Thursday, March 22, 2012

Is My House Historic?

When we bought our home we were completely taken in by its century old charm.  The peaked roof, the intricate shingling, bay windows complete with stained glass.  But there were other benefits too.  We had looked at A LOT of other houses and the condition of those left a lot to be desired.  Crumbling foundations, asbestos tiles, leaky windows and lack of insulation were all issues we encountered.  As much as we loved these old houses we also knew that as first time home owners we needed to be careful with what we decided to take on.  We didn't have the finances or the knowledge needed to completely rebuild a house.  What we were looking for was a house that had already had some work done and was livable.  And that was one of the reasons why our home was such a great find for us.

Our house dates back to 1880 or 1890
Our house was renovated as recently as 1980.  New plumbing, windows, electrical and insulation had all been installed.  There was a cement foundation and a proper heating system.  We were ecstatic.  There were some issues with maintenance that needed to be addressed but we felt we would be able to move in and live here with relative ease while any work took place.

But it's hard when you are looking at multiple houses to purchase and only have a couple of hours to remember the details just right.  You can't poke and pry too much during that limited viewing time to find out if that light fixture is glass or plastic.  It's not until after you have move in that you really start getting to know your home.  What we began to realize was that the century old details we thought we were getting weren't necessarily authentic.

This molding is quite attractive but likely isn't original
Houses that stand for a hundred years have some stories to tell.  One of those stories is renovations.  Each time a family moves in their needs change and they tend to change the house to fit those needs.  Over a period of 100 years that can mean a lot of changes.  Not to mention passing styles and the introduction of indoor plumbing and electricity.

And so we discovered one of the secrets about a historical house.  It's rare that they come to you intact from the day they were built.  Our property at one time was a working farm that had several barns and a massive apple orchard.  Some old stones in the hedgerow and approximately 20 apple trees are all that is left of those times.  The house itself, we learned, had been abandoned at one period of time.  During this period it was looted, vandalized, had structural and water damage.  In order to make it livable again extensive renovations were completed.  We realized that those renovations that made the house so livable to us had also been the demise of many original elements. 

This molding does appear to be antique
It was a bit of a let down when we realized that many of the details we admired weren't authentic.  But it was also liberating.  True historic houses have a lot of rules that go along with them.  Communities generally regulate what can and cannot be done to these home in order to preserve their original state.  Our house was entirely up to us.  We could try to replicate the antique age of the house or make it completely modern.  Instead of questioning every detail we started to loosen up and think about the house in terms of what suited us and our style.  And that has led to some interesting choices.

29 comments:

  1. Well, I think as long as you love the house that is all that matters. I love the molding. It is very attractive even if it is not original to the house. I love the roof lines of your house.

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    1. Karin, we definitely still love our house but I think our appreciation of it has changed from the first time we saw it. I've come to love our insulation just as much as the antique moldings.

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  3. Let's try that again....don't type and listen to the tv!!
    Love both moldings for the lights. I think not having the restrictions of an historical home will let you do your renovations to the style you like, mimicking the historical features you wanted.

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    1. Janet, that's the direction we seem headed in now. Finding a balance between antique and modern that represents us more any particular style.

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  4. So true that houses have a story to tell and also that few are as built today. My neighbor's house was exactly the same with no updating at all for over 90 years, then she sold it to move into elder care. She was born in the house too. Now, the new people are changing everything and not in a good way. The first thing they did was paint the house a new color and I wish they would have left it the color it was.

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    1. One thing I've realized is how personal the choices are with a house. What suited one family just perfectly is totally unlivable for another. A shame though when original fixtures are lost.

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  5. When we remodeled/restored part of our upstate NY house (circa 1895) we preserved as much as we could but because the house had been chopped into apts at one time, the damage was done. All of my renovations were historic in appearance, but provided modern convenience. The crumbling lath/horse hair plaster wall had to go and was replaced with sheetrock. The nasty neon yellow paneling was removed and the original tongue-in-grove woodwork underneath restored. It was all a compromise. But if someone had been dictating to me how everything had to be completed, it would have been a nightmare. Enjoy the freedom to make the house completely yours. You are the current chapter.
    Here's a link that might help you with your vole problem:
    http://thesagebutterfly.blogspot.com/2012/03/vole-in-garden-control-methods.html

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    1. Thanks for the link. We checked our trees a just a day ago and they all made it through this winter with no damage!!! I'm thrilled beyond words. We're very lucky that the plaster was already removed from this house. I've heard some rather strange stories about removing plaster and it doesn't sound like very much fun at all. (like containing horse hair among other oddities)

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  6. Your home is beautiful and to have the freedom to renovate and refurbish as you need is liberating. How cool to have the trees in the orchard that date back so far...We live on an old ranch and there are still traces here and there of a time long ago. I love hiking and finding them...it sets my imagination free.

