SOME PEOPLE live in houses the way traveling salesmen use motels. These transitory types pass through, leaving no mark on the house behind them. I once knew a senator who bought a house complete with furniture, down to the ashtrays and the house shoes of the previous tenant. When they sold the house, they sold everything.
When Frank Lloyd Wright stayed overnight in a hotel room, he moved all the furniture around. Once he visited a former client, who wasn't there, and he put everything in a different place, leaving a note behing saying: "You'll lke this arrangement better, Your Architect."
I'm on Wright's side. I've lived in some 20 houses and apartments in my life, and all of them, for good or ill, were different when we left them. We've never lived in one houe more than six years, but that comes from being the granddaughter of a Methodist preacher and the wife of a diplomat.
In an embassy-supplied furnished townhouse in Vienna, Austria, technically we weren't supposed to even move a chair from room to room, lest we mix up the inventory. But we went to the old brass-and-copper junk shops and bought Art Nouveau and Secession chandeliers (for under $25), just before they were sliced up and melted down for their metal content. Back then, in the early '60s, the Austrians thought the turn-of-the-century sytles were decadent. We thought so too, but we loved them, so we took down the government-issue chandeliers and hung the ones we bought.
We took down all the living-room curtains and left the windows bare to the garden. Small children did press their noses against out window (before we put up the fence) but that was a small price to pay for the light and a look at the trees. We took up the gray carpeting, too, and stored it, because my husband is allergic to dust and I was allergic to keeping the children from tracking the fields in on it. But you can't beat the system, and when we left, they charged us the same amount for dry-cleaning the curtains and the rugs as if we'd used them.
We almost got ourselves declared persona non grata (we always thought of it as persons au gratin) because we put up an illegal fence around our patio.
Each of the townhouses had its own hunk of concrete outside the back living-room door, but the patios were open to the general courtyard. In theory this was fine -- landscape architectural theory then said that instead of everyone carving out their bits f space, the space should be put together into a big space.
Well, it was a good theory. But we had two children under 4 -- and so did everybody else, except those who had four under 4 or six under 6. The only way of ventilating the lower level of the townhouses was by opening the doors; most of the glass was fixed. So we left the door to the courtyard open. While we were upstairs the six under 6 came in, ate the fruit in our centerpiece and departed, leaving the skins on the carpet.
Once I reopened the closet in our bedroom to find one of the two under 2 sitting quietly on my shoes sucking her thumb. Another time, when I turned my back (a dangerous thing to do), one of our two, then 3, was put up in a tree by a gang of children, her shoes removed and washed in the washing machine. Our 4-year-old, who liked travel, excitement, adventure, possessed the ability to dematerialize where she was supposed to be and materialize five blocks away. (Did she invent Star Trek's transporter? Was she really a Vulcan?)
Finally, my husband, who was a handyman before he was a diplomat, bought rolls of bamboo fencing and metal standards and built a fence with a gate and a bell. It didn't diminish the children's popularity at all, and gave us some control.
So how do I indulge myself today, when our idea of a big trip to go to the Eastern Shore? Well, the first thing I do is to move the lamps around in the motel room so we can read in bed, and push the twin beds together so it's cosier, and move the chairs closer to the window so I can see out, and . . .