Monday, October 01, 2012
Don't Hire A 48-1/2 Year Old Burn Victim With A Fat Lip As Your Architect
People have the wrong ideas about what a house is.
I've spent a goodly portion of my life observing people and their houses. I think that dwellings show more about people than any other publicly available information about them. Hell, no psychiatrist knows more about a person than their housepainter.
People have got it into their head that a house is an elaborate and fussy thing, antiseptic; it's like a gigantic automobile, and that it should look brand new at all times, forevermore. I do not share this view. I think that your house should get better --be better, more comfortable, more visually appealing --the longer you live in it. It should suit you, not the other way around. This is not achieved with plastic slipcovers and powerwashers.
I am living in what was, until recently, an abandoned home. It had big holes in the roof through which animals that could cast shadows passed in and out. All the plumbing and heating pipes had frozen and burst. It had suffered at least two fires before, the evidence of which was still visible. It was a wreck, and so, cheap. But it had not been neglected. I pray to someday own an old house that has been neglected. Neglect does not indicate a profound contempt for the value of the original house the way the mindless remodeling that went on here does. Wave after wave of owners had mostly wrecked everything in the house worth saving, and had added all the cancers that Home Depot has to offer in their place. They figured the stuff wasn't brand new and shiny any more, so why keep after it? I have muttered under my breath: I can fix the hole in the roof; what did you people do with all the goddamn doors? I don't need a ceiling fan in every room in a house within driving distance of the arctic circle, you lunatics; I need doors in the doorjambs.
Everyone searches for a free lunch. But there is no free lunch in a house. Only a direction. Or, more to the point, there are only two directions, better or worse. You are never at rest. Most everything I see touted for installation in a house touts as its prime characteristic that it never need maintenance. That's the "tell." If you ever see the term "never needs maintenance" again, substitute the word "disposable," because that's what it is. It never needs maintenance right up until you throw it away in an angry fit, 100 years before things that need maintenance are getting warmed up.
I work, really hard, making cottage furniture here in Maine, on one floor of my house. It's fairly large. It's partially below ground, and two storeys up at the same time. It was a really dreary hole when I first set up shop. I've noticed that the longer I work in there, the pleasanter the place becomes. I tinker with it some, but mostly it organically becomes more useful and pleasant because I begin to place things where they are handiest, so clutter is slowly cleared away, and with less clutter, the place is easier to clean up. I put back five windows that former owners had removed, so it's brighter and warmer than it used to be, too. It's an example of the phenomenon: the longer you bustle about a place, the more suited to you it should become. Many kitchens achieve this in American houses, but few other rooms really do. I've found many dozens of people, living in houses with 5,6,7000 square feet -- even more than that -- and still huddling in some little corner of it with the only possessions they truly like, trying to be comfortable, while the rest of the house is a furniture museum. They used to ask me what color they could paint the abandoned rooms that would tempt them to enter them.
The siding on my house is 111 years old. It requires painting. There will never be a house with 111-year-old vinyl siding on it. And the siding on mine will be structurally sound for another hundred years -- or two. There are dozens of windows in my house that are 111 years old. They are made of wood, many still with the original wavy glass in the sashes. There will never be a house with 111-year-old double-glazed vacuum-sealed windows in them. My house has 111 year old birch strip flooring in it. There will never be a house with 111 year-old Pergo flooring in it.
I could belabor this point. But the only truly permanent installation in a house is ceramic tile in a color you can't stand. If you like the color, it falls off the wall. Everything else is ephemeral, and will require maintenance once in a while, or replacement if it can't be maintained. You might as well get used to the idea up front.
Women now visit the vivisectionist -- er, I mean the doctor -- and say they'll pay big money to look like a 48-1/2 year old burn victim with a fat lip instead of the fifty year old woman they are. Others buy vinyl siding. But the impetus is the same. You recognize the direction you're heading, and instead of cultivating the passage of time, you want to fight it. Deny its very existence. Good luck with that.