An empty house seems to me a sad and lonely place, especially a summer cottage during the cold weather months.
When we are away at this time of year, we turn down the heat so the rooms are cold. A cold room is not a comfortable place, no matter how beautifully designed or cozily furnished. A cold room is an empty, lifeless shell.
I pull down the window shades so the sun doesn’t bleach the furniture and everything is cast in heavy shadow. The colors of the fabrics, of various paintings on the walls, are muted and dull.
The things we love and treasure wait for us in suspended silence. Books line the shelves as do movies and games. Soft pillows contour the outlines of the love seat and the sofa and the purple settee.
Lake treasures are corralled in a large clay bowl that my friend Ann had made. There are stones of different sizes, colors and shapes that various visitors have picked up from the beach, found irresistible and brought home; sun bleached wood pieces, sculpted by the waves; a bird’s nest, intricately weaved with soft lake grasses, delicate and sinewy like silk.
The large table in the dining room is poised for service, a place mat next to each chair. A painted tray in the middle of the table holds a glass pitcher ready for either lemonade or a bouquet of seasonal flowers picked from the garden. Next to the pitcher is a heavy cream bowl, decorated with faded pink flower buds. I bought the bowl at my favorite antique store last summer, brought it home, washed it well and filled it with ripe dark red cherries. And every time I look at it now I think of the sweetness of cherries on a warm summer day.
The kitchen is orderly, clean plates and cups and saucers neatly arranged on shelves, tea kettle empty on the stove.
The beds in all the bedrooms are made neatly with clean, fresh linens and soft quilts or comforters. The bathrooms are stocked with soap and shampoo and clean towels.
Our cottage is, to me, a lovely place. But not without people. Without people it is a cold, lifeless place.
But like in a scene from a fairy tale, the moment we arrive, our cottage comes to life.
The moment we unlock the door, one of us runs to the thermostat and turns on the heat. And while we unload the car and bring in our bags and the groceries, the cottage warms up like a snug burrow. The warmth seeps into the furniture, the walls and the floors.
I run from window to window and open up the shades. Let there be light, I think to myself, and each room is flooded with light.
The weather was cold, overcast and rainy the entire weekend. So we wiled the days away on couches, reading mysteries, listening to the pelting rain. I spent a couple of hours soaking in the ancient claw foot tub, more relaxed than I have been in a very long time. In the evening we watched movies and ate tons of popcorn.
The old cottage, full of warmth and comfort, embraced and protected us from the elements. It seemed happy to have us there.
It wasn’t easy turning down the heat and darkening the window shades again on Sunday afternoon. But we’ll be back soon. I promise.