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Living the Vintage Years: What’s wrong with my red chair?

My friend’s offhand comment jolted me.

We were chatting on the phone when she mentioned her husband was assembling patio furniture, which had been delivered earlier that day. When I asked what her new table and chairs looked like, she informed me they were dark gray metal and wicker. Her homeowners’ association allows only neutral colors, such as beige or gray, she explained.

Then she added, “You couldn’t have a red chair, for example.”

Why not?

I told her I have a red Adirondack chair in my yard.

She said if I brought it to her retirement community, I would “get a letter from the HOA.”

Knowing my love of gardening, she also said my beloved container plants would not be allowed on the porches of the condos. I don’t have to worry about getting a letter from any HOA because I would not move to a community with such silly rules.

Drive down Allentown’s Chew Street sometime and look at the wonderful red Adirondack chairs on Muhlenberg College’s lawn. What a refreshing pop of color they add to the landscape. They make me smile every time I cruise by. I cannot imagine moving to a bland development where every home looks alike and where residents are forbidden from expressing their personalities.

Fortunately, not all senior communities are that strict, I learned. An elderly friend in New Jersey lives in a first-floor apartment and has multiple plants, in containers and hanging, on her patio. She also is allowed to plant in the flower beds on both sides of her patio. And her porch furniture is green!

To my mind, monochromatic color, identical porches and landscaping and rules prohibiting everything from plants to awnings to fences to pickup trucks force a conformity that is not natural.

On the one hand, society talks of celebrating our wonderful diversity. On the other, we are at risk of becoming too homogenized when we inhabit these cookie-cutter communities.

Imagine if such regulations were mandated by our local or state governments. People would be outraged, yet these private community governments, also known as homeowners’ associations, dictate how their residents must live, at least outwardly.

I can only hope people get to read all the restrictions and fine print before writing big checks for these apartments or condos.

My friend with the gray porch furniture said the HOA rules don’t bother her. They certainly would horrify me. Not all of us are cut out to have our individuality suppressed. Identity is important to me. Perhaps that’s why I like living in a city.

Diversity, in everything from age to ethnicity and culture to style and color of homes, reigns supreme. Variety really is the spice of life here.

I see nothing exciting in these new communities where all the houses or condos look identical, with the same kind of tree out front, equally spaced, throughout the development. If a blight comes along, suddenly the community will be barren.

How much better would it be to have an oak coexist happily with a spruce, maple, redbud and a hornbeam, for example? No disease would wipe out all of them, and their unique forms and colors would enliven the streetscape.

The freedom to be ourselves and express ourselves is powerful, as long as it does no harm to others. This has been our country’s heritage. We treasure that freedom.

My individuality is expressed, in small part, with a red lawn chair. So be it. I guarantee that colorful chair will harm absolutely nobody. It may even make someone smile.