The good, the bad, the 150-year-old farmhouse?

Kit Stansley

July 27, 2012

By: Kit Stansley, DIY Diva

In: General Remodeling

How old is "old?" When you're talking about an old house, it's probably relative to just how crazy you are. My first old house was built in the 1920s, and I felt quite adventurous for living under a slate roof that was four times older than I was. I had a short fling with a 1950s bungalow after that, but my current house? My baby? It's a whopping one hundred and fifty years old.

old farmhouse

Just to put that in context (and because it makes me feel younger) my great-great grandmother could have been born in this house, and taking on a project like this is not for the faint of heart.

The good

  • They don't build 'em like they used to. In 1850, people who built houses were craftsmen. No cheap materials were used; nothing was slapped together, and the attention to detail in the brickwork and wood trim was nothing short of amazing. The reason this house is still standing a century-and-a-half later is because back then houses were built to last.
  • She's already had a few nips and tucks. When you're looking at a house that's 30-50 years old, it's possible that it has never been updated. I once looked at a house from the '30s that still had old coal stored in the basement! But when you go back 150 years, if the house is still standing, you know she's had a little work done. Lucky for me, the plumbing and electric has been updated in the last 20 or so years, and I have a fairly modern kitchen that still retains that "old house" charm.

The bad

  • The words "straight" and "level" are no longer a part of my vocabulary. Over 15 decades things have settled to the point that across one 16-foot wall in my living room, the floor slopes an astounding four inches. It makes hanging trim… interesting.
  • She's been through a lot. Walls have come down; rooms have been added on; there was a fire at some point that charred some of the roof rafters, and while it has all been admirably and adequately patched up, it's sometimes difficult to figure out what goes where in this house. There are at least two exterior spigots I still have no idea how to turn on, electrical outlets in the oddest places, and a fireplace that looks like it's hooked up for gas -- except the house runs on fuel oil. So basically, she's a big mystery.

The "what-on-earth-was-I-thinking?"

  • She might be old enough to be my great-great grandma, but I have to treat her like a baby. That means a lot of time and attention to things like refinishing the original windows; resealing the exterior brick that was painted at some point (and sandblasted after that); waterproofing the old stone foundation; and general maintenance that includes caring for the six acres of property the house sits on.

So, yes, I definitely had a crazy moment when I bought this place, and living in an old house is a commitment, but it's also a labor of love. What can I say? I wouldn't have it any other way.


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