Restoring an old house is a task quite different from remodeling a garden-variety tract house. It's more akin to brain surgery: before you start working, you'd better be sure you know what you're doing, or else you're liable to screw things up.

We've learned a great deal during this century about how to build houses safer, more comfortable and more resistant to the ravages of the environment. At the same time, unfortunately, we seem to have forgotten how to build houses that evidence the human touch: character, craftsmanship, and grace. Presumably, one chooses an old house over a modern one because of these finer, more ineffable qualities. The basic goal of any restoration, then, must be to give the house the benefit of as many modern improvements as is possible without affecting adversely those qualities that give an old house its personality. The paramount considerations are of course the survival of the house and the safety of its inhabitants. Beyond this, retaining of the house's overall character must be given precedence over modernizing its structure and functionality; anyone who finds this rule too limiting is better off remodeling a newer house after the style of an old house.

With this rule in mind, the process of restoring an old house must begin with an understanding of what precisely gives the old house its particular character. One must familiarize himself with such matters as the house's architectural style and the way its designer expected the house would be utilized. It is also a good idea to learn something of the house's history and original condition, mainly because it is usually necessary to undo ill-conceived "improvements" that stick out like a sore thumb and themselves diminish the house's character.

In our case, the original condition of the Farm House is for the most part readily apparent, because with the exception of the kitchen so little has been done to obscure it. But we knew very little about Victorian houses when we bought the place, so the first thing we did was try to learn something about Victorian residential architecture and lifestyle.

Next: Victorians and Their Homes

Return to Table of Contents