January 7, 2015

“When she (chef & author Julia Child) moved to a retirement complex a few years ago, her Cambridge, Mass., kitchen went to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington where it’s now on display, complete with kitty-cat fridge magnets.”

John Allemang, Globe & Mail

pm_paintingClever Julia. No need to sort, sigh, pitch or pack. I’m giving our house to the Royal Ontario Museum. They can move the whole house, fridge magnets and all, or run it as a satellite exhibit: The House On Shaw Street — under the auspices of the Royal Ontario Museum. (Painting: Peter Maher, 2003)

This generous donation includes a three-story brick house constructed in 1896 by a builder who couldn’t think ahead to leave space for window mouldings. Mantelpieces are from the Home Depot of the late 1800s. The house sways a bit in a high wind or if a bus goes by – but buses only pass when they’re diverted from Ossington, and the road work there is sure to finish soon.

So, let’s start in the kitchen. The fridge is vintage but can still freeze food – even in the crispers. Unlike Julia’s kitty-cat magnets, we have magnetic word kits. Once poetry crisscrossed our freezer section. Interest flagged, and smut and filth are all that remain, glued on with years of kitchen grunge.

Also stuck to the fridge are varieties of Toronto garbage pickup calendars. European visitors find them fascinating, if not unintelligible. Here’s a moneymaker — turn them into a board game:

If your replica Belgian beer bottle empties on an alternate summer Wednesday, do you return the bottle or put it into one of those coloured boxes? Carry the box to the front, or lane? Before or after 8pm Tuesday?

Let’s see what else the kitchen offers. Not much. We began renovations only last year, so the kitchen is in storage. Except for the big Le Creuset casseroles. They’re in the living room, under the wicker loveseat.

The living room – yes it’s a bit…cramped. But eclectic. Not an inch of wasted space. Real antique cupboards. But please, don’t open them or linens will fall out, crushing you to death. The 20-year-old TV sits on a friend’s discarded hi-fi cabinet (remember those?) It’s very 70s and back in style. I’m told.

And The Chesterfield — the only good piece of furniture I ever bought. One of our dogs bled against it, heavily. You don’t really notice the darkened stain since the new puppy shredded the frill. The chesterfield is my personal conundrum – too expensive to recover and too valuable to pitch. Decisions, decisions. But that’s what curators are for isn’t it?

Such a small room – so much art. All right, too much. And yes that 10-foot wide northern scene really is on old canvas from a canoe. The majority of the art in the house is by my husband. The needlework is mine, made when I had spare time. Now, there’s a phrase you no longer hear.

Into my office where visitors experience The Evolution of the Computer. You don’t pitch out a computer just because it can’t read the software you use at work.

Never seen so many books? Just wait. The west walls hold reference. The piles on the floor are research. And that IKEA shelf unit (TILT, I think it’s called) holds unread fiction. Watch your step as you leave.

Yes, the stairs have a story. The pitted bare wood strip is where the pale grey carpet was. The puppy trained itself on it so I ripped the carpet out. The R.O.M. should spring for new carpeting to dull the pitter-patter of eight sharp-nailed little feet — our two dogs. They are part of the donation.

This is our daughter’s bedroom. It represents her late teenage years. Don’t look too closely. By the time The R.O.M. gets the house, she’ll be back from university. She’s much tidier that the rest of us. Don’t worry. It’ll be lovely.

I painted this next bedroom. The colour scheme does remind one of the old T.T.C. uniforms (I wish my husband hadn’t pointed that out). Once again, a sliding pile of vintage linens accompanied by about 45 books.

The master bedroom has a charming Victorian fireplace. It only burns coal. Better you should know that upfront. We didn’t. At first we were bothered by the smoke filling the room. Then we realized there was no damper in the chimney so the smoke disappeared…and was replaced by cold winter air. Bonus time: another 23 books distributed around the master bedroom.

I suggest you keep this bathroom for Museum staff. It has a lock.

Some people don’t like a bidet. Too foreign. You’ll notice here the bidet is a book holder. Our five-year favorite is The Very Best of The Daily Telegraph Book of Obituaries. It’s 407 pages, but I’m sure we’ll finish it.

The claw foot bathtub is original. Under it is a million dollar bar of Keils’ soap that skidded out of my hand. The Museum entomologists will want to study the millipedes living there, in the dark, with my soap.

Up to the artsy third floor. The guitars and other musical instruments? They represent the neighborhood men’s collective mid-life crisis. At least you know where they are when you hear the music.

Over here we sew. Bins, trunks and heaps of fabrics. Loads of fun trying to decide what to throw out. The paper patterns date way back to the 1960s. Have you ever tried to refold a paper pattern? Think of it as a Collection so museum curators won’t have to match pattern pieces to their envelopes. God knows, I didn’t.

For safety’s sake, I’d keep the door to the deck locked. It may look like a roof, but that’s where the deck will be built. After the kitchen reno and the new carpet on the stairs. And hell freezes over.

Like all museums, we have a bathroom in the basement. That damp is not what you think.

This last room is perfect for The Museum Bookshop — hundreds of books down this one wall alone. Time was, you could choose a classic by its orange cover. Now those Penguin paperbacks are for display only. Opened, they sort of… disintegrate.

Yes, Royal Ontario Museum, all this is yours. Gratis. Because you really can’t put a price on culture can you?

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