Like the main character in my last two novels, Madeline Abbott, I am an old house fanatic. I’ve loved old houses all my life. I am saddened to see so much of our architectural history being destroyed, either by being demolished or razed, or by being gutted in a misguided attempt by home buyers to have (what looks like) an old house, yet inside there is not one scrap of history left to admire. Why do they do it? This is a question that plagues all of us old house lovers. It literally makes no sense.
Potential home buyers say they want ‘the charm of a vintage home’ yet in the next breath they insist everything looks ‘dated’ and must be changed or ‘updated’, to the latest and greatest. What is the charm they speak of? The wainscoting that’s been on the dining room wall for over a hundred years? Then why, for heaven’s sake, remove the wall? Oh, that’s right. The ‘open concept’.
Generally speaking, in most old houses there are different rooms for different purposes. You cook in a kitchen. You eat in a dining room. You sit and read or listen to music in a living room or library. Now, all activities are done in one open room, including watching children. I thought children mostly played outside. I know I did, my husband did. We often joke about how we are coming around full circle. We are back to the days of pioneers in their cabins on the plains. A single room. Albeit a single room stuffed with every technological and electronic advancement known to mankind. We joke, but in truth, I don’t find it particularly funny precisely because of what that means to so many old houses out there. It’s like they have a target on their ‘charming’ exteriors.
The kind of ‘remuddled’ house I speak about holds no interest for me. It simply isn’t my style. I don’t long for granite countertops. I don’t want to walk in my front door and see out the back of the house through a double slider across the lawn to the back of the property. I want to come into a home that reflects time, years of life and living. Polished wood, the artistic designs of highly skilled wood carvers, iron workers, plasterers or tile makers. And most of all I don’t want to live in a house that, were I to accidentally stumble into my neighbors front door, I wouldn’t know it because they are exactly alike.
Because of this, I can become besotted with just about any old house. The first thing my husband and I do when we go to a new city is drive the old neighborhood and look at houses. It truly is rare to find an old house about which I can find nothing of interest. I love them all. I can get so enthralled that (especially if it is listed for sale) I can begin imagining putting in an offer and living there.
My Favorite House Styles –
So, what kind of house makes the top of my list? Truthfully, even though it is completely imaginary, I would love a place like Raven’s Nest from my book Unkindness of Ravens. Or, because it’s imaginary I was able to put all the wonderful details that I’ve always loved about the jillions of houses I’ve seen. Multiple staircases, wood paneling, hidden passages, built-in convenient cupboards, bookcases, polished wood floors.
Beyond that? After a lot of soul searching, looking at photographs of home styles—and hundreds, if not thousands of actual homes – I’ve concluded that I have three favorite architectural styles
- Tudor—-Anything with Tudor influences, English look, wrought iron, stone or brick work.
- Spanish—Eclectic or Revival, stone, stucco, wrought iron, tile.
- Craftsman—Mission, California Bungalow, wood, simple lines, simple aesthetic, built-ins.
These three general styles have much in common. Each are heavily ‘artistic’ or artisan in construction. Yes, most old homes can say the same thing. But these three styles share similarities: stucco, wood detail, strong yet simple–some would say ‘masculine’ feel and wrought iron. These three styles utilize tile very artistically in fireplace surrounds, stairs and decorative areas and I have always loved the look of wrought iron.
In contrast, Victorian styles are typically regarded as more ‘feminine’ in appearance with filigree trims, fretwork, slender turned columns, more delicate woodwork and delicate sensibilities overall. The Victorian style also favored wallpaper during its time and the mode of decorating was ‘more’. They are true beauties in their own right, gracious and lovely. The artisans who created Victorians or any of the beautiful homes built before, say, 1950, were true craftsmen, and nothing like the home builders of today.
There are economic concerns, of course we all know that. Actually, that’s part of the problem. We can never recreate the old, historic houses in today’s world. Who has the skills now to build like that? Who could afford them if you could replicate them? So, I say, why not preserve the old homes we still have and allow all those who want ‘newest of the new’ to buy new construction and leave the old ones to us crazies who love them so dearly? Seems like a win-win, doesn’t it?