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April 08, 2008

My Secret Life as a Peeping Tom

My Secret Life as a Peeping Tom

By Sarah

Attic_window If there's anything I miss about not living in an area with sidewalks, it's that as spring approaches and it's okay to be out wandering at night, I'm not able to peek into the windows of my neighbors. Instead, I have to drive all the way downtown to break the law.

Am I sick? I dunno. I'm writing it off, like I do most of my vices, as an "author" thing. For example, a local author spoke at our high school and she admitted to the same thrill, so I might be fully justified. For me, peeking into windows and seeing how people have decorated their dining rooms (so many reds!) and positioned their chairs tells me loads about their characters. Are there books? A baby grand? Do they read? Collect art? Not give a damn? There are houses where people sit down to dinner every night around candles and stemware. Then there are those where the TV is on 24/7.

A doctor with a booming business added an indoor pool and a plasma screen TV over his fireplace. The artist a few doors down has a living room entirely of cream and white (with all those kids - how does she manage?) But what I really love are the huuuge houses and, sorry to say, there aren't enough of them here to satisfy my craving.

I'm a sucker for luxury digs, which is why I faithfully read the New York Times real estate section. Just 32millioncondowhat constitutes a $32 million condominium in NYC? This does. I love it, though it's a bit cold, even with  the fire behind the tub. The green-lit kitchen? Not gonna work. But it's represented by a real estate agent named Paddington Zwigard and if I had a million to toss on a deposit, I might consider it on that alone.

When we lived in Cleveland, our bike rides after dinner would take us around some of the more stately homes of Shaker Heights. But for real wealth, you had to go to Hunting Valley where Mike Tyson lived, briefly, thereby upping the percentage of minority residents to 1. No, that's not right. Don King spent some time in Hunting Valley, too. That might account for the white population being 99.05%.

Also living there long ago were the Van Sweringen brothers, unmarried land speculators who created Shaker Blegh Heights and who slept together in the same bedroom of their 54-room mansion all their lives. Yeah, that's normal. For that reason, and many others (like the median income of Hunting Valley is over $200,000) I used the area as inspiration for THE SECRET LIVES OF FORTUNATE WIVES.  Yet, though it's the sixth wealthiest area in the country, a five-bedroom home like this one at the top with saltwater aquarium, two-story pool house, custom movie theater, children's play room (notice the TV) a master suite the size of my house and tennis courts, etc. is a steal at $8.9 million.

I ask you, is it time for a revolution or what?

When I was little, my mother would drag me to real estate open houses, just to see who put what where. Rosecliff She was the one who taught me to peek in windows and to read floorplans with a critical eye. But I never saw her so in her element as during a trip to Newport, Rhode Island, where she used to work as a newspaper reporter while WWII raged. Those were the "cottages" that flipped her switch, The Elms, The Breakers and Stanford White's famous Rosecliff.

What is this urge to study floor plans and peek into other houses? Why do I devour the real estate ads? Rebeccamovie Why do I DREAM about houses, constantly, especially houses with many bedrooms? Maybe it's because I've never lived in a big house. (Three bathrooms are enough, thank you.) Or perhaps I long to roam the long halls and sleep in a different bed every night of the week. Perhaps this is why Rebecca is one of my favortie books, to stumble upon an undiscovered wing, a grand library, a yellow bedroom, an evil maid, a terrifying secret.

Yup. That's my subconcious.

Sarah (who's currently checking out this estate in Far Hills. And how about this one in Woodstock, Vermont?)


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One of those huge homes.

A raging thunderstorm, complete with thunder and lightning.

Radio reports of an escaped killer from the local asylum.

A lone woman trapped by the storm, alone in the huge house.

The lights go out! She hears a noise from the attic!

She takes a flashlight and starts up the stairs as the storm's intensity trebles....

(Oh, wait. Dammit, wasn't this on Lifetime Movie Network last week?!?!?!)

I do this too! I love open houses and people who don't draw their curtains at night!!!!

Sarah, you are playing my song. I'm househunting right now and it is an all-consuming passion. I'll go look at anything. As Aunt Olga would say, "we just like to see how other people do it."

Oh! And I lived in Shaker Heights one winter for 8 weeks doing a play at the Cleveland Playhouse. What a hood. I jogged it daily, just for the architecture. My Inner Martha Stewart is going wild just thinking about it.

You should come and visit and go driving through "Chateau Country," which is a couple of miles from my house. Many of the houses have names, which is a good sign. I've never been to Frolic's corn maze, although I did see him and his boyfriend at the Wawa in Concordville one Sunday morning when we were at the now-defunct Chadds Ford Tack Shop. His Austin Martin was being underused.

