibe. Good landscaping warms a home in winter and shades it in the dog days of August.

Because of my architecture training (Editor: Again, he’s not an architect), I’m probably a little more tuned in to the role of landscaping in a home. I admire other architects when they have to wiggle a home in among the elms and oaks, which takes more time and effort than just leveling out the lot.

Meanwhile —  you mighta missed it, maybe not — a super-stupid LA mansion just sold for $126 million. Inset into the top of a hill, this place looks like it was built by gophers. Sparing nothing, the developers included a nightclub, a candy room and a bowling alley with neon balls. Your pick: the nuclear red one, or the green one that looks like snot.

This bold home was a steal really, well below the $300 million asking price. Realtors said it would’ve sold for more, but the Russian oligarchs are otherwise occupied. They are usually the go-to buyers for gross-out real estate and the kinds of yachts you’d like to blow up at midnight when no one is aboard.

This brand-new hilltop mansion is devoid of memories, of pencil marks on the kitchen door indicating the children’s heights, or a gash in the floor where Dad always put the Christmas tree.

Here’s to all the people in the cozy little houses, like ours. Where you bump butts in the kitchen and you could use another closet or two. But the memories are roomy. You go to bed each night hoping the plumbing holds, and that you can get 12 years out of the 10-year roof.

I sound like such a Bolshevik here, and I’m not, I promise you. I’m a beefy capitalist with holes in his pockets. I traffic in silly jokes. They used to say Thornton Wilder could “conjure worlds out of clouds.” I conjure them out of wine corks. You know what that pays? Almost nothing.

So, who am I to judge? My nose is like a work boot. My dog is half camel. I’m hardly the epitome of refined good taste.

Yet, I’m still sort of stunned that this mega-mansion atop the hill was someone’s idea of a dream house. Makes me wonder: What’s the American Dream these days?

Do we have better dreams than we used to, amid the pandemics and the wars? Do troubles humble us, make us less likely to build these repulsive spaceships atop glorious hills – these gross disfigurements, these scars?

I have this year-old grandbaby – “the future in a basket,” as one friend dubbed her. She’s pretty cute. Eyes like poker chips.

When she’s 65, as I am now, what will those eyes see? Will her TV work better or worse? Will she struggle with five remotes? Twenty-five? Fifty? Will the sprinkler system require a Ph.D., as mine does now?


What kind of world will my grandbaby inherit? Will mundane tasks – making a doctor’s appointment, boarding a plane — get harder and harder?

Meanwhile, my own mega-mansion is pretty simple: 3 bedrooms, couple of baths, pencil marks on the kitchen door.

Oh, this old house. A good place to peel potatoes or butter a turkey. If the water is running, you can’t hear the TV. Run the dishwasher, you ruin the movie.

When we bought it, I asked the Realtor: “Where would we put the Christmas tree? Is there room for a spoiled-rotten dog?

“What do Saturday mornings look like here? Is there a small cafe where the windows steam? Do the folks on this street hang holiday lights?

“Does this cul-de-sac ever do block parties? If you’re caught in traffic, will someone find the key and walk the dog for you?”

Because aside from bowling alleys, candy rooms and 10-car garages, those are all the amenities I need.

The agent said yes.

To this day, I think she was lying. But it’s worked out pretty well.

Anyway, that’s my dream house — the little place with the chunky yard, hanging baskets, the crooked doorbell, and a kitchen that always smells of soup.

That’s my silly dream. What’s yours?

Mark your calendars: We’ll have a Happy Hour hike on May 14 and a Gin & Tonic Society gathering on May 28, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. Please, no RSVPs yet. Details coming next week. Meanwhile, email me at Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com. For books and t-shirts, please go to ChrisErskineLA.com. Hugs and cheers.

9 thoughts on “This Old Casa

  1. Beautifully, perfectly said. You have the perfect home for your wonderful family. No candy room required. May you and Catty Cakes enjoy it for many years to come!

  2. Oh, this one’s a keeper. Just wonderful. Susan and I have lived in…eight different places since I dragged her back to her home town shortly after the Civil War. And that’s not counting the four places I crashed while she was still in New York and we were doing our bi-coastal thing. One of them featured a used-car salesman roommate who briefly explored selling cocaine as a side hustle. I moved out of there as quickly as possible to avoid being shot by cartel professionals who, I’m told, don’t take kindly to amateurs. Now we’re in a house that I love, with sunlight and dog beds in every room, family pictures on the wall, books and old leggo spaceships spilling out of shelves in the family room. It’s been eleven years, longest we’ve lived anywhere and I’ve told Susan you can bury me out of this one. I’m going to read your post outl oud in the living room to let the place know how we feel about it.

  3. Well said, Mr. Chris ~ yes ~ a cozy home is so important ~ with kids and dogs and grands and scribbled crayon pictures on the fridge ~ ancestor’s photos snuggled in between the house plants and favorite books ~ twinkly lights at twilight ~ hummingbirds at the feeders ~ a big soft chair on the porch ~ a refuge from this crazy old world ~ ~ Amen.

  4. I live in the brow house on the hill of the palms. The house itself is a poets muse, long and lovely, all on one level. If it is possible to have a love affair with a house, then this is it, something you might not learn in a school of architecture (I didn’t attend either), but might aspire to. I can see two coastal escarpments like the breasts of heaven, and the glint of sea the four days a year the dust ups of motion and the usual marine miasma allow it. My garden is deliriously messy, my roses wild and leggy, blossomy, and once planted, mostly on their own—a scandal of neglect, really, except, perhaps to someone British, where letting plants have their way is tolerated. Inside, it is full of angles, visual takes, and most of all, comfort. The seats are legion. The usual objects of history reside, litter, invoke memory, and bedevil in equal measure. My study is a paean to liight and bougainvillea; in truth, the quality of light is the defining sensibility of the whole place at all hours. It is not large and not small. And like yours, there is much life in the kitchen, where people seem to hang, as they say.. it is home—and really belongs—to the piles of books we both aspire to. How fortunate we both are, on this luminous Saturday morning when so many live on the street, or contemplate the rubble of their home in the Ukraine.
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  5. As always, so beautifully said. I look at the homes going in my LA neighborhood for mega bucks and they give me anxiety, everything perfect and redone, gleaming black and white farmhouses (go figure) that are perfect. Too perfect. I like my quirkiness, the rusted sign on my wall that used to hang on my grandfather’s farm fence in Kansas nearly a hundred years ago, the place where one of the dogs chewed the corner of a chair when she was a puppy, etc. This home is a compilation of our family and our lives. I won’t remove that even for all that money.

  6. Perfect. Thanks. I didn’t know you were an architect! Such a multi-talented guy. We have loved raising our family in 1600 square feet of love and craziness.

  7. Oh how true. Reminds me of the CSNY gem, Our House. “Such a cozy room The windows are illuminated By the evening sunshine through them. Fiery gems for you. Only for you.”
    Personally I’ve left scars on the ceiling every year when putting up/taking down the Christmas tree as I mutter, “this is the LAST real tree we’re getting.” Then fast forward 11 months and there I am, in a tree lot saying, “we’ll take this one right here.” But this home is lived in. And cozy.

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