For those of us who love to build, renovate and improve our homes, success should be about more than just gaining a reliable place of shelter. A good house should also thrill and energize the people who live in our homes now, as well as those who’ll come along after we’re gone. I call this “the legacy perspective”, and there are three ways you can get intentional about making it happen in your home and your life.
Leave Your Mark
Everything you create in life is only half the story. The other half is you. That’s why great homes always bear the mark of the maker. I first discovered this principle as a boy, when my grandfather entrusted me with a small metal stamp. It was owned by his father – my great grandfather – a cabinetmaker who came to Canada from England in 1902. All his chisels and planes bear the same small, impression on the wooden handles made by this stamp: R Maxwell. His surviving woodwork still carries this same mark, too. I keep the stamp in a drawer in my workshop and use it wherever I can. Good craftsmanship is a kind of time machine that let’s others look back and see what we’ve done. That’s why it makes sense to leave your mark in some way. Write a note on the back of a piece of trim you install, carve your initials and the date into the back of a cabinet you build, or keep a dated journal book about your life and work with your home.
Pursue Outrageous Quality
Whenever I build something, I mean it to be a statement against a sad reality of our world. The common idea that it’s okay if cheap, throwaway home renovations only last five or ten years steals too much joy. It’s a shame that so many home features deliver short-lived, superficial beauty. That’s why I rail against the trend of home improvement novelty, and I do it with outrageous acts of craftsmanship whenever I can afford to create them. Have you ever thought of giving this a try?
If you came to my place for a visit, I’d show you free-standing, solid wood wardrobes made with fully finished backs because that’s more honest than an ugly, pressboard back. Honesty is also why I’ve learned to carved cabinet details and why I love to build traditional stonework. Some people might consider my timber frame clothesline post a silly waste of time, but why wouldn’t anyone not want to invest in something that gives you a thrill every time you see and use it? Every time for what might be 30 or 40 years?
What Is Home Improvement Really About?
Why do you want to improve your home? I suspect what drives you is far deeper than you realize. There’s always something bigger behind everything we do. Some of us were born to be makers, and I’ve come to realize that the force that drives us is a deep, inner longing for a version of the world as it should be, not as it is. It’s a longing towards the ultimate source of beauty, peace and permanence. While our world is rarely as beautiful as it should be, far less peaceful that it might be, and disappointingly impermanent in so many ways, I don’t believe this is what we were made for. The urge to make beauty happen in our homes is one small way we can bring our corner of the world a little closer to a place where beauty, peace and permanence reins as it should.
I don’t suppose my personal efforts will do much good in the larger scheme of things, but I’m going to do it anyway. Have I convinced you of anything here? I hope so. Let me know.