The travails and deep, soul-satisfying pleasures of buying a grand fixer-upper in the old neighborhood.
The house was proof positive of the Second Law of Thermodynamics: all systems tend toward entropy, and continuous energy is required to maintain order. Both qualities were firmly in evidence in the sprawling brick-and-shingle Victorian that Ruhlman (Walk on Water, 2003, etc.) and his wife bought in Cleveland Heights. The previous owners had given in to entropy and let the house run to ruin; the Ruhlmans, along with an army of wallet-busting builders, supplied the continuous energy—along with the angst and frustration inevitable when contending with the dozens of snafus attendant on home construction. Ruhlman has an easy voice, despite all the torments and his wife’s decidedly ambivalent feelings about moving to his hometown. Cleveland was not her ideal locale, and she was not entirely thrilled about abandoning her photographic work to become the principal in raising their kids while Ruhlman went about his writing life. The author burrows into notions of home, examining nostalgia for the place where one grew up, the evolution of suburbia, and the history of Cleveland. He offers his thoughts on domestic well-being, scale and harmony, and the problem with contractors (“they keep asking for money”). He quotes Witold Rybczynski on how a home sets the stage for an emergent interior life and in general makes frequent, apposite use of scholars in the field of domestic architectural history and theory. Ruhlman occasionally wanders into strange digressions (“people who are unjustly imprisoned almost invariably lived lives that make them vulnerable to unjust convictions”), yet mostly he speaks commonsense as he frames a picture of what a home means. He’s thought hard about the subject and mixed his reflections well with his personal experience.
Squirts a measure of original thinking onto what has become a vast serving of the topic.