Perhaps the most common argument made by anti-preservationists has been that local historical commissions — the cityfolk who decide what’s a landmark and what you can do to your landmark — are inherently subjective in making their decisions. It is very often assumed that a board of commissioners will deny a homeowner’s proposal for an addition on his or her historic house because it’s just not very pretty. Sometimes, this has held up in court, and there’s a robust history of property owners attempting to sue the pants off their municipality for denying a building or demolition permit.
I Speak Vintage has heard quite a few horror stories from folks that have bought vintage or historic homes, only to be left holding the bag, as it were. While historic homes have an appeal and charm for many buyers, there are certain restrictions and expenses (that’s an understatement) you need to know about before signing on the dotted line.
In rural America property rights are different and people maintain their properties with however much or however little money they care to. Someone like Darrel Hall of Hall & Oates has money to do an extensive restoration like he did on his rural New York home. Hall hosts a monthly web series from a Great Room that he built to connect two historic barns that he brought in from a different state. He also modernized the kitchen with high-end appliances and arrangements to entertain a crowd. This is a house that a lot of people might dream of living in. Some may think it is a bad idea to move two historic barns from the 18th century away from where they were first built. Others, like this article suggests, think it is a good idea to breathe new life into a barn that may very well be left to fall or burn down.
Any significant historical building in a rural area should be documented and inspected for further significance. If it is an important building your State Historic Preservation Officer can help you get it on the National Register of Historic Places. Once your building is on the National Register it opens you up to a variety of tax breaks.
Someone like Daryl Hall may not be concerned with tax breaks. Other historic homeowners might be interested to learn that Nation Register listing opens them up to tax breaks based on the money that they invest in their property. Some states incentivize historic preservation more than others and offer a variety of tax breaks that can help with the cost of maintenance and improvement on a historic property. No state is trying to tell you what to do with your property but they will encourage you to maintain the exterior if you are listed on the National Register. You can do whatever you want to on the interior to make the home fit your needs and to improve its value.
One would hope that owners would be sensitive with something like a barn from the 1700s – we don’t have many buildings in this country that are older than that. The goal is not to turn historic buildings into museums but rather places that can be appreciated for the stories they tell and their place in history, all while being used and appreciated by their owners.
A professor of the Historic Preservation program at the University of Vermont wrote a fascinating book titled Field Guide to New England Barns and Farm Buildings. The variety of barn styles and how they tell the stories of the immigrants who built them, bringing their various construction techniques from the old world, is a rich history you wouldn’t necessarily think such a vernacular building type would carry.
Have a deeper interest in preserving barns? This link will give you all the technical information that you need to know to preserve them.
Another major legal matter concerning rural property are easements. An easement of a driveway or lease road is often granted in order to gain access to neighboring land in which the shortest route is through part of an adjacent property. This happens often with oil companies and other natural resource companies and it is often the biggest intrusion on rural property owners.
In the city there are various ordinances and codes in place which bring the city and the property owner together. Due to the density of people in and around buildings, the city must have some control over building owners in order to ensure safety. If the building is a landmark it is expected that the exterior will be maintained and the facade is regularly inspected to make sure pieces of the building aren’t going to fall off an hit someone.
The point comes back to location. Owning property in the city sets you up for much more scrutinization from local interest groups and nearby property owners, not to mention the local government. There is much more freedom and room for creative interpretation in rural areas simply because there are not as many eyes on property out there.
I bought an old house. From 350 miles away, I decided to REHAB a house in one of Cleveland, Ohio’s historic neighborhoods. A vibrant area of restored Victorian cottages, multi-gabled Queen Anne homes, second empire tributes and a mix of turn-of-the-century European influenced styles. This melting pot of architectural styles also boasted a diversity of cultures and socioeconomic demographics. Diversity, evidenced by multiple disappearances of my gutters, building materials, tools and, on one occasion, a pair of shoes. Seriously?
This is more about the journey than the actual REHAB. By definition, a journey is traveling from one place to another – usually taking a long trip, Welcome to mine. This is the story of a house divided amongst itself; literally and figuratively. A house that should have been torn down years ago, NOT purchased with the romantic notion of restoring it to a quaint urban cottage. Yet that is exactly what I did and, at the time, it truly seemed like a good idea. I wish I had thought to start this therapy session (call it a blog) years ago and perhaps, by chronicling this journey via the written word, I could have avoided the rolling storm clouds and plagues of locust.
While much of this journey has little to do with the house, I correlate and reference the timeline in large blocks. Like when I had to rip up the front yard and replace the entire sewer line; $5000.00, thank you very much.
Each mishap somehow lashed me more tightly with my hometown, this falling-down money-pit and the neighborhood of toothless booze hounds What should have taken 12 months stretched over 4 years, by which time the real estate market was a tumultuous roller coaster. So, I decided to hold on to the house for a while. Here’s the rub; I had to REHAB the REHAB. I bought the house to provide my brother with an opportunity to build his contractor business with full intention of selling it when complete. Well, his definition of complete and mine were different. He saw it for what it really was, a flip. I made the mistake that many rehabbers make. I was spending money as if I were going to live in it. Lord, deliver me from myself.
