Rearranging some photo albums today, and found some pictures of a previous home.
The real estate agent had said it was a house with Character. Everyone who ever visited told us it had Character.
Character, I’ve discovered, is simply a nice way of saying “high maintenance.”
It was a 117-year old home. We’d purchased it with the idea of restoring it to something resembling its original state. The motto for that little endeavor ended up being: “It’s not just a job, it’s a career.”
There are numerous problems associated with restoring an old home. It is very hard, we’ve found, to find contractors who can handle the old materials like slate (roofing), or real plaster (as opposed to drywall). If you can find someone here in North America, they’ll charge you more for a single project than you paid for the entire house in the first place.
So, we did a lot of the work ourselves. Due to time constraints (we had to work to pay for all of the materials, of course) this meant we were always living in a half-finished construction site. And anyone who tells you that old home restoration is a labour of love has never had to strip four very thick layers of paint from two dozen intricately carved metal hinges. I have, and I can tell you it actually should be called a labour of barely-tolerated-mind-numbing-tedium.
The fact that specialized contractors are so expensive means that all the previous owners of the house also engaged in DIY… with… varying levels of competence. Somewhere I still have a picture of the wallpaper job in one bedroom, which featured kittens, bunnies, and puppies… and one poor unfortunate creature that was half kitten and half bunny because no one explained to the previous owner how to line up patterned wallpaper.
Aside from the renovation woes, just living in an old home can be an adventure. In spite of our best efforts, there were still hundreds of little cracks and crevices for bugs to wander in. Going down the hallway at night is somewhat like watching a National Geographic special on Canadian creepy crawlies. It was really very educational, especially if you like spiders.
Then there were the other frequent visitors. To this day, if you want someone at my house to hit the floor in a hurry, you don’t yell “duck!” you yell “bat!” Works every time.
Those big windows in the old Victorian houses? They look amazing. They’re also single pane and the frames are made of wood that has shrunk over the decades. So they let more air in and out of the house than what flows through a wind tunnel. Give ol’ Ebenezeer Scrooge some credit: he was probably crabby because he was freakin’ cold. And before you suggest replacement windows, do yourself a favour and count the number of windows there are in that house you’re drooling over in For the Love of Old Houses. Ours? Twenty-two. That’s a lot of double glazing to install, at non-standard sizes…
We didn’t use coal to heat the house, of course, but we still froze in the winter while enjoying a sky-high heating bill. That place had a gas flame boiler downstairs that heated up water, which was then pumped through the house to cast iron radiators in every room. The surface of a radiator gets to a temperature that lies somewhere between fry-your-bacon and melt-the-lampshades. Lesson number one in the `living with radiators’ series: do not back into one of these puppies when the system is on. Trust me.
The floors creaked a little; not so much as to be really annoying, but enough so that you couldn’t sneak downstairs to the fridge at 3 a.m. without the rest of the family yelling out their room service requests. The pooches (mooches?) liked get into the act too: if there was a noise in the house they’d rush out to frighten away the burglars. Once they found out it was you, they pushed for the cookie bribe to prevent them from barking some more.
I suppose though, if pressed, I would admit that I understand why some people don’t like modern homes. And it does bother me when I see some of the finer pieces of architecture in other cities fall into disrepair. These places are an important part of our heritage. There was a lot of history in that home. Yes, if these walls could talk . . .
If those walls could talk, they’d probably say something like “Ha. Suckers…”