The new year traditionally brings with it resolutions: we make intentions to lose weight, drink less, exercise more, be kinder or more patient or just generally be better people.
What if you were to make some resolutions for your house? Here are five ways to approach your home with increased respect and sensitivity. Houses, like people, can be mistreated, neglected, misunderstood and abused and, like people, will show the ill effects sooner or later. Here are some guidelines to avoid that.
Have nothing in your home that is not beautiful or useful.
De-cluttering is all the rage, but is still more consistently done on TV than in our own homes. Most of us have closets we don’t want to think about, cabinets crammed with mysterious stuff, furniture we don’t really like or use, knick-knacks gathering dust but not love.
Making big changes is hard, and enormous industries have sprung up to help us do that. Marie Kondo says an object should ‘spark joy’ if you want to keep it. Others espouse the notion that, if you have not used it in – three months, a year, a season – it should go.
But the simplest, and most personal way to have a home furnished with things that work for you is to ask these two questions: Is it useful? Is it beautiful?
You won’t ever throw out your favorite spatula because you reach for it whenever you are cooking. Whenever the afternoon sun illuminates your tribal rug, the colors make you smile. You love to put flowers into your grandmother’s vase because it makes the flowers look even prettier and brings fond memories. These are the things we want to surround ourselves with: things we use and things that we find beautiful. Everything else is clutter.
Before launching a costly and disruptive renovation, ask yourself some tough questions.
Begin with: do I WANT this or do I NEED this? How will the process affect my family? Our finances? Is this really the best thing for our house? Am I being swayed by peer pressure or by overly enthusiastic home décor experts?
Renovating can, of course, solve problems and make your home work better for you. But, before you undertake a project that will most certainly be more expensive, take longer and be more disruptive than anticipated, make sure you are doing the right thing for the right reasons.
Bring a skeptical sensibility to trends.
We love trends. They mark the passage of time in a very specific way and express the Zeitgeist of any moment.
But keep in mind that, the hotter the trend, the more it will look dated when its moment is past. Think of how avocado green and harvest gold appliances are the perfect representation of early 1950s interior design. Many a homeowner now regrets installing that trendy vessel sink in the bathroom. Waterfall kitchen islands were very hot a few years ago and now look very dated.
If a trendy object suits the house and your taste, and if you believe that you will still like it when its moment is past, then go for it. Otherwise, think again.
Clean your gutters, paint the trim, clear away dead trees, shovel snow, keep water from intruding.
In other words, do routine maintenance and treat your house with the respect it deserves. This is literally where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Younger and first-time homeowners are often shocked at the amount of maintenance a house requires. But another way to see these chores is as the best way to get to know your house better, to check in its condition and to give it regular TLC. You may even find yourself enjoying some of the work.
Replace house elements in kind.
If you live in a house built before 1970, be especially sensitive to the materials of its construction and, if renovating or replacing, try to match them as best as possible. A two-by-four no longer measured two inches by four inches, but rather one and one half inches by three and one half inches. This can have an enormous impact on the smallest building projects. If your windows are good, clean wood and glass, do not replace them with vinyl windows; they will never fit properly. If you have old clapboards or shingles, do not encase them in aluminum or vinyl; that will promote rot and mold. Replace them with real clapboards or shingles.
Treat the elements of your house with respect and your house will reward you with shelter for years to come.
I learned about historic houses from the best: owners who lovingly preserved and restored them, and preservationists who shared their knowledge. When I first began to write about old houses, I depended on the generous help of people who care about the past, and about how we can learn from it. They taught me the difference between timber and balloon framing, Greek Revival and Italianate house styles, and the unrivaled value of old-growth wood. That led to a career as a freelance design writer with a specialty in historic architecture and the history of the American and European decorative arts. After two decades of writing about historic architecture for a number of publications, I have yet to be bored, either by old houses, or their owners