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Domini Clark is an editor at The Globe and Mail.
I didn’t plan on buying a house this year. But, like everyone else, I didn’t plan on being part of a pandemic.
I’ve owned before – a condo and a house – both times with my ex-partner. This time I’m on my own.
One thing I realized quickly is that I’ve joined a privileged club: independent female homeowners. Although we’re not as rare as people think. In 2017, Statistics Canada identified solo women aged 20 to 34 as the fastest growing group of home owners, with rates more than tripling between 1981 (8 per cent) and 2016 (27 per cent). And in 2019, 61 per cent of homebuyers were female, according to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. It’s the same story in the United States, where single women are more likely to own than their male counterparts – and have been consistently since at least 1986.
Not that you would know this from people’s reactions when I tell them my story. Things haven’t changed much since the 1999 Sex and the City episode where condo buyer Miranda has to repeatedly confirm, “It’s just me,” to the baffled people she encounters during her purchase. In our society, the default remains that a woman buying a house has at least a partner, probably kids. Fortunately, I haven’t been met with raised eyebrows – more like delighted surprise. An insurance broker gave me a “good on you!” A hardware store manager called me “gutsy.” Strangers appear genuinely excited and eager to help me.
Because much like when I travel solo, I’ve never been truly alone on this adventure. To start, I hired a designer to help make my vision a reality. After previously living in a house of half-finished projects for years – and seeing what a difference a professional makes when we hired a stager before listing – I am determined to live in a place that brings me great joy from the get-go. My ex was a fan of neutrals, so my new home is a chance for me to express the colourful side of my personality. This will be, I half-joke, the girliest house ever. I chose my designer based on her prior use of bold prints and palettes, and she did not disappoint, helping me select a stunning pink bird-patterned wallpaper for a statement wall and a huge brass 12-bulb light fixture I would not have otherwise considered; it looks smashing paired with my teal velvet sofa.
For my electrical work, the company sent over two female electricians, which I appreciated. I didn’t request a specific gender, but the company owner knew my story, so I suspect it was an intentional choice. And I have another woman repairing cracks in the original plaster walls. I love that this house is becoming a home created by women, and my aim is to hire as many as I can as work comes up. (So if you have any to recommend in Hamilton, please reach out.)
I’ve also been assisted by people at wonderful independent shops in my area, where I’ve stumbled upon incredible vintage finds: a gold chinoiserie screen for what I’m dubbing my “conservatory,” a pink and black bokhara runner for the front hall, and a pink and gold Murano chandelier to hang over a 1920s Art Deco dining-room table. And I splurged on a large, stunning photograph of a woman whose head has been replaced with a sparkler. Will everyone who comes into my house like these things? I’m sure the answer is no. But, frankly, I don’t care. I love them. they make me smile; that’s all that matters.
That’s the fun stuff. There have been moments when I’ve questioned my decision. Taking on a mortgage is a big deal. Moving cities is a big deal. Doing it alone magnifies any anxiety. What if it doesn’t work out? What if I screw something up? I’ll only have myself to blame. Ultimately, the only person looking out for me is me.
Fortunately I have great friends who, in these times, are just a FaceTime away. And I haven’t mentioned the most important person supporting me through all this: my dad. He’s the only one, besides me, who has seen the house at every step, providing much-needed guidance and enthusiastically listening to me blather on about curtains and faucets. I am so happy I got to share this experience with him.
He’s also the one who explained why my vintage dining-room set has only one chair with arms, when I thought there should be two, one for each end of the table. No, he told me, that seat is strictly for the head of the household, typically the father or grandfather.
Someday, a few weeks or months from now when the walls are painted, the art is hung and everything is settled, I am going to put on a fancy dress, pour myself a glass of champagne and take a seat in that chair with arms – a chair built for a man, now owned by a woman, in a house that is entirely hers. Cheers to that.
What else we’re thinking about:
Books Editor Judith Pereira recently got me onto The Book of Eels, a recent non-fiction title by Swedish writer Patrik Svensson. It falls into my favourite reading category: books that take a deep-dive into a particular species. I love how passionate the authors are about often previously overlooked creatures. Other notable entries include H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery and How to Catch a Mole, in which Marc Hamer falls for the little critters after years of hunting them in Wales. All this genre needs is a catchy name. Suggestions welcome on that front, too.
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