home stages feat img
photograph by Lissa Gotwals

Does anyone get carried over the threshold after getting married anymore? I hope so. My first threshold led to a two-room apartment over a garage. Memory fails me on the carry-over part, but boy, that apartment was Home with a capital H, and it ushered in Phase 1.

Phase 1
Not to sound like, well, a building model, but homes do come in phases. In Phase 1, you love it, flaws and all. You love the mammoth oak beyond the unshaded upstairs window, across from the high double bed where you lazed away Saturdays and mulled paint chips and watched the seasons change. Home Phase 1 is hand-me-downs and flea market finds and a slight graduation from cinder-block bookshelves. Phase 1 is learning to wallpaper your bathroom. And swearing to never do so again.

home stage kitchen

When interior designer Alys Protzman and her husband, Alex, found this 1880s farmhouse in Pittsboro, they set about adapting it to accommodate a growing family. In the renovation and remodeling stage (Phase 4), Alys opened walls to reveal a light-filled foyer, and covered a stove vent hood in the kitchen with heart pine from the old floors. photograph by Lissa Gotwals

Phase 2
But Phase 2 of Home is the true learning phase, when you learn how to fix things. A pesky drip. A sagging shelf. A busted screen. Learning the difference between “re-cover” and “reupholster.” Learning that, in the next phase, you want a window over the kitchen sink, so you can daydream while you wash, or at the very least, know if your neighbors are home. It’s the phase of longing for an office, or a skylight, an amenity that, although unnecessary, has the desirable sheen of sheer luxury.

Phase 3
Somewhere around Phase 3, grass — and ivy, and boxwoods, and crape myrtles — becomes important to a home in North Carolina. Something that blooms and sprouts, that softens the literal edges of a home, and shapes your weekends, too. Children are draped ’round shoulders like human stoles while Daddy pushes the lawnmower. Later the same lawn will be crushed and muddy from an afternoon on the Slip ’N’ Slide. Later still, you’ll regret not having put in an outdoor hearth along with the patio/deck/terrace. Trust me on this: Go ahead and do it.

home stage bedroom

The pride of Alys and Alex Protzman’s master bedroom is the headboard that a Chapel Hill woodworker fashioned from a fallen walnut tree. photograph by Lissa Gotwals

Phase 4
Which brings us to Phase 4, and the era of home renovations and remodeling. Trading Formica for fancier. Refinishing the hardwood. Splurging on a bay window so you can watch the bird feeders more closely, or a built-in for the home computer. Finally having the concrete slab of your front sidewalk bricked, like your mother always wanted you to. Adding a seat and a grab bar in the shower for … for thinking ahead. Wondering if you should have just moved into a motel instead of trying to live, and maintain a marriage, amid dust and Big Gulp cups and microwave dinners and workmen’s radios.

Phase 5
Phase 5 is knowing it was all worth it. Phase 5 is the “OK, I’m ready to just live now” era of home contentment. When you can turn on a fire, instead of building one. When you’ve finally organized your closet with those clever racks and shelves. When the daffodils in the natural area have naturalized nicely, just like the ads said they would, and produce spring masses for the coffee table you had made from an old gate. You still wish you’d put in that outside hearth, for chilly spring nights and snow days. The children would have loved that, for toasting marshmallows and drying mittens.

home stage porch

Gliders, a tobacco basket, and a “haint blue” ceiling — intended to keep ghosts from coming inside, and wasps from making nests — lure friends and family onto the wraparound porch to share in Phase 6: the comforts of home. photograph by Lissa Gotwals

Phase 6
And then, oh, Phase 6 stands wide open, literally: so many portals and paths available; so many choices of thresholds. The downstairs master. The open-plan kitchen. Something brand spanking new. Something smaller. Something uncluttered. Something where family and friends gather, and laugh, and long to be, no matter the phase or the home in which they’re living.

Learn more about Alys Protzman’s interior design projects at alysdesign.com.

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Kelly is a contributing editor at Our State. She is the author of By Accident and the novels Now You Know, The Last of Something, Even Now, and How Close We Come, winner of the Carolina Novel Award and an alternate selection of Book-of-the-Month Club. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and lives in Greensboro.