I like old houses. This started when I was a pre-teen, when my mother took me to see the historic estate of Parkwood. The history was interesting but mostly what I noticed was the house (picture below) and its architectural and design features. There began my fascination with older homes.
How does anyone explain their passions, whether it’s for a hockey team, coffee, kayaking or old houses? For me and old homes, it’s a combination of:
- the exterior look with complex brickwork and elaborate porches
- elegant interior trim and uncommon features,
- the sense that there is history, many lives lived, within the walls, and
- stories behind how homes were built in places and made in styles that reflect where society and technology was at the time.
Over time, I’ve become a bit of a zealot about old building materials and construction techniques, which has come together in a kinda-green-depending-on-your-perspective value system. I want to preserve old structures and styles as much as I can, which happens to keep stuff out of the landfill, cherishes the built-to-last traits, the built-to-repair (rather than replace) philosophy, and celebrates the history that has brought these older structures to us.
I’m tempted to go off on a rant about quick renos and updated looks in home interiors. For now, let me leave it at the simple statement – I take a different approach. As much as possible, I restore rather than renovate. No gutting or replacing of functional features. Updating for safety I’m all for, and have had houses completely rewired, plumbing systems revamped, HVAC, roofing placement, foundations water-proofed etc. Updating for a modern look doesn’t make sense to me, if it involves relocating quality materials to the dump.
I’ve owned and loved a few houses, the youngest one was built in 1939 and the oldest in 1886. Loving old houses doesn’t explain why I like to work on them myself. But I do. My university days were spent in early 20th century accommodations, turned into student residences because they were too large for single family dwellings. And in the typical state of repair of student housing, i.e. in need of a paint job, after the holes in the walls were repaired. So, I learned to repair plaster and paint.
Once I became a home owner, I graduated to more elaborate redesigns. like lifting carpet and swapping light fixtures. With each new endeavour, I picked up new skills, like fitting trim after the carpet was removed to reveal beautiful hardwood floors. Time and houses went on and I continue to learn, from the helpful building supply staff, contractors I hired (who kindly explained things to me), and by doing. Still in a pre-YouTube to explain anything you want to learn era, I studied and took apart things that needed fixing (like doors that didn’t close properly) and read instructions (like on the epoxy kit to repair rotten wood). Currently, I’m at installing new floors (wood and ceramic) and making window casings.
The appeal of doing it myself is complex, with elements of:
- it costs less than hiring someone,
- more control of the outcome, time of completion, and when the work is done,
- I enjoy the learning, especially when problem-solving is part of it,
- the doing is important. I can only read and watch videos for so long before I grab a pry bar or screwdriver and start pulling something apart,
- it’s decent physical activity. I feel good after a day spend climbing up and down a ladder,
- the satisfaction of standing back and looking at accomplishments, whether it’s moving an electrical outlet or revamping the kitchen,
- preserving small bits of history,
- keeping as much out of the landfill as possible.
DIYing is fun and feels good. That sounds like reason enough to stop writing and go cut some wood for the next door frame.