For some reason this house brought familiarity and comfort to me the first time I saw it. Was it a rotting, dilapidated excuse for a house? Absolutely. Was the idea of managing a total rehab from 350 miles away a lousy idea? You bet. I couldn’t wait to get started.
After 4 arduous years of false completions, I took a brief hiatus from Chicago and went “home” (I am from Cleveland originally) and finished the house. Then the party really started.
October 2010; after taking firm control of the checkbook I had no choice but to get creative with how every penny was spent. I wanted to maintain the home’s heritage and integrity and a strict budget certainly facilitated that. The kitchen plan was originally sketched up pretty much on the back of an envelope and it simply did not make use of the kitchen’s size and terrific natural light. In reconstructing the layout, I took old doors found in the basement and cut them down to build a breakfast bar and re-purposed the granite I had cut for the original layout.
The second floor which I originally planned to carpet took a hit as well. The stairs and floors were typical of an 1887 worker’s cottage built for employees of Cleveland’s steel mills – pine planks that were patched, gouged, and in some places, patched with old soup cans. Rather than trying to cover them, I celebrated them. I painted them, added some well planned “distressing” with a belt sander and then varnished them. Bam! They looked terrific and added some wonderful texture to the upper level.
Here I was, 4 years after I had restored 80% of the exterior clapboard and the damn thing needed to be repainted. I discovered it had not been primed and was painted when the wood was damp. #@%$!*! Clean living truly must triumph because February, 2011 brought a week of temperatures in the 60’s. Hallelujah! I roped one of my disenfranchised neighbors (probably the one that stole the gutters 3 years prior) to help me out. We got ‘er done in 3 days. I doubt he spent the money on much needed dental attention. So be it.
I could make a long story even longer but you get the idea. Well, when all was finally finished in spring of 2011 I put the house on the market. One open house. SOLD. List price.
This old house has a few stories worth passing on. Listen up.
After a recent trip to a Swedish retailer, which shall remain nameless I am standing strong on a philosophy I have long thought to be a foundation stone to the sustainable future of our consumer driven economy. I have always had a sweet tooth for found objects, repurposed furniture, gently used clothing and well, some might say junk. Not to mention pre-owned cars, leftovers and old fashioned hand-me-downs of all sorts. This is the stuff that surrounds me and illustrates my level of taste, style, and identity. Let me say now that I am by no means a hoarder, pack rat or junk collector. Well…not yet.
On a planet with finite resources and space, it is worth looking at our consumption from “the triple bottom line” approach. A term coined by Jon Elkington in 1994 to evaluate the measurement of corporate performance from the perspective of the shareholder to that of the stakeholder and coordinate three interests: “people (social), planet (ecological) and profit (economic).” Three interests that work together like the legs of a stool. All must be equally strong for the stool to serve its function.
With so many manufactured products already crowding the corners of our world is there truly a need to always be looking for something “new” – newly manufactured, that is? NEW to our household is something to think about. Some of the best housing stock in our cities and neighborhoods is the vintage stuff. Many of our most prized possessions have been around for longer than anyone can remember. Classic cars, vintage clothing, retro design…see where I am going with this?
Not too long ago, I made some updates to my kitchen and bath in order to put my home on the market. I had quite a time finding fixtures, lighting and finishes that matched the vintage integrity of my home while still making decisions that would appeal to buyers looking for updated amenities.
I did not want (and could not afford) to do a total remodel so I opted to get rid of a few pieces and replace them with vintage pieces that supported my concept of reusing existing materials and pieces…nothing “new”. Just new to my old house – and me. For the master bath I found a vintage pedestal sink that looked great and added a wonderful look with period light fixtures, accessories and paint colors.
My kitchen, which had been “remodeled” before I bought the place, had an entire wall with no cabinetry, counter or anything else useful for a functioning kitchen. By retrofitting a farm cabinet I found in a 2nd hand store with lighting and glass shelves I was able to add additional storage and an element of authentic vintage character. I also found a great farm table that had been used as a mechanic’s bench in an auto garage. Needless to say, that was quite a restoration project.
So, back to the “triple bottom line” approach; people, planet and profit. People; I contributed to a general well being by shopping locally, employing the services of a furniture restoration company, and engaging the services of a handyman for installation (do not for a minute think I did the work myself). Planet; I re-used existing stuff. Profit; I saved money on the acquisition cost and put money in the pockets of a local merchant, restoration company, and handyman.
I know that applying TBL, (3BL) to home remodel projects is pushing the envelope a bit. My goal in using this analogy is to make us think globally about the decisions we make in our homes, shopping habits, and daily routines. Yes, it takes more time and requires more planning but the benefits outweigh the efforts.
Upcycle. Just something to think about.