Loving the house you’re in

A very dear neighbor of mine has been renovating/updating her home, which was once practically identical to mine. She needed a bathroom on the ground floor: I understand that completely. It’s a real problem for many living in these Philly rowhouses having just one bathroom on the second floor. She tells me that others on the block are going to follow her lead and do the same even though the only space you can squeeze a powder room into these little houses is adjacent to the dining room. She made hers discreet by putting the door behind the basement door.

But now she tells me she wants to have stucco put over her brick facade. I reminded her that stucco needs to be painted every few years, but she brushed that off. The point is: three houses on the block that were recently renovated have stucco on them and she wants that look, too.

My latest favorite blog is called Just Me With. It’s written by a brilliantly funny young woman. In her post entitled An Argument Against the Open Floor Plan, she writes: “On every home makeover show, every real estate show, they talk about how everyone loves the open floor plan. … Homeowners are forever busting through walls to open the kitchen to the family room and eliminating the dining room altogether.”

She then goes on to explain why an open floor plan is the silliest thing in the world, for one thing because it means you have to keep your kitchen clean ALL THE TIME in case someone rings the doorbell and, for another, there’s no place in your home to retreat to for some quiet. Read it. She knows what’s she’s talking about. She has five or six kids.

I found Just Me With while reading the Old House Guy blog. He writes, in 11 Reasons Against an Open Kitchen Floor Plan, “It is said that the open kitchen floor plan is probably the single largest and most widely embraced home design change over the past 50 years.” Don’t take my word for it. Read his article. And here’s another one that’s pretty entertaining.

But aside from the impracticalities, the open floor plan is simply a FAD. In twenty years or less, people will be building walls again. Who will profit from this? Home improvement stores, of course. In twenty years or less, granite countertops will be passé, stainless steel appliances will need to be replaced by something awful — brown or green from the 70s or 80s maybe — and where will those things end up when everyone decides they need to follow the next new fad? The great granite countertop graveyard somewhere, I suppose.

The Old House Guy can get a little pedantic at times, like quoting John Ruskin: “. . . Old buildings are not ours. … The dead still have their right in them: That which they labored for . . . we have no right to obliterate.” I won’t go that far, but then again, I teared up when I saw this article about a house in Queens that was truly obliterated.

Yes, this house, which had belonged to a woman who worked to preserve the old houses in her neighborhood:


And after she passed away, it was bought and turned into this McMansion from Hell:


If you don’t see the problem here, then you are reading the wrong blog! 🙂 Go check out McMansion Hell and read up on a thing called “aesthetics,” please.

Keeping up with the Joneses is now keeping up with HGTV. Like, “Double Sinks in the Master Bath – Must We Have Them? Really?” and “My Refrigerator Broke. Do I Really Need a Fancy, Stainless Steel, New One?” I sure don’t!

I’m not saying you can’t update your kitchen. But kitchen updates cost A LOT OF MONEY. Are you doing it because you need more cabinet space, your appliances don’t work or JUST because you might be watching too many TV shows about people updating kitchens? The old house guy says that on average, homeowners report that a kitchen remodel costs $20,556. And:

Outdated kitchens … are usually remodeled every 20 years or so.  This cycle keeps the home improvement businesses making money while the cost can weigh heavy on the homeowner. Many times it may seem like a homeowner is finally getting caught up with remodeling debt and it’s time to do it again. Keeping up the resale value creates a sacrifice of vacations and other places this money could be used.


You can say good-bye to remodeling your kitchen with a Vintage, Classic, or Retro, (whatever you prefer to call it) Timeless Kitchen. … The short answer is to match your kitchen to the period and style of the architecture of the house. … Once your kitchen is brought back to the age of your house it will remain a timeless classic. … A vintage or retro kitchen will never be “out of date or out of style” again. … It will be cool, interesting, and fun, as a result your guests will remember it and tell others about it – believe me.

