The indelible mark of an old house

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Home Improvement Tips, Old House Musings

Old houses leave marks. I can count mine, one by one.

There’s that scar on my arm that came from the window I broke when I was trying to scrape away decades of paint. There is the tiny scar on my palm from catching the sharp edge of an old board while restoring a hardwood floor — ouch! There is the pain in my knee that shows up when I bound down a flight of stairs, a reminder of the impossibly steep stairs of a four-story Victorian. My banking history shows deep gashes in my accounts that always coincide with the months after I first purchased another old house.

But most of all, there are the marks I can’t show you.

There is the urge to stop at every antique store I pass, even though I don’t know what I would buy. There is the sudden burst of thrill when I see a “for sale” sign in front of an ancient house. There is the need to push a door hard to close it, as if it had been there for a hundred years and was a little rusty on the hinges. There is the moment of worry when I see an impending storm, a conditioned response from years of tarps, leaks and wondering if that old roof would hold up long enough for me to save the money for repairs.

Old houses leave their mark. So what happens when you no longer live in an old house?

Blending the new with the old

I recently moved away from the Georgia coast, put my newly restored 1950’s Rambler up for rent and settled in a newer home on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Though this house has the best of energy-efficient replacement windows, an up-to-date bathroom and floors that don’t creak, I find myself looking for the little things that remind me of older houses.

Step into my kitchen and look around. The traditional kitchen cabinets go well with that throwback oven, a white beauty with chipped spots and the built-in timer that is cloudy from years of steam. There’s the porcelain sink, which looks right at home against the laminate countertops. In the bedroom there are the antiques, in the living room you will find embossed wallpaper and on the windows are classic shutters — not shades.

The new challenge is to find ways to blend an antique look with a decidedly modern home. There are no exposed beams — but maybe I can make up for that with a reclaimed hardwood floor. There are wide open spaces rather than small crevices and off-kilter rooms — but maybe that just means more room to showcase the best of my antiques. Those ceiling fans can be replaced with retro models, I can scrape years of paint from the wrought iron porch rail and we can tuck the television into an antique French armoire.

Who says a new house can’t have old house charm?

In my old Victorian, I had to slam the bedroom door in order to get it to close. Yesterday, that memory crept back as I was closing my new bedroom door, and the result was a slam that reverberated through the house. It brought my partner running from the other room. “What happened?” he asked.

“A little memory,” I said, and told him about the old bedroom door.

“You know,” he said slowly, “I saw a great table a few months ago. It was made out of an old antique door. How do you think that would look in the dining room?”

I think it just might be the perfect fit.