Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Friday, July 07, 2006

What is luxury?

A couple days ago, the Washington Post published a story that included a reference to a $120,000 bathroom remodelling job. Wow. $120,000. And a $30,000 bathtub. And a woman dismisses the store selling the bathtub as "too geared to the masses to really be luxury." What?

Lady, hot running water is a luxury. Just ask my granny, who used to pump water into a tin bathtub and leave it in the sun to have a hot bath. Just ask me, who used to regularly bathe in water contaminated with sulphur and iron. My little apartment tub, filled with water and no-brand epsom salts is one of my favorite luxuries. No sulphur stink, no orange or brown water. Just ask all the people in this world with no access to clean water. There are millions in this world who aspire to the true luxury of bathing in clean water - not drinking it, actually putting your body in it, rendering it unfit to drink.

Some of us aspire to the luxury of owning a home of our own. Where I can paint on the walls if I want. Or sit in quiet without hearing my neighbor's teenaged son's music or the sound of the elevator through the wall, feeling the vibrations though the floor. Or replace the showerhead with a more water efficient one. Or even install a backsplash over the stove so that if tomato sauce splatters, it doesn't splatter onto beige paint.

And the thing is that monster houses, stuffed to overflowing with luxuries the residents take for granted mean that there is less space for more affordable options. Even the little cape cods around the corner from my apartment are being bought up, supersized, and resold at obscene prices, driving up the cost of the little houses. (And ruining their good points - the expansion projects are made much less sturdily than the original brick houses.)

And I confess that I am looking forward to my luxurious vacation next month. I will be visiting Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, a spa town that is among the oldest in the country. (George Washington bathed there as a young surveyor, and wrote about it.) There, I will take the waters by walking to the public pump and drinking the waters (you have to remember to bring a cup), then visit the historic bathhouse and pay to take a bath and steam treatment (essentially, an old clawfoot tub or Roman pool, then that scary steam cabinet thing you see in The Road to Wellville.) Afterwards, my friends, my husband, and I will eat at a nearby tavern that uses local produce and provides a venue for local musicians and artists, probably look through the resale shops (last time, I found an old hat and a green sweater in my size!), and either catch a movie at the old moviehouse or retreat to one of the rooms we're renting and talk and play card games. If we can stand the excitement, we'll likely do more of the same the second day, along with walking down one of the many available nature walks.

While that hot bath in a clawfoot or Roman tub will be very nice, it wouldn't be the same thing to have it in my home. For starters, most of the day will be spent visiting with friends - in the resale shop, or the tavern, or the park grounds, or the movie house, or the rooms, or just walking from point A to point B. I'll talk with the bath attendants, admire the tub, appreciate the whole experience as something I don't do every day. It will bring me out of my house and into contact with other people. I will walk where I need to go and say hi to folks we pass on the street. And last time I went, I took my parents, who have a jetted tub.

You know what? They enjoyed going, too.


Blogger Little Black Car said...

I'd be too embarrassed to admit it if I spent that much on a bath-tub, and as much on one bathroom as would buy a nice house in my area.

I didn't even know a bath-tub could cost that much. Absolutely ridiculous.

I'm completely addicted to "This Old House", but my one gripe is that they always do really high-end renovations. I know they sort of have to to get the funding from those big companies--PBS being donor-supported and all--but I'd like to see them do another budget renovation once in awhile, like they did on that row-house.

I'd also like to see them renovate a house in East Texas. Sort of a Battle of the Regional Accents--East Texas, Mexican, and Cajun v. New England. Ha ha! They would need translators just to understand one another's English.

7/11/2006 6:52 AM  
Blogger ef (Pam) said...

wow, it's crazy that that sort of thing is so interesting - it's like watching a car wreck I guess.

I have so much trouble refraining from thinking what better things could be done (adopt a child from another country - maybe not them, but I've thought about it, but lack $30K) - actually, just start a micro-loan or an education program in that country, better yet, and maybe there will be fewer kids in the orphanages.

buy some acreage and protect it from developers

fund a poor kid's college education (for a year anyway!)

I mean, seriously, a bathtub?


7/12/2006 3:46 PM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

I admit it, I like my baths. The sheer joy of bathing in clean water is probably one I won't get over for a long time. I would have difficulty with living in a desert, as I know my water use is not as low as it might be. On the other hand, I enjoy my baths in my little apartment tub which is smaller than the ones I've seen in most houses. I can't imagine a tub that costs as much as a luxury car.

And yes, I'd like to see more attention to simpler houses in this country. Tonight, a friend of mine observed that most of the tumbleweed houses (the cute, tiny houses in my links) wouldn't be legal in many jurisdictions for permanent habitation, yet monster houses are driving out smaller houses to the destruction of our environment and to the disadvantage of working families who are priced out of decent housing.

7/12/2006 9:50 PM  
Blogger ef (Pam) said...

Yes, I wonder about housing too, and the silly rules about it, that somehow get all bound up and tangled with the rules that actually protect people.

I live on a small lot in the city. I have a two car garage that I pretty much don't use (it has some gardening stuff, a few bikes, and some excess furniture belonging to my tenant, which he was intending to get rid of right after he moved in - right!) It looks like the sort of thing that could be converted into a lovely studio carriage-housey thing, and like most places, we have affordable housing issues here. I am sure that it would be too much of a zoning nightmare to consider it, and still, it tempts (though it's seriously probably 200 sf, if that, but it has a loft-y thing.)

