It is my mother’s beach house. We still call it my mother’s house, anyway, even though she gave it to us years ago, shortly after my father died. It’s little, with neighbors packed tightly on each side, the way summer houses are on this cove in Connecticut. It rests on a plot of land barely bigger than the house itself—with just enough room in front for a postage-stamp garden and, in back, a patio. Its two tiny bedrooms gave my sister and me, when we were children, just enough room to trip over each other on the way to the kitchen before bumping into mom and dad at the table in the living room on our way to the beach.
The kitchen itself, a festival of blue speckled linoleum and , shouts “1950s”—but not “retro.” The living room, with its black and white linoleum tiles; and the bedrooms, with their green shag carpeting, has a 70s feel.
Recently, the dangerous bald spots in the shag rug and leaking roof and the creaky plumbing made us concede to the inevitable: the Renovation. My mother loved it just as it was and made it clear. (Richard, my husband, would invite her out by saying, “Isn’t it time you came and rearranged the furniture?”) Indebted to her for her generosity, and our love for her, we worried: If moving the dining table were seditious, what was bamboo floors rather than black and white tile? What about cabot shingles and wood shakes, instead of white clapboard and asphalt? We knew she wouldn’t feel betrayed by turning the garage into a writing studio, but what about when we knocked down all the walls, turned what little space there was in this house into wide open?