In 2020 I realized that my home, a Chicago bungalow, had become more than simply a house. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, my home became my city.
My living room is no longer a living room; it is a classroom, a theater, and mission critical substation. It’s where every day, my son “goes to school” away from his bedroom, his bed, his video games. It is the place in our house with the greatest amount of natural light, which I hope helps lift his mood, and it has the best cross-ventilation for the months when we can open our windows. I’ve discussed these reasons with my son, explaining the importance of his environment to his ability to learn. He has gotten his first lessons in design for health in this way.
The living room (or “front room,” for old-school Chicagoans) is where we have our WiFi, newly upgraded to the latest, greatest, fastest connection possible. In tandem with a large screen, it is our connection to our world, our portal to world events, to news about the virus trapping us inside. It’s where we sit to watch Netflix, Hulu, political debates, insurrection, and updates on COVID-19 vaccines. It is my gym, too, giving me access to pilates at a time I’m scared to breathe the air of an indoor gym.
The foyer has become shipping & receiving, a port of sorts, for receiving goods. We obtain more things via Amazon, Instacart, Grub Hub and Target than we do via our garage, which has alley access and storage. We no longer go out to get goods; instead, they come to us.
Our front porch is now a hospitality center. It’s where we receive guests and sit outside and talk to neighbors passing by. It’s the only place I’ve seen one of my best friends this year, as we sat there masked on a rainy day, protected. On our porch we have access to fresh air, yet we also have some privacy, lifted above and beyond the sidewalk. This tiny porch feels luxurious during a pandemic.
Monday through Friday, from 8 to 5, I “commute” to my office, a converted bedroom at the back of the house. I’ve learned that its proximity is both a blessing and a curse. The sit/stand desk, view to the garden and birdfeeder, and abundance of daylight and fresh air are a blessing. The illusion of being present all day, within sight of the kitchen, has been tricky. While my husband and son naturally see me and think they can pop in and chat, they really can’t. While I may be sitting there in person, in spirit, my mind is elsewhere — in the ether that is the digital work place. Personal interruptions aren’t always received as warmly as they expect. Proximity has its challenges.
My son’s bedroom is his digital Coliseum, his social life, the place where he goes to spend time with his peers via a PS4 (he hopes, soon, a PS5). It’s gaming, yes — but it is also the way that he connects with friends near and far around a common interest. It is private escape, his access to a world beyond where parents do not go. One of his closest friends stops by to play alongside him. They eat, they laugh, they trash-talk one another. It is a glimpse of normalcy during a ridiculously difficult time for teens.
I would write about my basement, but it has become my husband’s lair, and I’m only slightly welcome there. It is his realm, his place to work, to make and to create. The lair is equal parts office, workshop, storage container and museum of memorabilia. My dog could tell you more about it; she has a bed down there. I don’t even have a chair, because really, I’m only tolerated for short stays.
The back yard is my oasis. An avid gardener, I retreat to the garden to use my hands, to think about nature, growth, sunshine, water. To escape the onslaught of digital media. It is my private park, the place I retreat for my personal well-being. I visit over the fence with neighbors, I drink my morning coffee. In the winter months, I plot what I’ll do in the spring, thinking about what will change in order to grow. In a desperate attempt to “be” outside when it’s not warm, I installed a birdfeeder near my office window, and am learning about all the native birds that visit. I’ve discovered that woodpeckers do NOT share, and that the common house finch is surprisingly beautiful. I refer to the feeder station as my “watercooler,” as it’s how I escape momentarily from the glaring light of my home office screens, to remember where I am and what is outside, here, beyond. Nature grounds me.
The garage has become an art studio and gallery. My husband has been painting there, and my son joins him. They think about color, about self-expression, about where they may install their works throughout the city. They conspire, as street artists do.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given me a different perspective on life and on how to live. My home has changed alongside it, becoming a city in microcosm. The spaces I live in do different things now, as I look for ways to live happily and to breathe peacefully. The ways that I design my life are more specific to sparking joy, to feeling well and feeling safe, all within my bungalow, my home, my city-within-a-house.