Friday, December 24, 2010

Home is where the art is...

I drove through my childhood neighborhood today, on the way to catch up with a friend I've known since kindergarten.  Just beyond Western Market -- the first store I was allow to walk to on my own, and where I first purchased a gift for my mother (Reese's peanut butter cups) -- I turned off onto the street with a favorite area landmark: the Mushroom House.

All swooping lines and precious few right angles, the Mushroom House suggests a hobbit home or burrow entrance to some magical land. 

I love it. 

Underneath that stucco is a traditional 1940s colonial.  The remodel happened some time in the avant-garde 70s, shortly before my family moved into the otherwise traditional neighborhood and after the gas lines started getting long, inspiring a wave of energy conservation remodeling.  Stucco insulates phenomenally well. 

That stucco has changed color over the years.  I remember a beige tan, its original, decidedly mushroom-y color.  For a while, it was a slightly awful pinkish hue (although that was better than the aged beige, which briefly looked as it was molting).  Now the stucco has a smooth blueish tinge. 

In junior high school, I became passing friends with the owners' daughter, a reserved girl with whom I remember playing badminton in gym class.  I have to say, it took a minute for me to think of her as someone other than The Girl Who Lives in a Mushroom.  Not only was she a year older, but she had Mushroom House glamour; who wouldn't be starstruck? The family was interviewed on TV discussing the renovation (there's an indoor pond and lots of wood paneling).  That was before everyone and their cat was on television.  The association with fame (beyond the usual DC madness of too many politicians - they hardly counted, especially given that one of them was my father's boss) thrilled me.  This was before a local TV anchor moved in down the street in high school. 

The Mushroom House was my first taste of functional, fun and flamboyant art.  All these years later, it still makes me smile, and I thank those neighbors for that. 

A quick googling of the daughter suggests that she may have become an actor.  I have, of course, no idea how her life was influenced by the arty remodeling choice of her arty parents; probably neither does she.  Your house is your house.  But in a small neighborhood way, I suspect she enjoyed the advantages and pitfalls of fame.  As she went on to pursue acting and art, there is an implied validation of the value in bold art.  Go big or go home, as they say.  Or in this case, go big in your home.  Some neighbors may grumble (as they did then) about property values and insufficient "blending" with the neighborhood aesthetic.  Me, I couldn't be happier that they chose my street to make something that people still slow down to see.  That people actually see, don't just breeze on by. 

Even today, 30+ years after the remodel, when I got out of my car to take a picture, I looked over to see a guy in an SUV, mouth hanging slightly open in surprise, focusing his camera at the Mushroom House as well.

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