Wow! I love to watch House Hunters for the same reason - just to see how real people across the country live, but I never thought to look for these mansions on-line.

You just pointed out another way to kill time surfing the net - but after a while, I get ticked off at the injustice of it all...

Perfect blog, Sarah. I'm virtually hung over from yesterday, and there's nothing better for that than paging through the Home section of the paper. I also love the shelter magazines -- Elle Decor, House & Garden, and of course, the biggie, Architectural Digest.

I love my house, and now that the snow is finally melting I like my town again, too. Bit I *don't* like living in a place where people can see in my windows. I miss the real estate anonymity of the big city. When I moved here, perfect strangers knew everything about my house renovation, down to which contractor and painter I'd used.

Don't worry about it, Janetlynn. Think of all the housework. And the property taxes. And having to hire people to landscape, clean the pool, etc....

Michele, this is very true about people knowing every detail about your home renovation. When my sister in law renovated her modest home, a neighbor regularly came up and put her face smack to the window to see how it was progressing ---- even though my sister in law and her family were living there at the time!

Harley, I had a dream last night that I flew out to LA to help you pack up. It was really, really hot.

Oh, Sarah, I've been mulling over this very same blog for yers. I love house peeping, too! I think it's an appropriate sport for a writer.

But I've lived in a big house, and No Way am I going back to that. Keeping up with a big place is like being the mayor of a small town. There's always something to do, something that slips through the cracks. And water---ye gods, the problems water can cause! I monitored every little drip for years, and it's exhausting.

Nancy, you do a good job of describing water horrors in your Nora books! And Janetlynn, most of those big houses have secrets. A girlfriend in eighth grade was part of a once-wealthy, very large family (eight kids). Her father was a famous surgeon who died, and her mother was practically the only interior decorator in our small town. The downstairs of their enormous home was a showplace, but the upstairs was usually a mess. The entire basement was an apartment for the couple who rode herd over the kids, cooked, and took care of the house, and believe me, it was nothing special, either. I loved that house, though, since it had secret passageways. And the house across the street, home to a family with fourteen kids, had once been part of the Underground Railroad, so they had hidey holes, as well.

My daughter and son-in-law are real estate "lookie Lous"; their favorite activity is Sunday open houses. And when the farm down the road was turned into a subdivision, one of my favorite pastimes was to wander through unfinished homes, figuring out what they would look like when they were completed. They eventually built about 45 "McMansions", and provided cheap entertainment for a long time.

By the way, what a great party yesterday! I loved reading the amazing flights of fancy from all the creative minds that post here. Thanks for the fun.

I live on the seventh floor of a building and can look down into the homes of my neighbors' across the way. Irresistible. I even wrote a short story about one neighbor who gives parties at midnight, called "Vampire Hours."

PS: Is it just me, or do you all feel a little hungover from the party yesterday?

I'm definitely hungover.

Anyone heard from Me, Margie? And by that I mean not the heard as in the sounds coming from her room. (Was that an authentic wolf howl? Or was I dreaming?)

Sarah - someone told me that in dreams, a house is a symbol for your life. I went through a particularly upsetting phase in my life, and in my dreams, my houses all had floors that tilted at about a 30 degree angle. That's when I heard the theory.

GREAT party yesterday. Wonder who else is still out there?

I'm doing just fine, Elaine, thanks for asking.

If I could ask a favor of you, would you call Room Service and have some coffee with extra plasma sent up? And if you get someone with a wheelchair up here to take me down to breakfast, I'll leave you in my will....

Real classy, Josh. I just can't imagine why he hasn't invited you over for a carriage ride.

Sarah, when you say that "it was really, really hot" when you were helping Harley in your dream, did you mean temperature-wise, or sensual-wise? Would you be needing the ice cubes, ala 9 1/2 Weeks? I'm trying to visualize here but need a little more information.

Not on your life, baby.

Ramona - can you email me off list? I need your help with a book.

I am SO THERE with you Sarah. My dad is a real estate appraiser. For about seven months (when I was trying to decide what I wanted to do), I worked for him. It gave me the "in" to houses I could never afford. I got to not just look in the windows, but look in the closets, behind every door, etc. IT WAS GREAT!

I confess to glancing through car windows as I walk. One day while walking into a store, I glanced in a car that was driving by and the guy driving was, um, "pleasuring himself" as he drove around! You'd think this would have broken my habit but alas, no.

