How much have homes changed in 100 yrs and can I live without tho

gamecock43May 20, 2008

I am considering buying a Victorian home and if I am going to do it, I want to do it right. I dont want to demo the inside to make room for stainless steel, jacuzzi tubs and sliding glass doors. I want to match the inside with the outside and remain as true to the time period as I can get. But what am I walking into? I dont know if I have this totally thought out. Posters who live in these old houses that have remained close to authentic...what modern conviences will I be sacrificing?

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We just renovated a 1920s home, and I think you can stay fairly true to the original while not sacrificing much in the way of conveniences. For example, in the kitchen, panel as much as possible (refrig, dishwasher, etc.). Unless you want "period" to mean nothing, but that means no phone, very limited electricity, no washer/dryer. I would try to keep the style, with light fixtures, tile, wood details, etc. true, but then compromise on things like a nice stove, refrigerator.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2008 at 3:47PM
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Strict restoration to one specific time period in a structure's past is not really recommended by historic preservation advocates these days, so you don't need to really worry about giving up a lot in the way of the conveniences of modern life! Remember, "staying true to the time period" of a home that is over 100 years old means that there is a succession of valid time periods and features involved in a given structure's history. For example, our house was built in the early 1890's, and thus has some underlying Victorian features that we're repairing and preserving, but it also has later additions and modifications from the 1920's or so that are equally desirable and worthy of preservation.
What we've aimed for is to preserve and repair the original and/or significant features of the home, such as the early light fixtures, hardware, kitchen cabinetry, floors and plaster walls. We've also made some minor changes that will enhance the longevity of the home, or will make it work for our lifestyle. We need a decent bathroom, we need adequate closet and storage space, and we're doing what we can to work these things in to the plan.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2008 at 4:15PM
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The first thing you learn about ANY house is it has to be functional in order to survive.

Having a old house means balancing the materials and function of the past with the current.

It's saving the very best of the past and continuing it thru the house. It's taking todays functions into consideration when adding on or changing rooms around but staying true to the homes past.

It's paying attention to details and not removing those very things that make a old house special like wavy glass or old doorknobs.

It's knowing when to stop.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2008 at 5:22PM
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Houses that can't adapt to change don't survive. So, of course you will change it. Good, that keeps it alive.
'carol from ny' said it well.

However, there will be things about the house you cannot change but would really like to: maybe no space for more closets or another bath where it would be handy. A structural wall, a staircase, a window where you wish it weren't. You will adapt your life to the house as well as vice versa. But it won't be boring!

    Bookmark   May 20, 2008 at 6:21PM
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ok, I am getting it...I like the idea of there being no right/ no wrong, every situation is unique and there are infanite possibilities. Thanks guys! Maybe a better question is: What modern ammenities do you live without so you can live in your old house?

    Bookmark   May 20, 2008 at 9:29PM
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If you've ever visited in homes in Europe, you can see where old house lovers are coming from. My SIL's parents in England had hatch marks over the doorway to signify the people who died inside during the plagues of the Black Death. That makes my 200 year old home seem like a teenager.

They, nor we when we lived there, did without things like plumbing. We did not have closets, but used armoires. Our bath fixtures were the old tank above the water closet with a pull chain, and so are my in-laws. But, they are charming. The kitchen sink we had was cast iron and there were no countertops in the whole kitchen. Food prep was done on the table.

It's not at all unusual to find a very old home there with the most modern of amenities juxtaposed against something ancient. You just don't notice the modern stuff after awhile.

I sometimes laugh when one refers to a 'period' bathroom in the federal era when they try to renovate a very old home. A chamber pot, an outside privy, and a basin and pitcher in your bedchambers. I live in an authentic Federal era home, and I can tell you there was no inside bathroom here until probably the late 1950s. I also have an eight foot wide fireplace in my kitchen with the cooking crane intact. But I still use my modern gas cooktop in my modern tile counter.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2008 at 9:43PM
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What modern ammenities do you live without so you can live in your old house?

For us, limited closet space and smaller bathrooms are the two main downsides of our 1890 rowhouse. We're getting ready to renovate/restore the bedroom floor and are having to get creative about carving out space for closets and enlarging the 5'x6' bathroom without sacrificing some beautiful original plasterwork. We will never has as much space as more recently-built houses but we do have a dry cellar for storage.

