is the whole place going colonial or what?

old_house_j_i_mNovember 3, 2011

Maybe its me, maybe it's not, but, has anyone noticed that the majority of renovations that we old house owners tend to undo are modern misinterpretations of colonial revival ? And when you go to get replacement parts (for your 1904 Prairie home that someone tried to make a 1954 center hall colonial), all you are offered is white plastic colonial parts and you end-up making what you need, yourself.

The plastic eagles ... the scroll pediments ... even vinyl siding tends to model from "colonial" buildings. A quick walk through HD and L's left me feeling like everyone should have an all-colonial-white, plastic colonial box for a house, with the inside painted "new-construction-easy-resale-beige" (because thats what the colonists had, too ...) with glossy bleached-out white trim - even in an old Queen Anne, or Prairie house.

Then the new issue of TOH showed up on our doorstep (my S.O. loves that mag ... i use it as a trivet for hot food) and everything in there seemed to followed the same mantra: "redo it in a colonial style ... or you're stupid".

Its almost like you shouldn't think - just do as your told, and make it colonial. Even new construction is bad-renditions of pseudo-colonial plastic white crappy what-have-you.

in the past there was cool, interesting architecture. Even old real colonial revival houses (1875-1920) are great houses. Now it seems to be just "one plastic trick pony" colonial ... everywhere.

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Magazines, TV and movies which all influence what we buy have to sell so if you are looking for original thought those are not the places to look. They play to the masses and to their advertisers as do the box stores.
If you want different do different.
Yes, it can cost more but then so does anything that isn't following what the masses are buying.
It can be done but it takes time and lots of patiences and a very good relationship with your craftsmen.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2011 at 5:03PM
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I admit, it had never occured to me - & likely wouldn't have... But I "see it", now.
How many new-built houses do we see going (temporarily) up, that are of different design origin? Even in the "Historically Preserved" area down the street, an empty lot was purchased, new house built to period spec's... Colonial style.
It's not about people in this forum - homeowners here generally know colonial from Victorian from Tudor from Greek from Federal, etc, & what they have... (I'm still confused - I think what I have is a house.. Haven't got past that, for certain). It's about "other people", wanting what they're selling, and they are selling "Colonial"... Mission/Arts-&-crafts was big for a while, but wasn't that only furnishings & such? Who's seen a NEW Craftsman style home built, lately?
Is it because all new houses have to be HUGE, & that's the style that can be as big as they require & still look natural?

    Bookmark   November 3, 2011 at 8:18PM
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I like cottages, but not shabby chic. I don't want to paint my brick fireplace white. I like the brick :)

Jim- The plastic look, may have evolved from all the DIY popularity...why use wood, if you're going to paint it? I like wood and I wish we saw more craftman details, whether it was going to be painted, or not. I actually like white/cream trim, but wood not plastic.

Since I live on a farm, I will have some plastic/vinyl choices, just for ease of maintenance. Probably vinyl 'wood' floors and laminate countertops...but that doesn't mean I want plastic trims and ceiling decor. I mean, who's walking on that with muddy boots? :)

    Bookmark   November 3, 2011 at 9:45PM
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Jim, I was vaguely aware of the trend, but hadn't really focussed on it--but you are right! I notice though, that it is also now applicable to Craftsman and Victorian styles. :(

Let something become popular, and people out to cash in on the trend will produce cheap (or worse, expensive) items just to make themselves some money. I won't point fingers, but have you noticed in most of the websites out there on these styles that there are about five or six designs of things in various sizes, no matter who the seller is?

What is sad, is that the Craftsman style was about handcrafted items--and that is sadly gone in the vast majority of products sold today. And don't get me started on the Victorian items out there--same thing again, just a few to choose from at whatever price--while period catalogues could have dozens if not more designs of similar items!

Small wonder many people here (me included) haunt antique shops, flea markets and the rare salvage yards for items to add/repair details of our homes! You might pay more from some of these dealers, but what you get is usually pretty well guaranteed to be unique.

Makes me want to rummage around in my garage to see if I can find my porch light--removed because it was rusty, and to get the bulb out you had to have the size hands of a four year old!

    Bookmark   November 3, 2011 at 10:57PM
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Im a little less frenetic today ... thanks to your somewhat calming, agreeable, replies. Its sometimes as if the colonial revival was the only house style, ever. I think I'm frustrated by the lack of honest, unbiased, educational pioneering direction on the part of public figures in Home design in general, and the "packaging" of everything in a colonial wrapper so it will "sell". Those of you who remarked about DIY (tv and mags) ruining things really hit on a big part of the problem: the producers of these shows and publishers of these mags do one thing: sell ads, but consumers read or watch and really believe what they are saying, true or not.

For instance: I just tore up what I am sure was a TV-show inspired DIY tiled porch floor that the POs did. And I bet it was presented as a "colonial" home improvement. The grout lines varied from 1/4 to 2 inches wide. Come on. Were these people lazy, misinformed or just blinded by the glimmer of a shiny new floor that they saw some "decorator" excrete on Trading Spaces (is that show still on ?)? Thankfully the original wood T&G porch floor was under it, still in great condition.

I guess the main part of my frustration is the lack of education in deference to sales of a product. Excepting the folks on here, cause you're obviously interested in learning more just by signing in, most just turn on the tv and take whatever they are told as true. Or they walk into HD and buy whatever new product needs a push in sales. Last night, in fact, I saw a national news story on the recently fallen Redwood tree and what to do with it. The newscaster said that redwoods are the largest living thing in the world, and my newswatching companion believed it because it was on the news. Come on, a quick Google search by a school child reveals that the coral reefs and aspen groves are bigger. Does no one fact check, anymore?

