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I was on my way home from church, and the time was closer to noon than to "happy hour." But after I visited a home on the Remodelers Showcase tour, I felt like popping a cork and pulling up a chair.
It was a wine cellar, maybe the cutest, coziest wine cellar I've ever been inside. With barrel-vault ceilings, stone walls and a granite tasting table, built-in racks, a wine-glass "chandelier" and even a stained-glass window, it was an oenophile's dream hangout.
Tucked into the corner of a walkout basement in Eden Prairie, in a former toy-storage space, the wine cellar was just one part of a much larger remodeling project by Murphy Bros. Design Build (www.mbros.com) and designer Cherie Poissant. The new kitchen, mud room and master suite were beautiful, too, but the wine celler was the spot that I most coveted.
It wasn't climate-controlled, so it's not a cellar for a serious wine connoisseur and collector, who wants to age and preserve valuable vintages.
But for the casual wine afficionado who just wants a fun place to sip with a few friends, it was perfect.
I've never seriously considered adding a wine cellar -- I was trolling for master-bathroom ideas -- but a spot like this is now on my home fantasy wish list.
I have a love-hate relationship with the Parade of Homes. As a house junkie, I love looking at gorgeously staged rooms, trophy kitchens and state-of-the-art fixtures and finishes.
But I always come home a bit discouraged with my own humble dwelling. Everything looks a little shabbier and more outdated after gazing at all that pristine, styled perfection.
The most luxurious homes are the best -- and the worst. They offer great eye candy, but the contrast between somebody else's dream home and my reality can be pretty stark.
I know the Parade is supposed to be for people who are thinking about building a home, and are looking for ideas and resources. But I also know there are a lot of gawkers like me who just like to fantasize about living in the sorts of homes they never will.
My own personal "Dream Home" is probably a cozy cottage or a warm Mediterranean-style home with a red-tile roof. But that doesn't mean I can't appreciate Dream Homes with a very different aesthetic.
I got a sneak preview of one of this year's Dream Homes last week, the day before the Parade opened. It's sleek, modern and high-tech, with state-of-the-art everything and a black, white and gray color palette. It felt cool and calm, even with people running all around arranging wine bottles in the cellar and elegant vases on the tabletops.
What would it be like to actually live in a house like that? Would such a clean, uncluttered space inspire a cleaner, less-cluttered life? Or would we soon overrun it with knick-knacks, disorganized bills, newspapers, magazines and tufts of dog fur?
I know the answer to that question, unfortunately!
How about you? Do you check out the Parade of Homes just to gawk? What kinds of houses do you like to look at?
As a reporter who writes mostly about homes and gardens, I don't get a lot of hate mail or angry phone calls. Nothing like the days when I covered city hall and could expect at least one or two a day.
Life is calmer, but I have sometimes wondered if anyone -- other than my mother -- is reading my stories at all, or just glancing at the pretty pictures.
But homes, in this economy, are a lot more controversial than they used to be. Just this week, the Star Tribune published two letters from readers critical of the Homes section. Here's today's: "Opening this section makes me sick. I am usually not a bitter person, but I can only wonder how anyone can afford this stuff." (http://www.startribune.com/opinion/letters/182904101.html)
I also fielded a few annoyed phone calls last month when we published a story about pianist Lorie Line's $4 million lakeshore mansion, and then, three days later, a story about it heading into foreclosure. (www.startribune.com/lifestyle/homegarden/179217631.html)
Featuring rich people's houses is "rubbing it in readers' noses" that they will never live like that, one caller told me.
For what it's worth, we do try to feature a mix of houses -- big and small, expensive and modest -- as well as overall home-related trends that affect everyone. When we do have a grandiose home in our section, we try to balance it with another story about something more accessible.
Before the recession, big, expensive homes rarely generated comment. And their owners were, on the whole, happy to share them with readers.
The faltering economy changed that dramatically. Affluent homeowners got a lot more reluctant to showcase their affluence when so many others were struggling. When we did feature a big, expensive house, we got a lot more negative feedback.
Last week, I had lunch with a freelance writer who told me she's changing her focus. "I can't write about rich peope's houses anymore," she said.
