Saturday, July 25, 2009

History of Old Houses; If walls could talk...

Well actually, they sometimes do. Andy and I have spent the past couple of months working on one of our rental properties, an old cottage built in the 1920's. Here is a view from the kitchen floor, while I was repairing cabinets:

The former tenants trashed the house, then moved out, owing us three months rent. Trying to fix the damage they did uncovered numerous other long term problems that were not the tenants fault, but had to be repaired none the less. So we had contractors in to do some of the work, while we did much of the painting and smaller repairs and refinements ourselves.

Three rooms in the house had been done out in a beautiful dark wood paneling, installed decades ago. Some of the panels were now ruined, and we could not find compatible contemporary replacements to match them. Rather than rip out the remaining paneling, we decided to paint the damaged walls in a lighter, contrasting color, which has brightened the damaged rooms and given them an interesting chocolate/vanilla, yin/yang effect. Not everyone would like it I suppose, but we like it, and fortunately, so does our new tenant.

Here are some photos. The camera had automatic exposure, and it adjusted for the brightness of the windows. The room interiors are actually brighter than they seem in some of the photos:

Old houses have a past, and when you work on them they reveal glimpses of that past to you. Old wall paper behind wood paneling; windows that were turned into walls, doors and windows that were added or changed, bad repair work, good repair work. Everything that was done by former tenants and owners, that left it's mark behind, adds to the house's story.

We added a front door with a window in it, which has let in more light. We had a glass shop repair person come in to replace some cracked glass in some windows that were painted shut. The new glass is so perfect, it looks like there is nothing there. The old glass panes around it are that old, imperfect sort of glass that shows slight distortions, which only old houses have anymore. I grew up in an old house, so I'm fond of that old glass. As I painted the window frames in the kitchen, I had to admire the craftsmanship that went into the old wood window frames. Try as we might though, we can't get them un-stuck.

When we had the ruined carpets ripped up, it revealed an old wood plank floor, solid and level, but raw, unfinished wood. It would have been nice to finish and restore the wood, but it would have been too costly. We opted to have it covered with modern linoleum, which is easy to clean and looks great.

There is a small bedroom with high windows, that looks like it was meant as a nursery for a new baby, or a bedroom for small children.

In other areas we put in new ceilings and new moldings, and new wall panels and paint where needed. The moldings were tricky, as the walls and ceilings in old houses often aren't perfectly as straight and even as they look at first glance. You have to be creative sometimes and work it to get it just right, which we did. I have to say, I think the overall effect looks great.

If future generations uncover the layers of work we've done on the house, I'm satisfied that those parts of the house's story will be good ones. We've left some of the best features of the past, like the real wood cabinets in the kitchen, and replaced sensible things like the bathtub/shower with modern, leak-proof upgrades to prevent the dry-rot we had to repair this time.

Working on this old cottage brought back memories of the 100 year old house in Connecticut that I grew up in, and the many older homes I've lived in during the years since. Presently we live in a very new house, my first new home. While it doesn't have a colorful past or the "character" that age can bring to a house, a new house does have it's own charms. It's like a blank canvas, waiting for you paint it with your paint, your wishes, your life as you live it. Then perhaps many years after you have passed on, it will then be an "old" house to someone else, who may find the changes you made and think "what a nice old house, it has character".

1 comment:

Sheri said...

Hi Chuck...

I liked our blog.

You are so right about "old" homes. They have their own character or personally.

It really would be nice to have a house talk. The history of the lives of who lived there would be interesting.

Looks like you did a nice job rentovating after the tenant trashed it.