An Origin Story

NY 2 LA 2 Villa
2013, but really a lifetime ago.  My husband unravels my fully ensconced NYC cocoon for the greener pastures of  “always sunny” Southern California.  We’re new parents, and he viscerally craves the “backyard fruit trees” of his South African upbringing.  But I would rather stay in the concrete jungle of Manhattan I’ve come to embrace as my adult home.  Much like my husband’s tempo, and our marriage, it all happened much too quickly for my taste and, before I knew it, we were mad dash house hunting in the pouring rain of a city where it never rains.

He sat shotgun in our realtor’s Beamer, me in the back with our newborn squirming in his backwards-facing car seat (city kid), as we toured neighborhoods from The Bird Streets to The Hills.  We viewed a dozen homes, only to cement the fact that I like old (homes and men) and he likes new, but alas we agreed upon one—a quirky 1930s Tuscan off a crazy busy road in a canyon connecting Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Drive.  While I didn’t know LA, I did know those street names.  Big energy and big change.

I called her Villa,
but was Villa always her name?

Villa was ours by way of an eccentric Italian Gentleman who had been divorced thrice during his tenure there.  Poor dude didn’t want to let it go, yet needed an infusion of cash after splitting his assets in half three times over.  Bless.  Beautiful home with an intoxicating sadness.  It matched—maybe exacerbated—my sorrow, that would hover above Villa like a cliched storm cloud for the two years that I would live there.  Many close-call sales of this home preceded our closing.  Villa needed us and we needed her.  I believed then, as I believe now:

Homes choose
us Humans

Villa, like every other home out there, possessed an Energetic Imprint as particular as any other—spaces and places as unique flavors, compounded by living history.  Villa gave a jump start to our marital dissolution.  Hit a cosmic fast forward button on our fork in the road, our most divergent paths.  Staying.  Leaving.  Divorce: my inaugural trip, but round two for him.  Debt.  Humility tinged with regret.

I had pictured the Italian Gentleman cruising off into the sunset via Sunset, on a mint green Vespa I had spied in the garage when it was still his.  Perhaps a well-worn leather duffle across his shoulder?  My Villa departure was less poetic: mom car with the trunk fully loaded, half of the babies’ clothing and linens freshly laundered and ready to rock.  A lacquered black Tripp Trapp highchair.  The Waldorf wooden toys that I *just knew* they would love with all the plastic shit from his mother out of sight.  My large nude maternity portrait in a Rococo frame—goodness, he never did get my sense of humor... Oh, and a black and white houndstooth Togo (just one from our set of three) that my newly minted ex dropped off a few days later in the tiniest U-Haul you ever did see.  So began my years of eclectic minimalism—my life circumstance turned design hack turned pressure release valve—giving space for all that pent up emotion to leave my body.  Wow, did I feel it pass up and out.  Deep cleansing breaths and deep cleansing frenzies.  Making room for feeling feelings.  This time led me to coin the phrase Emptiness As Opulence, but I’m getting ahead of myself here...

Before the inevitable, foretold through Villa’s Lived Experience, “we” decided to renovate.  Or, my husband moved fullsteam ahead of a full fledged assault on Villa’s quirky nature.  I wanted to get to know our new home.  Elevate her “flaws” à la Diana Vreeland, making her the talk of the town.  Or at least court her a bit before consummating our relationship.  Hubby had a lust of his own.  Different isn’t wrong, but what’s a gal to do when compromise gets chucked in the dumpster, right alongside 80+ years of patina?  Gorgeous plum retro tiles and an insanely cool Magic Chef be damned—this was a man with a plan.  Time was somehow of the essence.  Husband and Wife, or the White Rabbit to my Alice.  I hadn’t let him near me in the throes of labor; did I already know that our shaky foundation was cracked down the middle?

See, I had been raised in a never-ending renovation.  A Pittsburgh Victorian meticulously restored to its original bones, albeit on a tight budget (lengthy timetable) by parents who burned their codependent candle at both ends: side by side in their medical laboratory by day and entrenched in their homegrown experiment every other waking moment.  Plus, I had worked in project controls, closing multi-million dollar design-build punch lists as an engineer just a few years prior.  My boss, head of the Risk Management Department, suspected that youthful charm could take you far on a job site.  Thus, I was most familiar with scope creep: time, budget and emotion runneth over (the conservative projection).  Unfortunately, my charm had expired.  Or, as legal paperwork would later show, a decision had already been made.  Naivety is not the bliss of ignorance.

It was around this time that I “discovered” Feng Shui.  Quotes because Feng Shui was something that I must have known about in passing, in generalities I suppose, yet I hadn’t received the seismic transmission of this ancient scientific art form.  Feng Shui as a verb: “Feng Shuing.”  Feng Shui as a guiding light.  Feng Shui as an ongoing body of philosophy, rolling with the zeitgeist, under five-thousand-years of transformative adaptation. Unapologetically, I declare Feng Shui primal to our human sensibilities; I envision it as a switch waiting to be flipped.  To Turn On.

Chaos into order—please someone—anyone.  Constant mental rumination... there’s got to be a universal roadmap on how to put what where... in this house, in my life, as I stood idle witness to the banishment of Villa’s individuality; it felt like a metaphorical assault.

Since I was a young girl, navigating not only the violence of gut demolition, but violence at the hands of my folks, I had a way of seeing and interacting with the world around me that I couldn’t necessarily explain.  Animism.  Symbolism.  Signs everywhere.  Labeled an overly sensitive child, I was disciplined to toughen up.  Stepping into the safe haven of Feng Shui—quickly my beloved catchall for all things rhyme and reason—empowered me to define elusively intangible concepts, from the before of this before and after.  Feng Shui, as I experienced it, brought tactility to the abstract, to the coincidental.