Me, I'm still fascinated by all the spaces we call "home" and the people who create them. I love the quirky starving artists' homes and the freedom they feel to glue rocks to their woodwork and paint murals on their ceilings. I love the elegant old mansions, and the sleek modern dwellings. I even loved the "punk house" I wrote about a few years ago, where a bunch of young musicians were staging shows in their filthy basement.
How about you? Are you sick of seeing homes that you can't personally afford? Or do you like peeking inside all kinds of homes?
Cherry wood cabinets. Granite countertops. Stainless-steel appliances. For years, they've been the holy trinity of materials in upscale kitchens.
Every Parade home seemed to boast such a kitchen -- and every homeowner aspired to having one.
But there are signs that we're ready to move on from our obsession with look-alike trophy kitchens. The latest trend survey from the National Kitchen & Bath Association reveals a hint of fatigue, at least with cherry and granite.
Cherry is still extremely popular but "designers are slowly shifting away from it," according to the survey. While 80 percent of member designers specified cherry in late 2010, that figure dropped to 72 percent in 2011 and to 69 percent for the final three months of the year. On the rise: oak, walnut, birch and bamboo.
Granite remains the No. 1 choice for countertop material, but its lock released ever so slightly, from 91 percent to 87 percent in kitchens and 84 percent to 71 percent in bathrooms. Quartz, at No. 2, also waned just a bit, from 71 percent to 69 percent in kitchens, and from 56 percent to 53 percent in bathrooms. On the rise in bathrooms: marble and glass. (You can read the survey in its entirety at http://www.nkba.org/press/releases/pressreleases2012/12-02-16/NKBA_Reveals_Top_Kitchen_Bath_Trends_for_2012.aspx)
How are you feeling about cherry, granite and stainles steel these days? If you don't have them, do you still want them? If you do have them, would you choose them again today -- or try something else?
Last week, I wrote about how my house needed some refurbishing -- some fresh refeathering of the nest, if you will. So it was more than timely to have discovered the honest-to-goodness nest inhabited by two eagles and three eggs just over the border in Decorah, Iowa. A webcam lets me and thousands of others keep track of the parents-to-be. The eggs may begin hatching by the end of next week!
The webcam, www.ustream.tv/decoraheagles, is run by Raptor Resource Project, a non-profit established in 1988 to help preserve falcons, eagles, ospreys, hawks, and owls. Its mission is to "preserve and strengthen raptor populations, to expand participation in raptor preservation, and to help foster the next generation of preservationists. Our work deepens the connection between people and the natural world, bringing benefits to both."
It's true. I am benefiting from visiting, or eavesdropping on, these eagles. Why? It's hard to say, since the experience really is a matter of watching an eagle sitting on a nest. (Insert joke about paint drying here.) But it's more than that. I'm struck by the constant vigilance of the sitting eagle. I mean, what does an eagle fear? Especially when it's 80 feet int he air?
Or, perhaps, it's simply interested in what's going on around him. Or her. (It's difficult to tell eagle genders when they're sitting, says a helpful FAQ on the site.) So you find yourself watching an eagle who is watchful. After several minutes of watching "nothing happening" intently, it's as if the mind relaxes and my focus widens a bit to examine the nest itself.
What a home. What an intricate construction job. This particular nest was built in 2007, so it's withstood seasons and storms. It's about 6 feet across and 5 feet deep and weighs more than 1,300 pounds, according to the site.
Remember, this is all 80 feet off the ground. The nest is in a cottonwood tree on private property near the Decorah Fish Hatchery. You can glimpse Trout Run below the nest. When there's a good breeze, you can hear the wind in the branches, even see the tree sway a bit. Bird song is everywhere. My husband likes to keep the site in the background with the sound up. When he hears an sudden increase in the chatter and volume, that's a good clue that a nest-sitter exchange is afoot. He calls up the screen and has seen several interactions between mom and dad. He is unreasonably gladdened by this.
Not to push this too far, but it makes me think of how we keep on eye on our neighbors, their comings and goings, their interactions. We judge how they're keeping the place up. We rejoice at the sign of a new baby. We are not so different from eagles. Except for those wings, sigh.
As noted, babies may begin pecking their way to the sunlight by the end of next week. Life will become more active, more raucous, a little gorier. I will miss the Zen of the sitting eagles, but will watch the little feathers flitting about their nest with a sense of kinship.
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