Monday, April 18, 2005

A Great Injustice

I realize that not everyone’s idea of what to do to a house, specifically an old house, is the same as mine. There are many styles to chose from. I’m sure there are people who see the things I do and they roll their eyes and think, “Come on buddy, it’s the 21st Century”. However, it just seems wrong to do irreversible harm to a house because you are following the latest trend that will no doubt be out of fashion in a decade or so. In the mean time what was taken out is lost forever.

Case in point. I went to an open house on Sunday of a late Victorian home. It was a gut remodel. Naturally, they removed walls and made The Great Room. I don’t know when this trend started but I can’t wait until its over. I’m sure there are people reading this that love The Great Room concept. It is fine with me if you want to build a new home and have The Great Room. I would never buy it, but there are a lot of people that would, so Go Hog Wild. On Sunday I walked through the front door of a late 19th Century home and entered The Great Room of an early 21st Century tract house.

To add insult to injury they also removed all of the original trim and replaced it with 1X3 finger jointed wood covered in fake plastic oak tape. No doubt what was there was 1X6 casings, 1X12 baseboards, and nice corner blocks and plinth blocks. It probably had more than its share of paint and some dings here and there. Still, it seems that the original trim could have been fixed up and repaired for less or as much than it costs to demolish and replace with a far inferior product. Why would you replace a solid wood product that can last almost forever with a product that is going to be damaged easily and may not even be able to hold up to regular cleaning? The reason they did it was because it was cheaper and faster. We are a very wasteful society.

Lets fast forward to the year 2030. A new episode of This Old House is on CNBCPBS. Norm and Steve walk in to a late Victorian home to give it the once over to see if the show can do the project.

Norm: Well what do you think Steve.

Steve: Well Norm, I’ve got to tell you this is not what I expected. All the pictures I see of these old homes they have parlors and dining rooms. This is just one big open space.

Norm: You’re right Steve, that is probably what was here before. This looks like a remodel done about 20 or 30 years ago. The big trend at the turn of the Century was The Great Room. The idea was to combine cooking, eating, and entertainment spaces in to one big space.

Steve: Sounds like a fun idea.

Norm: Yes, you would think, but people found that it was hard to find privacy. The daughters trying to do homework at the dining room table while the son is playing video games and Mom’s cooking dinner.

Steve: Yes, I see what you mean. I can also imagine that if you had fish for dinner that night you pretty much had to smell it the rest of the evening while you were watching 3DNetV.

Norm: Oh sure, then there was also the noise of the dishbot and the humm of the fridgbot. You just couldn’t get away from anything. And you can forget about leaving clean up for later. Everything was right there. This Old House did a few of them but they were done in large homes where there were other spaces in the house besides The Great Room and bedrooms. It just doesn’t work in a smaller home

Steve: Ok, so The Great Room concept is out. What are we going to do now with this house.

Norm: Well, the current owners want to put it back the way it was. They want separate spaces for entertaining, dining, and cooking.

Steve: And that’s were we come in. So can we do it.

Norm: Well, yes and no. We can build the walls no problem. You have to understand, though, that when this house was built there was lots of wood work in here and were not talking skimpy stuff. Multiple layers of wood. Very fancy stuff. It would cost a fortune to replace all that today if you could even find that much old growth wood.

Steve: I see your point, and look at this stuff they replaced it with. It looks like it was ready for the trash pile 10 years ago. So what do you think happened to all the original wood work?

Norm: They probably just threw it all away,

Steve: Boy, what a waste.

PS This is not the original Norm and Steve. These are the latest robot hosts of the show that just happen to be named Norm and Steve.


Heather said...

Amen Brother!

Jocelyn said...

Ditto here- I don't care for "great rooms" either. And removing the woodwork- I see that all the time around here in these condo rehabs. It's the few and far between that even keep the solid wood doors in them. It's a shame more people don't have the aesthetics to demand better. Same thing with the cinderblock sides on new construction here- if people would refuse to buy it, it wouldn't exist.

mindy said...

Yes! As the owner of two very pesky dogs, I LOVE having spaces that are seperate. I can shut them out of (or into) various rooms throughout the house and control the damage. I imagine with small kids it's the same way.

Plus, you have more fun decorating since you can create unique little identities for the various spaces, instead of one giant beige room!

derek said...

It seemed to start with lofts, people wanting this open concept. I guess our house is more open than it was originally, since a lot of the doors have been removed. I really don't like the open concept, for the reasons mentioned above. I see old houses being ruined in the same ways around here.

Kasmira said...

I'm not fond of great rooms either. The only thing I like about them is that you could have more light with the windows on multiple sides of the house opening into a central area.
Whatever happened to the atrium concept? (Central "hole to the sky" with plantings, viewed on four sides by floor to ceiling windows.) Is that 1970s too?

Jenifer Runowski said...

I feel the same exact way - I just looked at a Victorian that was a foreclosure, investor bought it cheap, tore out all of the beautiful original woodwork and painted it one blah color. My blood just continued boiling as I looked at the old pictures of the once gorgeous home and the crap they were trying to sell for double the amount they paid for it. Sacrilege