Having a baby changes everything. That's what people say, anyway, and, to a degree, they're right. When our son, Henri, was born a year ago, my husband and I suddenly went into hyper-responsibility mode and began making changes in our lives, including putting the house where we lived on the market.
We decided it was time for an "adult" house. Our current home was a wonderful starter home that oozed 19th-century charm and warmth. But with the new baby, and my husband working his way up the corporate ladder, we felt it was time for a house that said "We've arrived."
But what would that entail? Probably details like granite countertops, custom trim, a dining room, and at least two full baths. It should be in a neighborhood with trees and sidewalks, and within walking distance to the town center. The fenced-in yard should be neatly landscaped with decorative but easily maintained plants.
It definitely should not be a McMansion – that's too ostentatious – but, we thought, it should quietly say that we're in a comfortable phase of our lives.
So why, then, after looking at seemingly hundreds of houses, did we decide on one situated on a busy street with an old, tiny kitchen, no dining room, 1-1/2 small bathrooms, and only two bedrooms? A house that, at least on paper, was entirely wrong for us?
Two words: secret passage.
For all our talk about wanting to look like grown-ups with a house that showed some status, we couldn't deny our inner children.
"Be sure not to miss the room on the third floor," the real estate agent told us. We didn't know there was a third floor. But we found a little door in the back of a bedroom closet on the second floor. We pushed it open and found ourselves climbing a set of hidden stairs with another door at the top.
When we opened it, giddiness bubbled up inside us and common sense flew out the window. Before us was a secret room encircled by windows and built-in bench seats.
It was being used as an artist's studio, but, as the realtor later pointed out, would also make a great office. Or, my husband said, circling the perimeter in a kind of marking-his-territory way, an excellent place to work on his hobby of handcrafting Windsor chairs.
Because the house is situated atop a hill, the view stretched for miles – we could even see Long Island Sound in the distance. It was as though we were at the top of a lighthouse or in the turret of a castle.
While it would make a great workspace for us, our thoughts quickly turned to Henri. We could imagine the fun he would have there in five years: He could look at the night skies through a telescope. On rainy days he could curl up on one of the benches and read his favorite books.
We even imagined what it would be like if we didn't tell him about the room and let him discover it on his own.
We had taken our time looking at houses. For eight months we spent nearly every weekend going to open houses and every weeknight surfing the local real estate listings. We looked at ranches in "desirable neighborhoods" and Capes on cul-de-sacs. We found a house with a four-car garage and another that was steps from the local park. There were dozens of houses that should've been right for us.
But when it came down to it, we realized we weren't quite ready to grow up. In many respects, having a baby brought out the responsible adults in us. But in other ways – the ways that really matter – Henri made us reconnect with our more creative selves. Sure, a gleaming kitchen or a jacuzzi would've been nice, but you just can't beat a secret passage.