Taking a second look at an old house, or, Why not try something besides the modern box?
Personally, I’m a modern house girl. I love glass walls, absence of ornament, serious construction simplicity, and intense colors and textures derived from their materials. BUT, I can’t deny that I LOVE the idea of fixing old houses. It kills me to see handcrafted woodwork and houses full of stories just turned into dumpster filler. I also know, however, that many of those vintage houses were, at the time they were built, produced by the hundreds and thousands. They were today’s ‘modern box’ home, put up by developers to make profit and house a growing population. Trends come and go and wax and wane, and being involved in the Chicago real estate market has me keeping my eye on where the inventory is going, and I think I see a few too many of the modern boxes out there - maybe it’s time for the trends to turn a bit. When I go in them, I feel like they are just a coat of white paint away from the raw and unfinished drywall. The white walls, white slab cabinets, white bathrooms, maybe a room painted off-gray just for variety. I can see the value in leaving a blank slate to the buyer, and I hope that lots of new owners come in and give them the personality that they are ready for, but I can also see how a buyer would get a little fatigued from seeing so much blank space. I look at the prices of new homes, and the prices of homes ready for renovation in the same area, and I think it really is worth looking at saving more of the old homes and preserving some variety in the housing stock. If you’ve got the time to wait before you move in, finding that relic on a good block and putting your big huge stamp on it can be SO satisfying. If you’re lucky, and it’s got some old millwork and details in it that can be preserved, the texture and personality that results from blending that into your modern or retro renovation will be so rewarding! If there isn't much left inside that hasn't already been poached, ruined, tossed, or modified in the lackluster design decades of the 80’s an 90’s, now’s your chance to breathe full new life into that property - maybe even go full solar and make the rear elevation totally glass, but preserve the front elevation and restore the paint scheme that might have been there in 1890 (spoiler alert, it WAS NOT WHITE). So many possibilities!
Every time I come downtown lately, I get off at a different exit and snake back and forth through the streets, looking at the opportunities that reveal themselves, and feeling how a neighborhood might be changing. I take Divvy bikes around and have found dead end streets and converted alleys that present so many great options for creative living spaces in forgotten old houses. I also see really excellent examples of new builds, and their shoddily built counterparts, that take advantage of the ‘minimalist’ trend as an excuse to build cheap junk that will surely not last 100 years, like the worker cottages and greystones have. Yesterday I was part of a big group talking about the bigger-bigger-bigger trend among teens who want to ask someone to homecoming or prom, in which the more elaborate and exhausting the planning is, the better - and I said ‘maybe this has all gone too far now, and the REAL way to stand out and ask your date is to just walk up to them in the cafeteria and say 'hey you want to go to homecoming and get some tacos before the dance?’ I think perhaps the same is true with the exploding real estate around Chicago - maybe the next trend is to keep what we have, work with it, not fill quite so many dumpsters, and sprinkle the city with more unique homes as opposed to block after block of identical boxes.
If you’re reading this, does this resonate with you? If so, do you have a favorite example of a renovated house that really hits the mark for your taste and inspires you? I’d love to check it out!