HGTV is ruining all the plans I had for my life.
I avoided HGTV for years, for various reasons. In my 20s, I couldn’t have cared less about real estate or renovations. In my 30s, I totally became interested in real estate and renovations but feared watching these programs would mess with my head too much living in New York City, where you have to sink your expectations down to subterranean levels. There’s a feature in the back pages of New York magazine where they show what you could get elsewhere for what you’re paying in NYC. One time they put two pictures side by side, same price. One was a one-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side. The other was a castle in Spain.
This is why I’ve avoided HGTV. I don’t need to sit in my dark basement studio knowing you can get a tennis court with your house in Atlanta, or a movie den with your split-level in Tennessee. As someone who loves to cook, it’s like a tiny pinprick to the heart when I see what they’re doing to kitchens across the country these days. That open concept thing with the island covered in a half-mile of carrara marble, topped with a big ceramic fruit basket and stools where your kids can do homework. Oh! And the storage! The cabinets that inch all the way up to the ceiling! The hidden drawers for tiny wet sponges and tall wooden cutting boards. The pot-filler sink faucets behind the stove. Those big, beautiful, 6-burner stoves…
Throughout the house-hunting process, I’ve submitted to watching these programs– mostly Property Brothers and Fixer Upper, though I’ll sometimes catch Flip or Flop if I have nothing better to do even though I don’t find that California couple particularly endearing. I’m really in awe of the construction process– how someone can take something so wrecked and visualize its possibilities. I’m amazed and impressed by people who can peek behind a wall and diagnose what’s going on back there, and have solutions for how to make things better. I also love seeing the overall design–the tiny tweaks like widening a doorway or choosing just the right paint color to catch the light.
But these shows make me feel some funny feelings. Sometimes I watch them and wonder: “Am I screwing myself out of an easier life?”. I know I’ve written about this before, but If I lived in another part of the country (or world, why sell myself short?), my life could look a whole lot different. I won’t deny that sometimes seeing these pretty houses makes me feel less satisfied with city living. If I lived outside of a city, I could stock up on paper towels at Costco, have an actual dining room table, spring for the extra-tall bottle of olive oil, the one that would never fit upright in a New York City kitchen cabinet. A wrap-around porch? A kitchen made for family gatherings? An extra bit of closet space? A price tag that doesn’t make me feel like passing out? These things sound nice.
(Exterior of typical “Fixer Upper” house in Waco, Texas. Approx $250K (after full gut renovation).
(Exterior of typical 2-family home in Astoria, Queens…. quite a bit more than 250K)
Anyway, there was one particular episode of Fixer Upper that kicked me in the teeth a little bit. Not enough to make me uproot and move to Waco, just so we’re clear. (I went to Waco once about 20 years ago and can’t remember one single detail of that trip, which makes me feel like it’s probably not the place for me).
Chip and Joanna were showing this couple– a very young couple– a few places to renovate. The couple looked no more than 24 or 25 years old and they owned an adorable, popular coffee shop in town. Let me repeat… they were in their early 20s, owned their own brick-and-mortar shop AND were able to afford a really nice house.
And that’s not something that’s easily possible here– not unless you’re a Wall Street banker, a movie star or the off-spring of a real estate tycoon.
Several people I grew up with in Galveston own businesses in our hometown. One friend and her husband own an awesome surf shop. Another couple opened a saloon-themed bar on the Strand. There are classmates who own home-cleaning businesses, small restaurants, a party rental company. I think it’s amazing that so many people I know own businesses there. It makes the whole town feel connected. I do miss that.
My hometown is very supportive of small, family-owned businesses. Chains have never been a big deal there; they didn’t get a Starbuck’s or a Target until I’d already left. Back in the day, Dad only bought suits at Schwartz’s, which was owned by his best friend’s next door neighbor. We would never drive off the island to Lens Crafters–it was criminal to get our prescription glasses anywhere other than Patti Zein-Eldin’s. We were only allowed to pump gas at one station in town. It was owned by my friend’s dad.
I have an idea for a little shop I’d like to open one day. It came to me while grocery shopping in Texas two months ago. I could tell you about it, but then you might think it’s such a great business idea that you run off and try to make it happen in your neck of the woods, leaving me high and dry. We’re all friends here; I don’t want that kind of competition. So I’ll just keep it tucked behind my ear for a while.
It is a small and simple idea, nothing flashy about it at all, and the catch is…it would have to be in New York City because it fills a void here. Isn’t that what makes businesses thrive? They fill a void of some kind?
It’s something I daydream about from time to time when I allow myself to picture the different shapes my life could still take. Julia Child didn’t become Julia Child till she was 40, you know.
For anyone keeping track, I am almost 39.
An almost-39-year-old born-and-bred Texan who is for all intents and purposes now a bonafide New Yorker. At this point I’m used to the crowds and the potpourri of human odors and the subway tracks that flood with swamp water every time it rains. I’m accustomed to sticky summers and seemingly endless winters. I’m very used to living in relatively small quarters, and in fact, I have grown to appreciate how little space there is to clean. I mean, what would I do with a four-bedroom house with two sitting rooms and an enormous backyard anyway? Truth is, I know I’m right where I belong. I’m a Queens girl now. Those cararra marble counters will be there for me in another lifetime, or perhaps further down the road in this one.
I may need to lay off Fixer Upper for a while. They just had their season finale anyway.
Time to join the Tiny House Nation.