Lol, Josh - I was thinking the same thing about the really, really hot.

I love to window peep as well. It's much more fun when you don't know the people who live there, and you can make up stories.

And Elaine, you made me think of Rear Window. Let us know if you see any body-hiding going on.

Wow, lots of people are up early after the party yesterday! I'm impressed.

I love picking up the free magazines with photos of homes for sale in La Jolla and Rancho Santa Fe. Multi-million dollar homes. One thing that was confirmed for me was that just because you have money, doesn't mean you have good taste! Some of the ugliest, tackiest decor in the most expensive homes.

Yeah, it makes me feel better - at least I have good taste (so I've been told) - just not gobs of money.

William, thanks for the hangover cure, what did you put in that? (I probably wouldn't have needed it, if it hadn't been for those last 2 martini's of yours!) Bourdain wanted to fix me breakfast but the thought of snake eggs and ugli fruit didn't sound too appealing.....
How many days will it take Me, Margie to recover? Poor girl has to be tired!
Great party!

I guess everyone needed a long lunch break after yesterday's blow out. I know I did. Great party, tarts!

Sarah, I am so with you on looking at others homes. In one of my other occupations (I've had many BTW) I was a commercial real estate appraiser. My favorite type of appraising was for subdivisions, and my favorite comparables were in Potomac MD. Not much grass, but HUGE homes. I HAD to go into every model home I could find in a particular size (i.e. BIG). It was such hard work, but somebody had to do it! ;-)

Now I go to model homes whenever I can and to the Benefit Showhouses put on by charitable organizations. I like to look at how clean a house can be with minimal junk...and paper piles everywhere...and stuff on the counters and...oops, somehow I segued to my house.

On the recipient side of the peeping, a friend of mine lived in the historic district of Alexandria VA in an old rowhouse. He always had to keep his blinds drawn because tourists would put their hands and faces on his windows to peek in. He wasn't only irritated with folks trying to get a glimpse of his house, but he was really tired of cleaning his windows all the time.

That house in Far Hills would be what my husband would love. All prim and proper...nothing artistic to lure me in, though.
I can't say that I'd want a huge house, but something with maybe another 1,000 square feet would be great! And a maid, please.

Christina, I agree. Huge is not necessary, but another 1,000 square foot, a decorator and an inground pool would be fantastic!

A maid or housekeeper is on my wish list too, Christina. However since I don't have one, I want to get rid of some square footage. Oh, and Alex, I'll take a total interior design makeover for my house for $ 0.00, please.

The photos of the house with the saltwater aquarium wore me out just to look at them. You'd need someone to clean the fish tank, someone to maintain the grounds, and someone to keep up with cleaning TEN bathrooms. Ugh. It's a gorgeous place, but would take an amount equal to the monthly mortgage to keep up with maintenance alone.

A friend of mine just moved into his newly-constructed house, and on his first day there, he decided to take a stroll through the house next door that is still mid-construction phase. (Him: "There's no front door yet! It wasn't breaking and entering if there's no door!") After he got his good look around, a neighbor caught him leaving the place! The neighbor said, puzzled, "I thought you lived in the house next door," and my friend cheerfully said, "Oh, I do! I was just comparing floorplans!"

Karen, I can't imagine 10 bathrooms either. I have three and have enough trouble keeping one clean! LOL

My understanding is the Hunting Valley mansion is owned by the former head of the Cleveland Clinic who was fired, allegedly, for not fully revealing his interest in a company that made heart stents.

However, he's suing the cleveland clinic because he says he was fired for being born in India.

See? Every house has a story.

I had a great great granddaddy who built a big old mansion, complete with a smokestack, elevator, nine hole golf course and out "cottages" for his five daughters and their husbands(four of whom, smart boys, never held a job in their lives.) Anyway, he died from complications arising from his fall down the elevator shaft while the monster was under construction. The thing became the home of the Dr Sam Sheppard murder mystery of Cleveland, then a hospital. It has subsequently been chopped up into condos.

I reckon a little old shack is cozier and safer, say?

This is just a little hijack. He seems to have gotten over whatever Ramona did to him yesterday:


Ah.....a woman after my own heart. I love to look in windows at night.....and real estate floor plans...the interstate highways offer so little, but peeping is the best. I spent 3 years looking for my first home and 10 looking for a condo.......all those sad unused linins in closets of dead people!Now, I save nothing "for good"!

I've started painting again and I am looking now for a studio in our condo.........maybe the porch? After the last move and shutting down two homes and aparments for mom and R's mom.......I never want to move again.

Harley......need help?


