Old Home Habits
I have been an old house lover since I was a child. The first home I remember was an early 20th century house that my parents rented. I recall being disappointed in the house my parents purchased when we moved to Davenport in 1968. It was one of the post World War II houses that sprang up in communities across the nation. I adjusted. And through them, I felt the sense of pride homeownership provides.
While growing up, family vacations included museums and landmarks historic to the area. I begged to visit old homes and my younger brothers endured more than a few tours. The habit of touring old homes continues to this day. There is no better way to get a feel for the history of an area than by touring a home being preserved by the community.
The early years of our marriage involved very little money and there was not a budget line item for the technology known as cable. Remember the days when the television choices involved the big three networks as well as public television? It was during that time that we became aware of “This Old House” on IPTV and I learned that my husband was also intrigued by old homes. Bonus!
A conversation with a co-worker in 1986 yielded an article published in “The Iowan” magazine about the Des Moines neighborhood of Sherman Hills. A handful of homeowners were working hard to overcome urban blight. I nearly memorized every word of that feature and still possess the copy of the magazine.
That article was our inspiration as we ventured into the world of Old Home Ownership. After my husband Chris finished his masters in 1988 at the University of South Dakota, we decided to explore the possibility of higher salaries and a return to Iowa. A school district in a community west of Des Moines Adel- offered Chris a job and we jumped at the opportunity.
With our twenty-something energy and a promise from my dad to help with sweat equity, we bought our first old house an 1896 Four Square – 5 colors of roof shingles and all. That is when we began living the life of restorationists. More than one of our children’s birthday party pictures included the dove gray background of dry wall. We tended to that house for 12 years before a job promotion moved us to Sac City.
Much to the dismay of your children, the next house we bought was built in 1917 and did not have central air conditioning a feature we had just added to our Adel house. I like to think they adjusted. We lovingly made improvements, replacing the kitchen, updating the bathrooms and giving the whole place of fresh coat of love. We did turn a few heads when we removed the 1970’s aluminum siding and restored the wood clapboard siding, but folks soon learned what we were about. We turned the small back yard into a mini park and had lots of fun in that house. Both our children graduated High School while we lived in Sac City and it was that house that sent Chris off to fight in the war against terrorism and welcomed him home.
The story of our family seems to revolve around employment opportunities for Chris and when we moved to Cedar Rapids in 2006, we got to do what I like most about moving looking at houses! And did we look. We thought about downsizing our children were in college and it was just the two of us. We failed at the downsizing mission. But for seven years, we loved and tended to yet another old house. It was the perfect size for hosting family gatherings and someone else had completed most of the really hard work. The second floor was tired and most of our energy went into giving a facelift to the sleeping areas.
Our move to Palo Alto County last summer afforded us another opportunity to house hunt. We toyed with buying a place in the country Chris is a farm boy at heart, but didn’t find anything that struck our fancy. So we landed on a house, not too unlike the home my parents first bought in 1968. We like to say that we have joined the middle 20th century in regards to old home living. By definition, any house over 50 years old falls into the category of old.
As we look forward to spring, we are formulating plans for an addition to our new old home. True to our restorationist’s roots, we will maintain the integrity of the house as it was originally built but add a space that better fits our needs. Nearly 30 years after discovering we shared a love for old homes, Chris and I still watch “This Old House” and hope our work does our homes proud.