This Old House vs Shiny New House-Making a New Old House

See previous post, “This Old House vs Shiny New House,” on the advantages and disadvantages of both lifestyles. How do you make the choice between a new and old house?

It’s true, “they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.” Post war houses, when compared to their pre-war counterparts, can seem charmless and homogenous. Imitation materials and touches can look cheap and tacky (remember faux brick walls?) You could blame Mies van de Rohe, who helped introduce modernism and buildings free of context. He was meticulous and careful in his craft, but in the mass market the style translated to depressing boxes with no baseboards or trim and had the unfortunate timing of happening right when houses were being mass produced for the baby boom. (For an entertaining look at modern vs. traditional architecture, check out Tom Wolfe’s “From Bauhaus to Our House.” It’s a fun, quick read)

Not easily (or cheaply) replicated: Mies van de Rohe’s Farnsworth House, completed in 1951

Mid-century, building materials became standardized, trades became specialized, and housing became much more of a commodity. If you know the buyers are there, and a stripped down version of a home is now acceptable, why bother with moldings, cornices, cut glass? Especially for developers today, unless you are building a very high end product, “charm” just doesn’t pencil.

In retaliation to the McMansion phenomenon, Sarah Susanka published “The Not So Big House” in 2001, showing that charm doesn’t have to be a thing of the past, but to to afford it we needed to shrink our collective expectations of the size of a house. Instead of spending money on size and volume that costs more to build, furnish, heat and cool, spend money on real materials and creating quality spaces. Gone are the days when a Realtor could say with a straight face, “You need a formal living and dining room for resale.” The feeling of being inside a house with solid wood floors, wood windows, crown moldings, real wood paneling, and built-ins is unmistakable, but these things come at a price. One way Susanka proposes making up for space is creating nooks and alcoves to replace rooms, which are some of my favorite aspects of old houses (I refer to them as “nooks and crannies”).

The House of Turquoise blog is featuring on-going “tours” of an amazing old new house in Utah. This link is for the first “tour,” but it’s worth it to scroll through all of the entries and photos. Aside from the obvious close attention to every detail, what really makes this house spectacular are the floors, many salvaged from different places.

Reclaimed oak flooring from an old barn make this new house feel old, but without the drafty windows, leaky plumbing and faulty electricity of an actual old house. I love the plaster ceiling and chandelier also. (Photo: Hiya Papaya)

Originally posted for D+A Studio