Now, if I wanted to match my kitchen to the 1920s when it was built, it might end up like this:


That’s going a tad too far, don’t you think? Even old house guy doesn’t recommend that! (Plus, they don’t deliver ice nowadays for that icebox!)

But a house from the same era near me was on the market and one of the highlights in its real estate listing was this retro-renovated kitchen:

beautiful west mt airy kitchen

If that appeals to you, you’ll find everything you need or don’t need to know about retro-renovation and loving the house you’re in on the website I use as a guideline all the time,


wait for it….

Retro Renovation!

Their focus is on mid-century homes, which mine isn’t. But I decided my kitchen could be and one day will be. I’ll keep you posted.

The other day, on the neighborhood FB group, a realtor, I suppose, posted a listing for a row house with a layout that was once just like mine. I had to really refrain from commenting on it in the vein of, “OMG, what have you done? Whaaaah!” Because everyone, EVERYONE thinks this house is gorgeous, of course.

2018-07-05 18.05.17.png

The doorways and walls between all three rooms on the ground floor were torn out. Leaving ONE BIG FAMILY ROOM. What’s the point? Houses like these (and mine) have no entry foyer, the stairs are IN the living room, there’s no mudroom. This renovation was based solely on some false aesthetic and for the sake of pretty pictures for a real estate listing and not on the practicalities of life. The only places you can “escape” to if, say, you have three kids watching TV, are the basement or your bedroom. You can’t just shut the kitchen door and chug a bottle of wine in privacy.


* * *

I’m heartened and encouraged that there are websites like that of the Old House Guy and Just Me With and Retro Renovation and we’ve not all become television renovation show zombies.


On my street, there are row houses that were built in the mid-1920s for working families. They are small and simple. Over the years, the demographics have changed and I’d say most of the people on my block are middle aged or retired professionals. Lots of former teachers! Maybe half of the houses are rentals, as mine formerly was. The tenants are younger couples and families with little kids (I love that!).

The street is on a slope, so every two houses are a little higher (or lower depending on your direction) than the two next to them. One set has a bump-out over the porch with a hip roof, the next has a bump-out over the porch with a gabled roof. Almost, but not quite like this old, old photo of a street in another part of Philly:


I just put that in for the old car and the selling price ($5450!).

No, our houses aren’t as wide and our houses were built with big porches on the front.

Almost every gabled house on my block today has aluminum or vinyl siding covering the gable, like mine. Vinyl siding is just about the most awful thing there is, in my book. And in the Old House Guy’s book, too, as you can read up on here. His titles! This one is “The Effect of Vinyl Siding on the Appearance of Your House and How it Can Change Your Beautiful Neighborhood Into a Trailer Park.”

But a couple of the houses on my block have not had their gables covered in siding and they look like this:


And this:


By now you know what my future project is, right?

Number 1, I’m going to remove the hazardous vinyl siding from the front of my house. From the gable and the porch. I’m gonna see what’s hiding under there! And I hope very much to find what is seen in these pictures. And then I’m going to restore it. Not that crusty looking brown and not all white but also not some crazy color combination. Something easy on the eye, maybe the Tudor-style beams in white and the stucco a beige or sesame hue.

Number 2, I’m going to replace the four broken, crooked or unlockable, cheap plastic windows on the front of my house (three upstairs and one in the living room next to the front door) with old-style, long-lasting wood windows like Heirloom sells. Just for the sake of BEAUTY.

I’m not sure when I will do this. I’m not sure if, for instance, that project will be given priority over the ugly upstairs bathroom.

It might! I may be wrong, but think that ever since I began working on my porch and garden, my neighbors seem to be putting just a TAD more effort into theirs. They don’t want the new lady’s house to look better or tidier than theirs (if you can call my porch and garden “tidy”)!

So, if my neighbors like “keeping up” with one another, I want to show them my idea of how the houses on this street could look: pretty close to the way they were designed to look by someone who put some thought into it 90-some years ago.

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