March 21, 2004

pretty houses

You work hard to make your house nice. You tear out wallpaper, you scrub and scrape and paint, you refinish floors or put in new flooring, you swap out louvered windows for casement. You work hard. You do it partly to make it attractive to live in, so you can enjoy your surroundings but you do it partly to upgrade the place, remove cosmetic blemishes, create that “Aha! Eureka! Must buy!” moment for prospective house hunters in the hypothetical future.

We’ve done some but not all of that work here. I’ve removed wallpaper in Damian’s room, the guest room, the living room, and half the dining room. Dan skim plastered the guest room and scraped acoustic popcorn off three ceilings. We paid to replace the louvers with double hung wood frame windows in Damian’s room. We stripped years of horrible paint jobs off the kitchen cabinets and gave them a light colorwash to keep the wood grain intact. I stenciled art deco roses in the kitchen. We’re not done. We have more awfulness to erase. I’m happy with what we’ve done and I look forward to the end result of it all, too. But you know? There’s no telling how much of it will stick in the end. And that’s strange and a little sad.

Damian had a play date today with a friend from school. He and his mom hadn’t been over for several months. She loved the guest room, which had been in progress the last time she was here. And when she walked into the kitchen, she said “Oh, pretty.” That felt good. Later, after they left, Dan and I stood in the kitchen and looked around. It is pretty. The orange and purple and butcher block and stencilwork make for a cozy country kitchen feel. We’re not done, it still needs a good floor (the vinyl flooring is chewed up from the demolition work) but that’s this summer’s project. But it feels good to be in there, to be proud of our work.

And yet. Dan said, “You know, someone’s going to buy this place and put in fancy kitchen cabinetry and this house will lose something when they do.” It’ll become like every other fancy remodeled kitchen, he meant. It’ll lose that cozy originality.

The sad thing is, he’s right. I’ve talked before about the little house in Miracle Mile, a mile or so south of here, a house we saw when we first were house hunting. The owners had done such an exquisite job with the place I still remember it vividly after three and a half years, such striking and perfect design choices we were tempted to buy it even though it didn’t fit any of our criteria. Well, that house was back on the market a few weeks ago. The MLS listing included a number of photos. The new owners had repainted the entire place, obliterating the beauty and replacing it with something much more mundane. Strong colors, yes, appropriate to the Spanish-Moorish style, yes, but odd choices that didn’t work next to each other. It breaks my heart. What kind of person would buy that house, notable only for its specific design choices, and wipe out those very qualities that made it unique? I realize we all have different aesthetics and I’m sure the owners thought they were improving the place, but to me it’s like they took a work of art and sprayed painted over it with graffiti. Not the artistic kind of graffiti either, but the “Igor Was Here” ego-and-nothing-else kind.

It makes me wonder. Who will buy our house? How will they “improve” upon our decisions? And why? Is it just a case of stamping your personality on your home environment? Is it an instinctive marking your turf sort of thing? Is it unavoidable? Would we feel it too? We moved into a house with dingy, century-old wallpaper and peeling institutional green paint. It was kind of obvious that we needed to spruce the place up. But if we moved into a house already fixed up with pretty colored walls and pleasant gardens, would we feel the same need to make it ours or would we be happy with what our predecessors had achieved? I like to think we’d be grateful that the work was done and we’d settle in to enjoy it, but I wonder. Part of the fun of owning is to play with your new three dimensional palette. Would we be disappointed if that was already done for us? And what will this house’s next owners think of our work here? Will they think it's pretty? Will they change it anyway?

Posted by Tamar at March 21, 2004 10:26 PM

I think I know exactly what you mean!

Here I only have an answer to your question about moving into a nicely reclaimed house. We bought a hundred year old house this August past, and the owners had definitely done some reclaiming. I can see still where some work could be done, but it is not a need. They did a great job of making the place a bright, light place. The feeling is kind of beach house-y with oatmeal carpets upstairs and a new bathroom, and muted greens. Y'know...

We are SO GRATEFUL that the previous owners did so much. We appreciate that they saw how the place needed light and brought that in without compromising the individuality of the place. Even though it is a row house! The only thing we'll have to redo is the kitchen, (which is the owner-before-last legacy) and we are not in a hurry because we know it will require a lot of thought and planning to be able to retain the character while upgrading.

I think you'll be able to get a feel for what the new owners will be like when they go through your house.

Posted by: annie at March 22, 2004 04:55 PM

That's really good to hear, that you appreciate what's been done. (And you were lucky! It sounds lovely.) I don't think we'll get to be around when prospective owners will walk through, but I can make our agent take copious notes. Heh.

Anyway, it's a while in the future. Years, probably. So I'm borrowing worry, really. But when you put so much work in, you want it to stick.

Posted by: Tamar at March 22, 2004 10:57 PM