|Unlike Americans, Old Worlders don't mind a little|
imperfection. The Bishop's House, Sheffield, England,
circa 1554. (Image courtesy Friends of Bishop's House)
Happily, he did end up buying it. But when I came back a few months later to see what improvements he’d wrought, I was dismayed. He’d systematically gone through the house and replaced anything that showed the slightest trace of wear with brand-new stuff from the local hardware emporium. Hefty old doorknobs with the burnish of fifty years had been swapped in favor of tinny, glitzy brass ones; ditto the old lighting fixtures and bath fittings. The varnished wood trim (which had a few nicks and scratches, to be sure) had been smothered in a bland coat of bright white latex. And the wood floor—whose dents and imperfections bespoke the foibles of who knows how many sets of grandchildren—had been sanded glassy smooth and coated with a hi-tech sealer.
|Lots of remodelers love to tear out|
the old kitchen so they can
put in a fake old kitchen.
(Image courtesy jillianharris.com)
So much for a warm patina.
Still, I can hardly blame my client for wanting to make his little cottage sparkle. We Yanks always want everything to “look like new”. Maybe it’s because the U.S. is a relatively young country, and newness is practically all we know. But just as likely, it’s because advertising relentlessly conditions us to believe that new things—whether cars, clothes, or trendy toys for the kids—are always better than old ones. That goes for houses, too. Those of us who can’t afford brand new ones opt for the next best thing: we buy old ones and then “renovate” them into oblivion.
|Yes, it's old and beaten up. So what?|
• Think twice before consigning any part of your home to the junk heap. The quality of the building materials in most pre-World War II homes—whether hardware, flooring, or lighting fixtures—is generally much better than the stuff that’s available today. In the long run, there’s little to be gained by exchanging quality materials that show some age for flimsy goods that will only briefly look brand-new.
• Use that paintbrush sparingly! The lesser durability of today’s paint formulas makes repainting an iffy improvement. Therefore, if your old house has a reasonably presentable coat of oil-based paint on the doors, for example, you’re probably better off living with it than covering it with a latex paint, which won't properly adhere to it in the first place, and won’t have the same shine or durability even if it does.
|Too often, repainting over perfectly good|
oil based paint will just get you this.
• Learn to live with a few scratches here and there. Americans are obsessed with keeping their homes pristine; unfortunately, this is a battle that the universe will always win. Home ownership is a lot more fun when you learn to take the odd flaw in stride. That’s not to suggest that you neglect your home, but rather that you learn to accept a reasonable level of imperfection. Europeans, I’m loathe to admit, are way ahead of us on this count: they’re quite comfortable with buildings that are old and timeworn, because they regard age and imperfection as a badge of honor, not as a sign of decrepitude.
• Finally, remember that any idiot can make a home look new, but only time can produce one with a history.