Never the Same River Twice

Architect Edward Hollis has a new book , The Secret Lives of Buildings.  Writing about famous buildings, he argues that buildings, even monumental and iconic ones, as everything else, must be adapted for changing needs. How much more so our homes.

I have been reading Reviving Old Houses, a very practical but wryly amusing book by Alan Dan Orme, for those of us who are adapting old houses to our present comfort.  While he tells you what tools you need and how to shore up sagging plaster, the heart of the book is the philosophy- how to set priorities and how to lovingly build on the past.  Some bits from his rules on restoring, improving, or remodeling:


What is within reach financially and practically

Visible features that especially delight you

Items that will not require the destruction of perfectly sound improvements of a former owner


All systems, such as plumbing, heating, and electric, when they require replacement

Strategic matters of convenience

Those areas that will dramatically reduce energy and maintenance costs


What you perceive was inexpressibly ugly even when new
What has been irrevocably and poorly remodeled by former owners

This is the approach we have been taking, with this and our previous houses – keep or restore the beautiful, improve the practical, do away with the ugly, bearing in mind the purpose is our own comfort and satisfaction with the house as a home, not an object or art or history.  We are only the fourth family in this house, in close to a hundred years, but for each family, every year, the house has changed with the times and the inhabitants, so it is never the same house.  Knowing the history and the influences on its form is fascinating, but history is no reason to keep that which is not practical or beautiful (and preferably, both).