Historic home tour voyeur

Joan Fieldstone

November 5, 2014

By: Joan Fieldstone, Home Improv Advocate

In: Interior DesignGeneral RemodelingInterior Home Improvement

I grew up in a home that had no one's imprint but that of my own immediate family. There was no history there. It was an ordinary split-level, suburban, post WWII house built on what was once a potato farm -- or so I'm told. Growing up in the Northeast, there was plenty of history, but an old home to me was a museum, not a place you would buy to actually live in.

Personally, I was never interested in buying and restoring old homes after a dear friend of mine told me about the sacrifices she had to make while restoring her old home -- going without a kitchen for years while they searched for just the right period cooking stove, going without a bath as they waited for someone to glaze their claw-foot tub multiple times before they got it right. They never did finish it. They were forced to sell it during the Recession.

No, I was not interested in roughing it while draining my meager financial resources. But I realize that some people are into that sort of thing, and I applaud them. I also have a voyeuristic interest in seeing the results of their travails. As my mother used to say, "Better him than me." I don't have to work up a sweat going, "Oh, how lovely! I can't imagine how much time, work, and money that took!"

What makes a house a home regardless of its age?

I guess I'm like a lot of other historic home tour voyeurs, judging from the crowd of people that waited patiently outside in a cold drizzle all day to view six homes that were built as far back as the middle of the 19th century and as recently as the 1930s. We could imagine living in them after someone else did the heavy lifting.

I fell in love with the first house we toured. There was a guest bedroom. Like the other rooms in that sweet Craftsman bungalow, it was painted a shade of aqua and looked out over a garden. The bed, like most in these old homes, was enticingly puffy and decked out in its finest white embroidered bed linens. I imagined spending a weekend there, waking up to the garden view, staring idly at the many-angled ceiling, expertly painted white where it should be white, and the aqua of the walls where they met the ceiling somewhere in the middle, like an opening into the heavens. I wondered out loud whether the owner would mind if I asked for an invite to come and stay sometime.

She and her husband had owned the home for over 30 years, and raised their children there. They added a second floor as the family grew and took pains to integrate its design seamlessly with the original floor plan of the home. The wife created original mosaics in the bathroom, the kitchen, and in various nooks and crannies all around the house -- a woman after my own heart. And every room was my favorite color -- shades of teal, turquoise, and aqua.

To make a home of one's own, regardless of its age or how many owners came before, takes time, effort, money, and -- love. It also takes vision and patience. It doesn't become truly yours until you've lived in it a while, suffered with it, grown your life, and watched your loved ones grow theirs.

I realized as I left the houses that day that it takes some guts to let strangers traipse through your home as if it's a museum and not a private repository of your dreams, hopes, family memories, and creative aspirations. It was a privilege to glimpse the past and present of the homes and the personalities of their present occupants. I thank them for sharing.

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