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    1. I just came across an old fence post today. Like you I love finding these bits and pieces. I can only imagine what this place looked like when it was a working farm.

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  7. We are the third owners of a modest 1920s bungalow. We're trying to do all of our renovations with history as our guide. Luckily our place wasn't badly re-muddled.

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    1. How awesome that you know exactly how many owners have lived in your home. I think that's one factor in keeping the number of renovations down. There's a number of places like that around here but ours is a mystery. Even the date it was built can't be confirmed beyond comparing architecture styles.

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  8. I think you have a smart attitude. Personally, I'd rather have a house where i could do as I please than one I felt I couldn't change.

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    1. Holley, we began to realize that as we muddled along here. We've got all sorts of options and it felt good to know we could do what pleased us most.

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  9. We have a century house too :) It's certainly interesting to renovate.

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    1. Johanna, I've been watching your bathroom reno carefully because we have a very similar looking one! I dread the day we have to tear into those walls.

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  10. I'm looking forward to reading/seeing more of what you've done to your house!

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    1. lucky for you there's more to come! LOL, the piano room is still unfinished after all this time, I'm just charting our very wobbly course of action over the last two years.

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  11. Don't they even regulate the colours you can use? I'm with you, I'd rather have the freedom to do as I wished. I just love hearing about your house Marguerite! Keep it coming :)

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    1. I think you're right. Some colours wouldn't have been available in certain time periods so you can't use them. While I definitely appreciate the fact that there's an effort to keep heritage homes intact, as a homeowner it can be an added expense which we weren't up to.

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  12. With Marcelle, I'd love to see the next chapter of your house story unfold!

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  13. You fell in love with the look and feel and bones of your house and farm, not with its untainted pedigree or historical papers! You have a great remaining framework to build on, even though details have been muddled through the years.

    I like the balanced way you presented the unfolding realization of what you bought as you live in it.

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    1. Laurrie, if anything this has taught me to be patient. When we first moved in we had oodles of ideas of how we wanted this house to look but after living here for 2 years those ideas have changed considerably and I think for the better.

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  14. So true! I have friends that purchased a historic house, and everything from paint color to, roof tiles, and replacement windows required approval! Your house may be missing some historic elements, but it's still charming, and actually I think it can be fun to shop for period pieces at salvage and reclamation yards for some of those items that might be missing if you wished...and you don't have to deal with the bureaucracy that comes with historic home ownership.

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  15. Clare, one of our favourite activities is haunting auctions and antique shops. It has turned into a really fun challenge to make renovations that compliment the age of the house but also reflect our modern style as well.

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  16. The house I live in now dates from around the same time as yours as far as we can tell, maybe a decade or two earlier (the records were lost in one of many great fires of Charleston)... but the house I grew up in dates from about 1780, and the difference in the built environment between the two are amazing to look at. In my childhood home there are NO NAILs! All dove jointed and pegged together.

    Why I have always lived in 'old' houses is because I love the details, the tall ceilings, and the craftsmanship in the build, but they do come with problems... i.e. like I still have knob and tube wiring on my porches (so I don't use the electricity out there), and in general my retrofitted 'systems' in the house aren't ideal. There is always a push and pull between modernizing for comfort and today's reality and keeping those original details that often aren't easy to keep. I sort of look upon it as the wrinkles on a face, things are changed, but the history and the presence of the structure remain! I for one, am happy that a good 4 feet was chopped off two of the upstairs bedrooms to make room for AC, it this climate I couldn't make it without! Were the rooms grander before? Yes... liveable? No!

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  17. Your house looks fantastic. Since every house tells stories, I think you are lucky for having such a house that can be treasured like a gem.

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