You can go home again: Buyers seek out house of their youth
The home you grew up in creates the framework for the home you choose as an adult – whether you end up someplace very similar, or seek out its opposite. And for some people, the answer is a place that manages to offer both the familiar and the completely different, locked together like a puzzle.
The Record asked readers to share how their childhood homes affected their adult choices; here are some responses:
CONVENIENT QUAINTNESS: Growing up, Dean Mastrojohn loved the "quaint, small-town feel" of Dumont, N.J. But the location wasn't ideal: Getting anywhere – highways, shopping malls, New York City – took at least 15 minutes longer because the town can be reached only by local roads. He and his wife also wanted a more traditional home than the ranch he grew up in.
"I was looking for something similar, but yet very different at the same time," said Mastrojohn, a corporate affairs specialist.
The couple found their answer in Maywood, N.J., where in 2004 they bought a Cape Cod that they later expanded into a colonial.
"In Maywood, I can literally walk out my front door and get to the Bergen Town Center in five minutes by foot," Mastrojohn said. "Even getting to the George Washington Bridge during my morning commute to New York is so much easier – a ride right up Route 4, as opposed to a long haul on a bus down Teaneck Road."
Even better, Mastrojohn says his family still enjoys the warmth of a small community.
"I knew I'd want my child to know what it feels like to grow up in a town where everyone knows your name and neighbors are always there to lend a hand, if needed," he said. "I can now tell you that my 4-year-old son, Nicholas, now gets to enjoy that same exact feeling in beautiful, small-town Maywood. Plus, if we're still here years from now, he won't have to worry about it taking him forever to run an errand."
BIG AND BUSY: Karen Topjian, an Englewood, N.J., interior designer, grew up in the 1950s in a large Victorian home in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., that was always buzzing with activity. She was one of six children, and her parents liked to entertain. So the place was never empty.
After she married and began a family, Topjian and her husband searched for a place that captured some of the warmth and character of her childhood home.
"I didn't really want a large Victorian," she said. "They're lovely, but I was looking for a different look. But I knew I wanted it to be old."
She ended up in a Tudor in Englewood, where she lived almost three decades while raising three children. Over the years, she upgraded the electrical and plumbing systems and reinsulated and expanded the home. She wasn't intimidated by the repair issues that come with older homes because she had watched her parents fearlessly tackle renovations to their Victorian.
"The home captured the spirit of my childhood home," she said. "It didn't have to be a replica, but it had to capture the spirit."
FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD: Mary Jo Freebody spent her earliest years in tight-knit neighborhoods in Grand Haven, Mich., and Evanston, Ill. The houses weren't fancy – small Cape Cods and colonials – but the sidewalks and streets were canopied by tall trees. Later, as her father became more successful, her family moved to bigger houses, in neighborhoods where the trees weren't as tall and the neighbors weren't as warm.
Years later, married with children and living in New Jersey, Freebody and her husband decided to move to Glen Rock, N.J. On Sunday afternoons, they would drive around looking for open houses. One day, they drove down Amherst Court, a street of tall oaks and small colonial homes.
The street immediately recalled her childhood homes, but there were no for-sale signs on any of the lawns. When she and her husband got home, they checked The Record and spotted an ad for a house on Amherst Court. They visited the property and quickly made an offer.
"We have been here for 27 years, and it is still my dream house," said Freebody, a retired teacher. "We have tall trees. We can walk to town. Our neighbors are our closest friends. Our grandchildren help us plant flowers, and they collect acorns from the old, tall oak trees.
"In spite of the many changes in the world, I have recaptured a piece of my very happy childhood."
CLOSET SPACE: Sal Falciglia III has a "lot of great memories" of growing up with his parents and brother in a bi-level in Ramsey, N.J. But the house had one big problem: tiny closets.
"We had the twice-a-year clothing shuffle," Falciglia recalled. "My dad would call each of us to empty out our bedroom closets and bring all that season's clothes up into the attic and take back down the next season's clothes."
To get more storage, his father eventually converted half of the two-car garage into a pantry and two closets. But that created a new issue: His father had to park his car outside, and Falciglia had to help him clear off the snow in the winter.
"So when it was time for me to buy a house, I refused to be in a house where a car needed to be outside," Falciglia said. "My wife and I bought a center-hall colonial" in Midland Park, N.J.
The home has "large closets, and plenty of them." No more clothing shuffle.
APARTMENT DWELLERS: Phyllis Palley grew up in an apartment in Brooklyn, but after she married, she moved in 1964 to a single-family house in Ramsey – which felt like "the ends of the earth."
She hated gardening, raking leaves and shoveling snow, so when her marriage broke up, she moved to an apartment. When she remarried, she and her new husband, who had grown up in an apartment in Manhattan, moved to a condo in River Vale, N.J., where they feel right at home.
"It is how we both grew up," said Palley, a library consultant and retired library director. "No weeds, no leaves, no shoveling snow."
CLOSE QUARTERS: Teresa Morrison, 52, a real estate agent, grew up in a ranch-style house in Cresskill, N.J., one of six children.
"Every room was used. No room was just a showplace because there were eight of us living there," she said. "We used the dining room every day, not just for holidays." She thinks they remain a close family because they learned how to co-exist in tight quarters.
When she and her husband went looking for a house in 1991, they ended up in a ranch-style house in Cresskill.
"We looked at everything in our price range; this ended up being something we could afford in the town we wanted," she says. She liked raising her two children there because they didn't have to deal with stairs and because it was easy to keep track of the kids' whereabouts.
Though she didn't deliberately set out to re-create her childhood, there's obviously something about a ranch that appeals to her family, because three of her five siblings also bought ranches.
And then there's the matter of the kitchen colors. Growing up, their family's kitchen was first painted blue, then a golden yellow. Now, two of the siblings have a light-blue kitchen, and two, golden yellow.
"There's nothing conscious about it," Morrison said. "I think there are many things from our childhood that make us feel good and take us to a familiar place."
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