For a goof I sometimes read my mother-in-laws cast off copies of Traditional Home or Victorian Homes magazines and circle the inaccuracies. I have yet to send them back to the publishers. How I long for the original house restoration boom that started back in CA in the 70's, where people really dug into how to do it the original way, in an effort to restore correctly, rather than just do whats easily available at the home center. (and yes, i shop at them, a lot, ha ha)

I am NO EXPERT on home restoration, in fact, I know I have tons to learn, but I do read a lot of books on home restoration (not renovation) and I have hundreds of books on the subject. I am always so glad to tune in here and find real, thoughtful, honest, sometimes hard to swallow, facts and debates ... thanks

    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 12:07PM
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Circus Peanut

Oh, it's so true. I finally went with exterior fir rail stock to replace the ghastly white candlestick spindles that were installed on my indoor late-Craftsman staircase.

Part of it is also the demographics of the old house market, isn't it, perhaps? There are a lot of 1970's colonial builds in the median-income neighborhoods most likely to stop at a big-box store. If you've got a humbler old house, like I do (a small bungalow) in a traditional working-class neighborhood, the items available to this demographic are definitely cheap Colonial style, from the dentil molding to the windows (don't get me started on replacement windows!) to the heat registers. And if not WHITE plastic, it's very cheap finger-jointed pine intended to be painted WHITE. Ugh.

I've found it is possible to find higher-end reproductions of Victorian or Craftsman items, albeit at a much higher price level (although you're right, there are always about exactly 2 variations to choose from and they're invariably out of my financial reach). But if you've got something Edwardian or Nouveau or Tudor, I think you're right out of luck.

Of course, as an alternative, there are always those faux Victorian big-box doors with fake beveled leaded glass panels, if you really want to splurge ... And honestly, around here, that's kind of the aspirational ideal, regardless of house style - ugly as those doors are, maybe that itself is a less style-conscious effort to avoid the everpresent Colonial?

    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 12:48PM
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Many of the 'experts' (Realtors being a main culprit) bandying the term 'colonial' don't seem to have a clue that it refers to the days when the US was a colony, or shortly thereafter, & houses of the period were relatively small & plain. Every old house to them is Colonial or Victorian. And the term 'Revival' is simply lost to them!

    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 2:43PM
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Colonial is safe. Most people "understand" it. It takes a little more education and experience to appreciate some of the other styles -- although pseudo-"Victorian" (usually very poorly done) had a run a few years ago.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 6:35PM
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It's not a matter of style; it's a matter of cost. Home Depot is unlikely to be able to sell much walnut or mahogany casing trim suitable for a clear finish. These stores are for do-it-yourselfers or small contractors who are willing to pay somewhat discounted retail prices for small quantities of medium grade natural and imitative materials because of the convenience or in some cases the fact that wholesale suppliers won't sell to them.

If you are looking for authentic restoration materials for all architectural styles speak to an architects or contractors who specializes in that work. Online much of the materials available are Victorian and they are usually expensive so they are rarely found in retail outlets.

The trick is to find out who makes, distributes, or installs the good stuff and to get their web address. I saw a beautifully restored truck last week owned by a contractor who installs wooden gutters. It's all out there if you are willing to search for it.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2011 at 12:05PM
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I think some areas of the country have a plethora of colonial styled homes and it is a pretty safe style. In the west, you don't see as many because many of the houses are newer, 1950s-1960s and newer. Most have common baseboards and window trim, which are sold at the big box stores.

My 1908 house is a colonial revival with craftsman influence. Other than picture rail, I could never find replacement stuff for my house in CO. I've found what I need via the internet though.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2011 at 1:34PM
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Hi, Newbie here. As you can tell from my name, we don't own a Colonial.

I think there is a lot to do with geography when it comes to this topic. A lot of the new builds in CA are advertised as "Spanish" or "Craftsman". As an owner of a vintage home, I look at these new communities and wonder exactly how they qualify as such.

I agree that, no matter what style your vintage home is, it can be difficult to find parts - even if you're not going to do the work DIY. I find stuff on Ebay, flea markets, architectural salvage - lots of work online. We're about to do an addition and are using vintage hardware, doors and lighting - but new bath fixtures, for example. In our bathroom remodel, we used a 1924 corner tub and everything else was new.

I also am less of a purest in that I think one of the great things about older homes is that they have had the chance to evolve over time just like the things I've acquired to fill it. For me it's about being sympathetic when making changes to the house, but also being creative while trying to keep the materials at the same level as what's currently there.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2011 at 11:37AM
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I have noticed that, Colonial is the "in" thing

    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 3:11PM
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The history of home design in America in the 20th century provides an answer to your question.

The link below sums it up well.

The last paragraph says: "The Colonial Revival is so firmly established throughout the United States that it has become the default style of architecture and home furnishings. It is not stagnant - each generation tweaks it a little, borrowing what it needs from the past to inspire the present - but it is constant, having "held its place in spite of the battering of other styles and other times, "as a magazine editor said in 1937. Synonymous with good taste, tradition, and American values, the Colonial Revival endures."

Here is a link that might be useful: The Past That Never Dies

    Bookmark   November 29, 2011 at 9:56AM
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