If Your House Could Talk

Wall Repair

Damaged wall being repaired

Dear Johanne,

I have been on your blog and I think it’s quite well done. It’s well organized with sound advice. Just this morning in fact, I was walking with my wife and shared some things you had said about ‘authentic’ craftsman homes. I’d often had a notion that folks in the past were not so different than ourselves and likely decorated with a mixture of hand-me-downs, family heirlooms and even things of questionable taste.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to salvage a great deal of material for my own restoration from immanent tear downs around here. One of the things my family have found interesting is how you can trace the history of a house as you take it apart. You can see some good ideas that were torn out or covered over but you see some poor elements as well. Of course they may have been well planned originally but don’t make sense in a modern context. Patrick
Dear Patrick: Yes, pulling apart a house whether for repair or (horrors) demolition is an educational experience. Our houses are a direct reflection of the time in which they were built. They talk to us by using specific materials in their building. They talk to us by showing the attitude towards quality and construction. And they tell us volumes about the economic times in which the house was built. As any homeowner will know a house built during a building boom is often not well made because speed was more important than quality of construction. Anf finally they talk to us by showing us what was in style. The image at left is a fragment of one of the layers of wallpaper that we found as we were repairing the crack in the wall above.
Wallpaper fragments

Wallpaper fragments under layers of paint

Sometimes houses talk in fun ways too. This week I taught a course for old house owners on Floors & Mill work. One of the participants mentioned that they found the receipts and plan for the renovation that had taken place on their home in the late 1930’s. The previous owners had stuffed the file in the walls behind the wall board.

I think we’ll be doing that this spring as we get ready to build our addition. I will add pictures of the original room and a blueprint of the reno. Doing this may mean a lot to the future owners of our houses, don’t you think? How would you feel if you found this info in the walls of your old house?

5 responses to “If Your House Could Talk

  1. I wish someone would have stuffed some information into our walls. I have currently employed a young librarian to do a through research on our house starting when it was only land here, it’s so exciting to find even the smallest thing out.

    We have recently removed a window between the kitchen/dine and what will be our music room/sound booth only one side is bricked up at the moment but before we do the other side I am leaving copies of everything + before and after shots of what we have done to ‘Belle’ ourselves in the wall for future generations – like a time capsule. What a fabulous find it will be for someone eventually.

    • You bet! The next owners will be thrilled to find the information on your house. We all think that no one would really want to have information about our house. After all, it isn’t old, it isn’t pretty, no one important lived here, and so on …but the truth is some one will someday. So let’s leave them something!

  2. We were changing a fan in the upstairs bathroom of our condo and found some scrapbooks left by the previous owner. There were pictures, postcards and announcements in scrapbook form and someone had done a very nice job. We look the time to fine the owner by way of a name that kept showing up and he showed up to pick these items up. His parents had both been deceased and he was very happy to get these documents. He said his bedroom was at the top of the stairs with all the ‘Star Wars’ wallpaper. We shared a good laugh because the wallpaper was still there.

    • What a great story. On my web site I tell the story of what we found in our walls – well, ok not in our walls but under our front porch. The area could be accessed from our basement – an opening just big enough for a slim person. We found a 1920’s stash of pornography. Now by our standards it was extremely tame. I suspect it belonged to the eldest son who lived in the home. Both he and his father were killed in a train / car accident in the late 1930’s. I met the younger son (he was now 90 years old) but I didn’t want to show this to him in case it embarassed him. After he passed away I showed his daughter and the family had a good chuckle. I was able to give the grandson a prized auto magazine in perfect condition.

  3. Oh, I WISH someone had left me something – ANYTHING- about my old house. I did find old wallpaper and I left it; put cement board over it for a walk in shower. Someday someone else will uncover it. There was old linoleum under the sink base. Not in good shape but I saved it thinking I might be able to think of something to do with it. I toyed with the idea of putting it in a Plexiglas sandwich but haven’t done anything yet. I don’t know how many layers of wallpaper are on my walls and then they were painted over so I will probably paint over it again. Unfortunately there is nothing pretty in this house. I don’t know if there ever was, an 1880 farm house. The outbuildings are in really good shape so I suspect the money went into the farm because it paid the bills.

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