Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Old Homes and Open Houses

My imagination has been caught by old homes. You know the kind: the ones with worn, wooden floors, run down fireplaces, scratched and faded kitchen counters. Homes that haven't seen a bit of paint or been touched by a bit of sandpaper. My imagination has been caught by neglect.


A couple weekends ago, we dropped by an open house for an old, century-old, three story home on the other side of Toronto. We always enjoy a little dreaming disguised as research. Or is it research disguised as dreaming? We're uncertain at this point, but it doesn't really matter. We went to this open house. It was the kind of house for which most realtors don't hold an open house. A sign on the front door warned us of the condition of the house and turned children away. Inside, the neglect was evident in all corners of the cold house. There were burn marks on the floor in the corner of the living room, possible evidence of squatters taking advantage of the vacant nature of the house. The upstairs bathroom reaked of urine. The vinyl tile floors in the third floor bedrooms were peeling and ripped. The walls were filled with messages from the lost underbelly of Toronto, phone numbers and names scrawled in pen. 

The house was incredible.


It was incredible for what it used to be. A magnificent family home. With six bedrooms in the place, a beautiful fireplace, a decent sized kitchen, I can only imagine the family that original lived there. And the ones that came after that, until the moment it fell into the hands of someone who mismanaged and neglected those walls. It was incredible for what it could be too. The potential called from every floor, every room, every corner. I could tell which walls would come down. I could envision the beautiful kitchen that could fill that space. I could imagine the bedrooms and the bathroom and the attic offices. I could almost picture the basement apartment. 

This house was incredible for what it is now too. It has stories. It's seen so many different people. So many different situations. It's history is written all over it - the grandeur of its far past, the descent of its recent past. I couldn't help but appreciate everything about it, even in its current state. 

Occasionally, I wish we hadn't leapt so headlong into renovations on our house. Occasionally, I wish we had worked with the house we had bought, moved in, used the kitchen, put rugs down on the worn honey-coloured floors. I wish we hadn't knocked down the walls and removed the kitchen window. I wish that, just for a month, we had settled in and fully appreciated our little house for what it is*. 


This winter, we will be finally ripping out the last of those old wood floors and finishing off the dark bamboo floors that fill the rest of the house. In a way, I have to admit, I'll be sad to see it go. 

(* This desire pretty much disappears when I look at these photos.)

11 comments:

  1. You should save some of the floor boards and make something with them. Like a ode to the old house!

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  2. Casey's idea sounds just about right!

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  3. those homes in the pics are incredible. i have never ventured into a decrepit home and could not imagine how my mind would react to all of the potential.

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  4. What a beautifully written post.

    Those in the "old house community" recommend that people who buy an old house live there for quite some time before doing anything drastic. Electrical, plumbing, foundation, etc all get fixed up, of course. But everything else is a wait and see what the house tells you that it wants situation.

    A little hokey, sure, but I think sound advice.

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  5. Thanks Ashley!

    I have heard that advice before and I definitely think it's good, sound advice. We would have followed the advice with our house too (it's just under 100 years old, but definitely one of the cheaply build 100 year old homes...) if the bathroom hadn't been is such bad shape. Considering that remodeling the bathroom twice - once to make it livable, a second time to make the changes to the floorplan - would have been a silly waste of money, we went in and ripped it all apart right away.

    I hope our next house is old, but in the kind of shape that I can at least live with, so we can move in and get a feel for what the house was before we start turning it into what it will be for us. That sounds really sentimental, I know, but I love old houses, even with all the rough edges!

    Note, I'm not saying that I regret any of the changes we have made to our house! We're just so close to being finished with it, it doesn't feel like an old house anymore, so it doesn't have that same... je ne sais quoi... charm, perhaps.

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  6. But what?

    If I come across a great idea, I just might do it. We'll see.

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  7. Haha! Two in agreement! Obviously, I should think about this idea.

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  8. If you're like me, it would take all your will not to run out and put down an offer on said decrepit home with money you don't have.

    Seriously. They were holding offers until last Tuesday and I watched MLS sadly until the listing disappeared on Friday.

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  9. Ah, I love those houses. I'm turned away by the $100k+ pricetags on necessary renovations but I LOVE old neglected houses. We toured a few when we wanted to live in the city and I'm pretty sure the realtor was crazy for showing us one that was a 3 story in the same condition you describe (nbd if there are holes in the floor, graffitti, and water in the basement) but I could imagine it restored to grandeur and being an amazing turn around.

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