Our house was previously owned by two hardcore Victorian restorationists, one of whom told me that they deliberately sacrificed comfort in favor of authenticity. This applied to: the tiny bathroom (bathtub only, no shower); their furniture (lots of uncomfortable chairs and sofas); their insistence on using no light bulb brighter than 40 watts; their minimal updating of the electric so that there's no outlet in the house to support a microwave, dishwasher or clothes dryer. That's a little TOO authentic for me.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2008 at 10:35PM
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Calliope, I'll join the laughter with you about the 'period' baths & kitchens in really old houses. My personal favorites are the people who insist that reproduction type stoves & refrigerators (circa 1910-1930) will be just the thing to keep my 1858 kitchen looking proper. Never mind that the kitchen was a seperate bldg. & it's been demolished for 75 years & to re-create it would mean a huge wood burning fireplace like you described & little else. I guess I'd have a servant to help, although I'm thinking more than one would be needed to keep the kitchen going not to mention the other 6 fireplaces that heated the house. I haven't heard anyone touting the attributes of a 'period' reproduction furnace.

I'm a hard core preservationist, but an old house that's 100% true to its era is a museum.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2008 at 10:58PM
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Well all of your descriptions has broadened my historical education. I was wondering why I was having trouble figuring out what material was used to make countertops 100 yrs ago...there were no countertops! Small closets and bathrooms were on my list of things I can live electrical outlets for a microwave...I def need a microwave. Thank you for the examples

    Bookmark   May 20, 2008 at 11:28PM
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When you are living in a old house chances are you are also working on it as well. On occasion because of the work being done you do go without things like power, water, a real kitchen, maybe even having a bed on a frame.
You also will on occasion go without spare cash, fancy trips or nice dinners out cause you spent the money on the house.Your marriage /relationship to your SO will be tested. If you can survive the process of living together AND working together on a old house chances are you will grow old together. Nothing test a marriage/ relationship like working on a old house. Nothing standard in the home improvement places ever fits your needs, special orders and delays become the norm.
You will also learn how to investigate and dig for information that has long been forgotten. No one lives for long in a old house without getting curious about the former owners. Soon you will be hot on the trail of the PO's finding out all you can about them. Your days when you aren't working on the house will be spent in dusty rooms looking at old books and newspaper clippings. You make a mental note to leave a trail for the next guy who has your house.
Your friends will think you are nuts, falling in love with such a old gal. They will shake their heads at some of your almost heroic efforts to revive the old girl but at the same time they will marvel at your determination.
There will ALWAYS be something for you to do in a old house so say goodbye to freetime.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2008 at 12:21AM
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What modern ammenities do you live without so you can live in your old house?

The same ones we did without when we lived in much newer construction, I suppose! We've never been into highly complicated living, so I guess we don't view our present circumstances as in any way deprived. I can't say that we're living in any true, sustained discomfort, in spite of periods where we're in the midst of some dirty, strenuous project or another. We don't have air conditioning, but since we're living in the Southwest at a moderately high elevation, we don't need it anyway--the house has great cross ventilation and stays cool enough throughout the summer. That's the only thing I can think of that might be a modern amenity that we had in the past but don't have now...
OK, one more: We have an old stone 'garage' built around 1903 that could in theory hold 2 cars, but it's located at the back of the property with access by a narrow alley. The turn to get in to the garage doors from the alley is too sharp to make without lots of maneuvering, so we really can't park our single vehicle in the garage. We have to park in the open on a concrete pad at the front, so I guess not being able to keep the truck in the garage is another inconvenience that we live with. The up side is that the garage provides great storage space for our various rehabbing materials.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2008 at 1:18AM
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carolfromny, I read your post and I thought "exactly!". You have summed up our experience with our old house to a "t" and I could relate to everything you mentioned. Somehow, it comforts me to know we are not alone!
Thanks. -Kim

    Bookmark   May 21, 2008 at 11:22AM
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My mother always said she wanted a house that opened directly on grade into the backyard. She never got it. She loved her house(c.1800)and was always lonely for it when she had to move.

I like marvelous crown mouldings. Too bad: my second floor ceilings are barely 7'3". And I'll never use the fancy door knobs I've collected. I still keep them on a shelf.
I have a stained glass piece that I saved from a house being demolished 40 years ago. It doesn't go in my c.1815 house either.
My small second floor bedrooms look very strange with most Victorian furniture. Empire is ok if it's modest.

I have no need to move. I enjoy the challenge of making the house work for us and feel right.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2008 at 5:41PM
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Having lived in my 1900 Foursquare for a few years now, I can tell you some things you most likely will learn to live without:

An attached garage. My house has a two-car detached garage, but it's all the way in the back of the property, at the end of a very long driveway. Using the garage requires a long trek from the garage, up the driveway, and around to the front door of the house, or walking up a flight of stairs to the back door of my house. In the winter, it would mean hiring someone to plow, or buying a snow blower. Instead, our garage is filled with lawn furniture and boxes and our car stays in the driveway.

A useable basement. Our house has a partially-above ground basement, but with the rubble stone foundation, the 6 foot ceilings with steam pipes running through, and the dirt floor, it's never going to be a finishable space.