How's the LiJo relationship going, Josh?

Oh. My. God.

Blond Bond can FLY.

That means he can...and without any...from overhead...Harley, catch me quick. THUD.

After three layovers and some lost luggage, I finally made it back from Vegas. Great party! Captain Tightpants DID show up. Turns out he's a Bette fan, so we spent time with the Divine Miss M...and then got lost in the desert until we stumbled over William Petersen. Of course we got the standard CSI "don't you know the desert is dangerous" lecture before he showed us the way to the airport. Do we need to wait for 2,000 to do this again? How about 1,500? that works for me...and we could hit Atlantis!
Sarah, you can look in my windows anytime, but my life is boring :o) Shelves of books and DVDs and CDs...and collectibles. I'm afraid if I got a bigger house, I'd just fill it, but the idea of a maid to do some organizing is good. One more bedroom and an extra bath would make me happy, but as much as I love those winding staircases, I'd hate to have to climb one everyday...maybe an elevator?

If we're a bit hung over it may be because we were trying to keep "Vampire Hours." (Great story, Elaine, my favorite of all the stories in _Many Bloody Returns_ ;-) Isn't your next book an insider's look at decorating??
That was a wonderful party, and I appreciate the lack of a hangover. I did sleep in a bit, though -- and I appreciate it. Insomnia is not my friend.
My mother used to close the curtains the minute it got dark, "I don't want people looking in at me," so she must have known you were out there. I like looking out, so I leave some of the blind open (well, as long as I'm "decent," that is). Some of the houses on Main St. Charles, where the houses are now mostly businesses, have signs by the door, "This is our home, not a business. Please do NOT walk in."
We used to go drive past some of those big Ladue houses, and mom would point out that we couldn't afford the heat and taxes, and she definitely didn't want to clean that much house. We would have been happy if we could just have managed a second bathroom (five kids, you can imagine the arguing). I'm looking forward to my "little" house, though at 1300 sq. ft. it's a giant compared to Holly's 300 -- see, it's all relative. I need the extra room for all the books -- once when students joked about robbing my house (because I have no guns; it was a debate on gun control), I told them they'd mostly get books -- so much for that idea.
I wouldn't mind if there were a second "little" house on Maui, though . . . .

Ramona, I had my arms outstretched, but then I got distracted. Sorry.

Sarah, if by really really hot you meant weather-wise, then this is good because it means I'll be moving in summertime, which is my dream come true. If you mean otherwise, that's okay too. Maybe. Uh, I think. I don't know. The party last night kind of did me in for the immediate future.

Jay O'Callahan tells his "Pill Hill" stories about growing up in a big old house at a time when those houses were undesirables because of the cost of heating them. His parents were teachers and couldn't afford high heating costs either, so they just kept the house cold, and guests wouldn't give up their coats!

Hey William, if you're out there...thanks for the introduction to Michael Buble yesterday. That's the first time I've seen/heard his work, and now I'm a convert! Loved his video, BTW.

Becky, my 23yo daughter introduced me to Michael Buble. After I listened to his voice (before I saw what he looked like), I said, "Hey, that is the guy who does the song on the Starbucks frapaccino commercials." She said, "No, mom, that is the guy who sings & is in the commercial." Oh, shows what I knew. But his "Home" is the best.

OMG Pam, I just realized he's the one who sang "Sway" and "Home" on The Wedding Date soundtrack. Just last week I bought the DVD of The Wedding Date on Amazon.com, both for the movie and the soundtrack.

I've been trying to find out who sang those songs for a while. I LOVE his voice on both. I saw that this video & the one William linked to are both available on iTunes. I just bought and downloaded both, as well as two of Michael's CDs.

Thanks to you and your daughter for the great tip!!

I absolutely love open houses, and am completely shameless, will always peek in closets, drawers, etc. Such a huge disappointment to me when a house is staged. Yesterday I stopped in on this one, which was not only absolutely stunning and incredibly (a swimming pool!!! in San Francisco!!!) BUT also had a full table's worth of free food and a bartender serving wine. So I managed to get dinner out of it!
Here's the link:

oh, to have a spare three million dollars lying around . . .

Interior design can actually be quite difficult because it all depends on personal preferences. The trends in commercial and residential interior design change on a regular basis, however what goes out of fashion will normally come back into fashion in around 50 years. Lots of people like nostalgia, which is why things typically come back into fashion. Interior Decorators Designer http://interior-decorating-trends.blogspot.com

Try driving around in the new construction neighborhoods. There's such a night life there that it's a great learning tool.

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