I love baths too, and can't imagine living without a tub (I do live without a shower) my tub is big, which I appreciate, though hardly excessive. (ha! how many people would say that about their own lives - what's excessive?)

7/13/2006 7:41 PM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

I think it partly depends on context, too, which is why I brought up living in a desert as something I would have a hard time with. For most of my life, I've lived in areas where water is abundant. While I grew up, and while I attended university, all my water came from local wells, and for the most part went through basic treatment and went back into the local water supply via lots of limestone. Rainfall has been a fact of life most of the places I've lived, and now, I live in a place where "hurricane season" is actually part of my working vocabulary. When particular plans have given way to sitting and watching the water sheet down out of the sky, there have even been references to "monsoon season".

200 square feet, with a loft would be about the size of a friend of mine's apartment. She's an artist who lives in her studio - with a bathroom down the hall and a tiny galley kitchen in one corner that she's curtained off. She sleeps on a futon which serves as her couch as well. The whole building is converted warehouse space, with a large-ish gallery on the first floor which displays the work of the artists who live/work there.

Now, the town I live in has declared that we have a new "arts district" - housing there goes for a mere $300,000 - all townhouses. What? How in the world are *artists* supposed to afford that?

7/14/2006 5:29 AM  
Blogger Little Black Car said...

Austin and Houston are both undergoing gentrification of older (1930's, mostly) neighborhoods. Small houses on big lots being torn down and replaced by big townhomes.

Austin recently passed an ordinance restricting the size of the house that can be placed on a given lot. Houston has not. Our meeting house is in one of these neighborhoods and we are about to be crowded out by hideous, overbuilt townhouses, so packed in the residents almost literally can't get into their own garages.

I've noticed that a number of them are up for re-sale already. I wouldn't want to live there, either, but you would think builders would get a clue. The property taxes are driving out people who have lived in the smaller homes for decades.

I love baths, too, and someday I'm going to own a monstrous claw-foot tub to take them in, but I'm not going to pay $30k for it.

7/14/2006 12:22 PM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

Big houses are one of my pet peeves. They crowd out affordable housing, do terrible things to the environment, and are built to the lousiest standards. Yeesh.

7/14/2006 3:50 PM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

From my research when it looked like we might get an old (as in Civ. War Era) town house, clawfoot tubs are in the $1-2K range. I don't know if you've ever taken a bath in one of the big clawfoot tubs, but if you haven't, I suggest getting yourself to a historic bathing place to check them out. They're too tall for me.

7/14/2006 7:09 PM  
Blogger Little Black Car said...

My early-childhood best friend lived in an old Victorian with two enormous claw-foot tubs. It was like bathing in a swimming pool (we were seven at the time; we weren't even big enough to need that much water). I loved it.

I don't have anything against big houses per se but I have issues with big houses on small lots in areas with preexisting drainage problems in rain-heavy climates. Some of these complexes are literally right up to the property line.

7/14/2006 8:42 PM  
Blogger ef (Pam) said...

And just silly, really.

Speaking of drainage, I have a rainbarrel set up (finally!) which catches the runoff from 1/4 of my roof - I'm hoping to get 3 more!)

Big houses can make sense for big families, but I find more and more that's not who lives in them!

My pet peeve is simply tracts of housing where there used to be forest, or farmland. What's more they're So ugly! I just don't understand.

clawfoot tubs are pricey. (but then maybe all tubs are?) I just got a regular one with my house - the upstairs apt. has a clawfoot tub, they're about the same size - big enough to stretch out your legs, not quite tall enough for my chubby belly to be underwater, I think they're perfect!

I'm hoping to go swimming today in a recently discovered local lake. (well, suburban, but close in) - that's something I miss terribly when it's not an option!

7/15/2006 7:32 AM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

My grandparents, with 10 children, lived in what would now be considered a small house - on one side, a bungalow, and on the other, a 3-bedroom ranch house which they modified into something like 5 bedrooms. It had a largish kitchen and an almost vestigial living room, a poured cement stoop, and no dining room, just a table with lots of leaves in the kitchen. When the grandchildren would come, we would have a card table in the living room, or everyone would eat picnic style, depending on the weather.

I think part of what I hate about the large houses that I see is all the wasted space - large, formal rooms that are nearly never used, but must be kept cool and warm, dry, etc. The shoddy building values that I've seen don't help - these things are built out of the cheapest materials available and it shows. It's also the sense of isolation they give - each family alone in their particleboard palace, with no front porch from which to visit, no shared space except the road, no encouragement to leave the house. And it doesn't help that so many around here have monocropped lawns spread with really icky stuff to keep the "bad" plants off and ensure that the grass grows a uniform shade of green and a uniform lushness all across a neighborhood.

Yuck. I like dandelions and clover. I don't even mind crabgrass. I miss front porches and porch swings. Even hot, muggy days don't feel so bad on a porch swing as the sun goes down, watching the fireflies and drinking lemonaide, maybe eating something off the grill.

7/15/2006 5:09 PM  

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