En-suite master bath: Houses of this vintage very rarely will have more than one hall bath serving the upstairs. It's not always easy to add a bath, unless you want to take over a bedroom.

Super Energy Efficiency: You can certainly make an older house more efficient, but you won't ever get it to the level of a carefully-designed and constructed new house.

Wide open floor plans: Older houses don't usually have great rooms and open family room/kitchen configurations.

This is all not to say that you couldn't renovate an old house to include some of these things. However, my feeling is that if you really want all those ammenities, you'd be better off buying a new house.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2008 at 11:14AM
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Hi everyone - I'm new here, having found this site out of the anxiety I'm developing now that we are finally adding on to our 2 bdm, 1 bth 1928 Spanish bungalow. We are pushing out from the tiny box of a dining room and adding a small den and master bedroom with bath and walk-in closet. I've been so torn between staying period, and just doing what I like, it's driving me a little nuts. We've been in the house for 15 years and previous owners had already done some updating but somehow it pains me to cut into the old gal and tack on a new limb. Yet, storage space has been so tight, and I'm really tired of sharing one bathroom with three of us.

One thing I can say you sacrifice unless you update your home is number of electrical outlets. We always have had extension cords strung from here to there, under carpets, etc. to power our modern day necessities. We don't use a microwave, so at least that's not a problem. I would say updating the electrical is one of those things one can do without sacrificing an old house's charm.

Our new bath is going to be about equally as small as the old one because we want to stay true to scale, and part of me is frustrated because I sometimes dream of a big bathroom. But I love the charm and personality of my old house, and I know that if we moved into a big modern home I would feel a serious loss. So I will continue to spend thousands of dollars to spruce up our house, live with the galley kitchen and it's postage stamp window over the sink (because that's how they were built and I can't bear to mess with that feature)and other cramped spaces, and am currently attempting to "grow" it with the end result hopefully being that it will look like it was always that way. It is definitely a labor of love, not unlike having children! LOL

    Bookmark   May 25, 2008 at 4:13PM
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I can't think of any sacrifices we've had to make to live in our 1910 Craftsman. We've been here 20 years, and it's the most comfortable house I've ever lived in. We finally replaced all the knob and tube wiring last year, and have all the electricity and outlets we need. Replaced the old gravity furnace about 3 years ago, added a cold air return, and the new furnace works well. The master bath has a shower and a big cast iron clawfoot tub that holds the heat. The master bedroom is bigger than any bedroom I ever had before. Ditto the dining room.

The only major change we made was in the kitchen. I wanted a dishwasher, so we had to remove the old sink and surrounding cabinets. But they were totally trashed and had to come out anyway. The tile counters we installed and the new cabinets match the remaining old ones. And I got the dishwasher.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2008 at 12:43AM
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Reading the comments about staying "authentic" make me smile. My house started out as a claim shack built in 1875. If you think "Little House on the Prairie" you are right on the mark (DeSmet is not far from where I live).

Now I stand in the dining room and think about how it was to live with that area being the entire house.

The original occupants lived in the house with no plumbing, no wiring, no insulation and no interor walls. It's humbling to think people survived living that way through South Dakota winters.


    Bookmark   May 29, 2008 at 3:59PM
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In doing research on our house I did some reading on the 1800's in general. Many a female meet her maker after her long skirt caught fire either heating water for kitchen duties or doing the laundry.
It's no wonder the more wealthy hired help to do kitchen and laundry work, they were protecting their lives, not just their delicate backs and hands.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2008 at 6:19PM
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"I was wondering why I was having trouble figuring out what material was used to make countertops 100 yrs ago...there were no countertops!"

Welllllllll, not exactly! Get yourself a copy of Catharine Beecher's "The American Woman's Home", written in 1869, in which she advocated the fitted kitchen with "continuous work surfaces" (aka countertops). (Do ignore the religiosity and "moralizing", she was a woman of her time.) Find the version with the illustrations, you'll probably have to get it used. I was STUPID and lent mine out, and of course have never gotten it back!

There are actually quite a few good books on kitchens and baths from ~100 years ago... Jane Powell's "Bungalow Kitchens" and "Bungalow Bathrooms" are very informative and cover a much wider range in time period and housing style than just bungalows, so the titles are deceptive. There are some fantastic photos of unrestored rooms, too. One of the great things about those books is that she has both "obsessive restoration" and "compromise restoration" options. Esther Schmidt's "Victorian Kitchens & Baths" has a couple of "slave to period" kitchens/baths, some "interpretation" kitchens/baths, and some "you gotta be freakin' kidding me" ones. :-) It's mostly just for the pictures though, there are some serious factual errors. Old House Journal and Old House Interiors often feature kitchens and baths as well.

