What is the new old house?

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Old House Terminology

Those of us who love old houses know that sometimes, the little quirks and old-fashioned oddities just don't fit in with modern living. Those closets that are too small to hold much more than a single coat aren't conducive to today's big families. That wringer washer isn't nearly as attractive as that nice new Kenmore. Even that old wood cookstove, though it has intense charm, makes dinner seem like more of a chore than it really has to be.

This has led to a disheartening trend: that of gutting the old house completely, leaving only the attractive exterior, and filling it with something new and modern. Though this does make it easier to live in an old house, it can completely decimate the historic features inside the home, such as that hand-tooled staircase or that impossible-to-replace molding.

There might be a solution to this, one that allows preservation of old houses but also makes room for those who want the old house look without the old house plans. It's called the "new old house."

Defining the new old house

This is actually exactly what it sounds like -- a home that is completely new, designed by architects to meet today's modern standards, but the shell of the home is delightfully old-fashioned.

What makes the new old house plans unique is the attention to historical detail. Architects and designers do a great deal of research into what truly makes an old house great, then translate that into their building plans. For instance, they know that certain modern windows simply will not work in a house inspired by yesteryear. Dimensions matter as well -- today's larger homes usually take up more of a footprint than older homes do. Rather than go for a home of 3,000 square feet, the plans scale down the new old house to something more manageable, such as a tidy 1,800 square foot Craftsman design.

The house appeals to those who grew up in older houses, or adored someone who lived in one. There are few things in life as calming as the slapping sound of an old door against the frame that sounds just like it did at Grandma's house, or the gentle creak of the old chain on the front porch swing as somebody rocks back and forth. Those little things can be had with a new old house, without all the upkeep that would come from a 'true' old house.

But at the same time, modern conveniences abound. The garage is still there -- it is just tucked away behind the house, out of sight and out of mind. The ceilings are tall, the kitchen are large, and the floor plan is open. The means of construction is modern, too, as most of the 'pieces' are built in a factory and shipped to the site, where they are assembled by local contractors.

Though it might have modern elements, the result is a new old house that really looks like something much older. Those who want a modern home can enjoy it while still having the old look, which imparts charm to the larger neighborhood, and those who truly want to live in an old house can look forward to restoring one, not gutting it for a remodel. It's a win-win for everyone.