Enamored with Old Houses

If you are like me and appreciate peeling paint, rusted ironwork and worn bricks, you will be part of my tribe of loving well-worn houses. Old homes are full of so many secrets that we wish the walls could talk. People like me fall in love easily with them and make the mistake of never thinking of future repairs. That is who we are, infatuated with each footstep taken across the creaking floor. Maybe not so repair-wise but a heart full of love for an old home.

Glorious patinas are what throw me into another era of past generations that lived in old homes. It is when iron turns to verdigris, banisters are slick from worn hands, and original moldings lend such a pop of character to an old home. God only knows what everyday life was like in these homes. I am certain there were both wonderful and terrible times, but those are the essential human elements that we pass down to generations. The hands that created these homes weren’t just builders, they were craftsmen, most of whom do not exist anymore. For example, my home is about 100 years old and made of stucco inside and out. Inside, I can see the fingerprints of those who pulled the stucco in place. It sends shivers up my spine. I live in a historical area that allows me to think I am living in another era. It can eradicate the new urban mix of architectural details while I forget about minimalism and unauthentic building products.  

One never really owns an old home, we become the temporary custodian of the home. We inherit memories, love the uneven floors, and savor each imperfection. Now, I must admit our Visa card is on fire when the old plumbing needs to be replaced or the wood has rotted on the balcony. When news of repairs comes at the worst times, we old homeowners just suck it up and move on.  The movement of people living in an old home leaves an imprint and there are leftover impressions everywhere. It requires a lot of patience matching pieces that break and sometimes require a hunting expedition. I have learned to love salvage and thrift stores just to match a particular type of molding. I feel like if I put a modern piece on my old home, it is like attaching another person’s arm. So, I dedicate myself to spending hours in salvage stores excited to see pieces of the past.

For some odd reason, an old home provides comfort and security, and they trigger nostalgia. Some cracks in the walls or a little tattered wallpaper here and there does not bother us inhabitants of an old home. We call it “charm” while others call it a huge headache. That’s fine, we are all different and so should be architecture. If your home is loved and maintained, it can certainly outlive you and another generation inherits it. Old homes do last longer due to the materials used long ago and the design of the home.  Aside from the raw materials, a good example of the right energy flow are the shotgun houses of New Orleans. When I lived in one, we had a front door and a back door while the house was shaped in a straight line with one room after another. If you opened both doors, the breezes were instant air conditioning! 

I like to think of new life for old buildings as they morph into homes rather than being torn down. It is so exciting to see a fire engine house become a home (leave the pole, the kiddos will love it!) or recently I saw an old bank become a home with the second floor balcony remaining all around. Some offices in the bank became bedrooms, walls were torn down, and the entire home had an open concept.  Inserting vaults into a livable space is not an easy task. Not for everyone but extremely interesting and better than having the building demolished. 

Vacant homes are like elderly people. They tend to decay, and a forgotten home will soon begin to need repairs. I see it in my neighborhood when a person lives in a grand old home and must now transfer somewhere with less upkeep. As I walk my dog around the abandoned home and watch the paint peel, roof shingles disappear, part of a fence fall to the ground, it occurs to me how much love and dedication is needed in owning an old home. If possible, it is wonderful to be able to age in an old home. After all, we humans can have our aches and pains and so our old home can have creaks, cracks and need some fine-tuning. Our homes are our safe zones and should always be protected, maintained, and loved. They truly are a part of who we are.