Sadly, the previous owner of our ca. 1900 millworker's house was a flipper who did some dreadful things in the name of "modernizing" so we're actually going to be going backwards on many things - the house is not really "worth" an all-out restoration (it would cost far, far more than the value of the house could ever be) but bringing back the charm and personality is important to us.

As for what to live without that many people consider "mandatory" these days, speaking only personally... I can live without glassed-in showers big enough to wash an entire football team at once, steam showers, body sprays, jacuzzis, multiple sinks, more cabinetry than the average kitchen, the notion that there must be a minimum of one full bath per resident. I do admit that I miss the warming mats under tile floors, but that's a completely invisible addition if one is already remodeling, and it's not a catastrophic loss. I miss a separate shower and tub, but again, it's a luxury rather than a necessity. I can live happily without commercial appliances in the kitchen - I have to laugh at how many of those gigantic kitchens with $25,000 in appliances are used for little more than reheating takeout, and how many people insist they absolutely must have such lavish amenities to cook a decent meal when many of our grandmothers turned out delicious Sunday dinners for a dozen with a four-burner range and a tiny fridge with a shoebox-sized freezer compartment. (I have cooked professionally in a kitchen smaller than 10x10 furnished with home-sized appliances!) Granite countertops, enough lighting for a surgical suite, breakfast bars make my "why bother" list too. I can live without the oversized two-car garage I had in my previous house, although I miss its convenience and not having to scrape ice off my car; our Model-T-sized garage is being torn down (too expensive to repair) and being replaced with a small garden shed because that's really all we NEED.

What I can't (or rather wouldn't, I've done so when I had to) live without in the kitchen is a dishwasher, a microwave, enough electrical outlets (and the capacity to have both the toaster and coffeepot on at once without blowing a circuit), a fairly basic stove and fridge, sufficient storage for basics and a functional layout. In the bathroom I absolutely require a tub in which one can take a decent bath, an adequate hot water supply and water pressure, a reasonable level of lighting and ventilation, and perhaps more important than anything else, a really good toilet! When we were househunting I did not consider any houses with only a single toilet - after one household bout of food poisoning, I required 1.5 baths!

    Bookmark   May 30, 2008 at 2:02PM
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"In doing research on our house I did some reading on the 1800's in general. Many a female meet her maker after her long skirt caught fire either heating water for kitchen duties or doing the laundry."
LOL~ wow, amazing how times have changed. I think I am in line with the majority of you guys in that I do want things that I never even realized were modern, like 1.5 baths, electrical outlets in the kitchen ect. But I can live without multiple sinks and breakfast bars.
I will look on ebay for the books mentioned because it will be helpful to have an illustrated guide to help me envision a project before it's completed.
Thank you guys. You have pointed out conviences I never thought of, given me strength to live without appliences HGTV swears will complete my life, and portrayed a tone of wisdom that tells me that once all is said and done I might be a changed woman for having gone through this process.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2008 at 3:21PM
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From OP: Maybe a better question is: What modern ammenities do you live without so you can live in your old house?

-1st floor bedrooms would be nice
-walk out, finished basement
-easy to open windows
-HVAC system that really cools the upstairs. Many older homes don't cool as well upstairs. HVAC guy once told me was due to poorly planned air returns. After we did the addition, we put a separate heating/AC unit upstairs and it's GREAT!
-Ditto on the attached garage
-2nd Floor laundry
-cathedral ceilings

We bought a 1910 center hall craftsman-colonial. In the 60's a family room was added on. When we bought it, we added a new master bed/bath above the family room. I feel like I have the best of both worlds. My new kitchen is open to the family room. My master bath has the walk in shower with steam. And I have a second floor laundry room...near all the bedrooms...NO climing stairs to do laundry! We tried to keep the addition with the character of the original house. My DH had doors custom built that matched all the others. He searched online to find our interior door knobs. Finally found a place in California that had some (we're in Ohio!). I am so glad that DH insisted on these details. They really look great.

Now, on the other hand....what would I have to give up to live in a newer home (unless it was a $$$$custom home$$$$:

-8" baseboards
-Coffered ceilings and other beautiful custom details
-Wainscotting in the dining and living rooms
-plaster walls (yes, I like them better than drywall!)
-Hinged, swing-in windows
-Amazing hardwood floors that have stood the test of time
-Solid wood beadboard ceiling on porch
-Amazing front porches

    Bookmark   June 1, 2008 at 10:21PM
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I live in a Victorian Cottage built in 1895. The town is a dead ringer for Mayberry. We have festivals, parades, eye contact and homemade everything.

Everyone tried to talk me out of buying this place. Of course I wouldn't listen. I was in a dream like state and pictured it on the cover of Southern Living.

Ever see the movie, "Money Pit"? lol

It is like a beautiful woman with mental problems. What was I thinking? Would I do it again. Depends on what day you ask me. lol again!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2008 at 12:12AM
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