Editor's Note:

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By Tom Shroder
Sunday, April 19, 2009

Michael Bolden, who edits our Home & Design issues, always seems to find houses that make me drool with envy. I practically swooned at the high ceilings, columned cloister and stone hearth of the Mediterranean-style home featured on Page 18, and gasped at the grand light-filled rooms, tree-shaded terrace and water views of the Severn River home on Page 28.

So I shouldn't be surprised that the house pictured at right -- a house right out of my dreams, with its history-steeped double-decker front porch, dual chimneys, isolated setting and ancient shade trees -- is the house Bolden selected. For himself.

I can't complain about my own home. I love it and feel lucky to live in it. But it just isn't that elusive creature, the "dream house." It's a '70s brick colonial, like a million others in this area. Its only truly distinctive feature is a back yard screened from street and neighbors by mature trees on all sides. In summer, you can sit among the blossoms and birdsong with no visible evidence of other humans. Dreamlike, to be sure, but the house itself lacks anything truly unique or authentic. Churned out with a vinyl-siding-and-brick cookie cutter by a developer whose artistic vision was focused unswervingly on a beautiful bottom line, it will never be the home I'd hope to end my days in and pass on to distant generations.

For some reason, my wife and I always assumed that someday we would find that house, be able to buy it and live there happily ever after. Now, as our retirement crashes and our kids prepare to move out on their own, the ideal of that grand family home begins to look less and less affordable, and more and more impractical. What's the point of multiple bedrooms never entered? Finished basements whose only function is to gather dust and silence? And it's not like I could sell all that unused space and translate the proceeds into a smaller gem of a house elsewhere. Whatever shrinking equity I still have will no doubt be required to keep us off the dog food diet in our retirement years.

So recently, it's begun to dawn on me that the fantasy of owning a home that meets my aesthetic ideal is unlikely to materialize. I mean, there's probably a reason you never hear anyone utter the phrase "dream condo."

On the other hand, Michael Bolden (of course) just helped his brother take up residence in a brand-new apartment in Southeast Washington. It's on the 14th floor. From the terrace, you can look directly into Nationals Park.

Not exactly an 1893 beauty, but I'll take it.

Tom Shroder can be reached at shrodert@washpost.com.


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