Our first home, in Amherst, was an Ed Miller special.
All of his homes were special in their own way. Miller was an old farmer who supplemented his income by buying lots — one here, one there — and building houses on them. I found out in conversation with one of his workmen after we bought our home that Miller designed his houses not on paper but by walking around a building lot with his workmen, pointing to spots on the ground with a 2-by-4 as he went: "The southeast corner of the foundation will go here, the northeast corner here. Put the entry door here." And so on. These ad hoc designs resulted in many surprises.
My wife, Joanie, and I were not looking for an Ed Miller house to buy; we simply wanted a decent home we could afford on my salary as a new assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts. On one of our early house-hunting forays, the agent showed us a Miller home where a long hallway stood at the top of a stairway. Opening onto the hallway, like railroad car berths, were (from left to right) a living room, a bedroom, a bathroom, yet another bathroom, a bedroom, and the kitchen. Miller houses were quirky that way.
The newly built split-entry we finally decided to buy was certainly Ed Miller-quirky. Entering it from the garage on the ground floor, you walked directly into a bathroom. From that bathroom, you entered a large playroom. One of its big windows looked onto the rear of the house, where it would have been perfect for a patio — except there was no way to get there without going back through the bathroom, then the garage, and looping around to the rear of the house.
Going up the half flight of stairs from ground level to the front-entry hallway, we (and here I mean everyone) always faltered at the top step because the riser was only half as high as all the others. Ditto for the next half flight from the entry hallway to the main living area. We had to constantly warn people to mind the top steps. We even had to keep reminding ourselves, too, for at least our first two years living there. The rest of the house (the top level) was less quirky. Indeed, it was something we could live with, which is why we bought it.
To knock money off the purchase price, we offered to finish the woodwork in the house ourselves. For weeks after we bought it, Joanie and I spent every night after work (mine) or school (hers) sanding what seemed to be miles of pine door casings and baseboards and plywood kitchen cabinets and then staining and varnishing them. Late into each night, "The Larry Glick Show" blaring from our radio, we'd sand and sand and stain and varnish.
We tackled the quirkiness room by room. That bathroom we walked through from the garage? We erected a wall to form a hallway that we entered into instead. And eventually, we knocked out the playroom window and replaced it with sliding-glass doors that opened onto a newly built patio.
We lived in that house for eight years and had two children there. Having finished off every stick of woodwork in it, jiggered walls, and busted out a window, we grew to love the place.
The day we moved out of our Ed Miller home, Joanie and I stood on the front step, held each other, and cried.