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The Pampering Know How of Old Houses

Aug 7, 2008
I grew up in old houses, beginning with one that had Corinthian columns holding up its wrap around porch. It had six fire places and tall ceilings. The stair case wrapped around the hall so that you could lower a basket with a rope from the top to the bottom and play post office. Despite the fact I lived in Kentucky, which is outrageously hot during the summer, inside the house always felt ten degrees cooler even though there was no central air.

Now I live in an eighty-year old house, built with an arts and crafts sensibility. It has two stained glass windows that have stood the test of time--many houses in this neighborhood had them but they got broken. It has unpainted woodwork in most rooms and the upstairs flooring is made of heart pine--which cannot currently be obtained because it is an endangered species.

Old houses offer challenges. Mine has vestiges of knob and tube wiring original to the house and not enough electrical sockets for our technological age. It has two closets: the "large" one is four feet wide and two feet deep. The "small" closet is so shallow that you cannot get a coat hanger in it. The house was built in the days when women had an every day dress and a Sunday dress. When I get something new, I get rid of something old.

Another challenge is wallpaper. When I moved in, the house had three or four layers of old wall papers. They really knew how to make sticky paste in those days! It took days and days and days to scrape the walls of three rooms. I soaked the paper with vinegar and with soap and water and I tried to score the paper so it would absorb liquid. That only turned the task from impossible to extremely difficult. Beneath the wallpaper were lathe and plaster walls.

I think these are an advantage--or maybe I have just gotten used to making repairs on these walls rather than using drywall. I had some big holes, but with enough plaster, I managed to sculpt the ceilings and walls to their original contours.

Then there is the paint on the woodwork in the kitchen. Originally it was 1920's green, an enamel paint that almost assuredly has lead in it. Then another couple of layers. Then some bright person put latex over the enamel and other people put several layers of various colors of paint over the latex. The upper layers come off in large chips (3-6") at the point where latex meets oil-based. I have yet to discover the kind of paint stripper that will remove the bottom layers. I was despairing of the walls (more latex over enamel) until I decided I will wallpaper the kitchen...some day.

That's the thing with old houses--they always need something. I need a bathroom floor and a kitchen floor (is it a problem that there are two layers of linoleum, a layer of tile and a layer of underlayment currently on the kitchen floor?). On the other hand, this house has held up under storms and various kinds of fierce weather. I think it will keep me safe and warm for a very long time.
About the Author
Chris Jensen is a contributing author of Jetfly Blog. For more related articles and views visit Jetfly Home & Garden Blog now. Also, for the best up-to-date related online products, check out Jetfly Home Decor & Accents Shop for todays current online deals.
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