My quest for light and easy living (National Post April 25, 2008)

Barbara Kay, National Post 

Published: Friday, April 25, 2008


House lust: As in seeking life partners, there is no age limit. And, as with relationships, the criteria for the love object change to reflect one's stage of life.

The first is like youthful courtship and marriage. In one's ignorance of the responsibilities and never-ending urge to improve the flaws and deficits that will only emerge upon occupancy, there is nothing to equal the unconditional love one feels in the acquisition process.

Our first, a small habitant-style "starter house" with a miniscule foyer but charming dormer bedrooms and chestnut trees in the garden, adjacent to a cozy neighbourhood park, and a short walk to my kids' elementary school, was special for the thrilling novelty of equity ownership. This tiny bijou is always recalled by everyone in my family with sweet nostalgia for its primal role in shaping (real-estate-wise) our children's idyllic childhood.

The second was the "real" house in Westmount "on the flat" that we were able to afford 32 years ago thanks to Parti Quebecois founder Rene Levesque, whose accession to power in 1976 plunged Montreal real estate values --especially in anglo fortress Westmount --into a death spiral.

Unlike the first house, which I loved for its adorable self, our austere, redbrick Victorian pile exploited my pent-up lust for sheer square footage, which it provided in lavish excess. Bought with dispassion and a cold eye for its investment potential, this house, which we still occupy, was not so much loved as appreciated for the space, original woodwork, optimal proximity to

schools, parks, bountiful nearby recreational resources, shopping, public transport and ease of access to downtown Montreal -- all selling points to eventually finance our top-of-the-line nursing home rooms.

But our children moved out many years ago and the echoing empty rooms are a reproach to our eco-selfishness and laziness. We should already have scaled down to a more modest domicile.

So the third house I lust after is the one I have yet to buy. Knowing I am lusting after my last house confers special poignancy on my quest.

If the first house was about love, and the second about practical partnership, the third will be about comfortable companionship. Never mind the antique charm, the woodwork, the 10-foot ceilings, the crown mouldings, the bay windows and the nearby schools. Give me a plain, easy-care modern box with no distinguishing features, as long as it is on the flat near the Metro, flooded with natural light, light and more light in every nook and cranny, and -- be still, my heart -- boasts an attached, heated garage.

I've done rustic charm, architectural graciousness and crowd-pleasing space. Nowadays it seems my house lust is all about the lowest possible maintenance, and banishing the cold and the dark of the increasingly dreaded winter.