I love old houses. All different kinds of old houses—cottages, castles, bungalows and beach huts. I especially love old houses that look as if they belonged in an earlier century of the English countryside. Brick and stone are my favorites, although I also have a weakness for the clean lines of 19th century American farmhouses.
Built in the 1920s, the house I have lived in and owned (with the mortgage company) for the past 35 years is a two-story Tudor bungalow with brick first floor and white-painted clapboards for the second. It has a finished full basement with fieldstone fireplace and a third-story attic. It also has lots of built-in storage, a marble fireplace surround with walnut mantel, walnut moldings throughout the house, wood floors, and large rooms with high ceilings. It has a screened side sleeping porch and a balcony off the second floor, plus a separate two-car garage and quite long front and back yards.
I should be in heaven, right? Then, why do I dream of my sister’s new apartment? When the last of her children moved out, she left her house and moved into an apartment complex where someone else mows the yard and repairs appliance and building problems. She has sparkling new appliances that work perfectly and tons of kitchen storage. (The built-in storage of my old house tends to be in halls and rooms away from the kitchen where it’s desperately needed.)
I’m tired. Tired of doors that don’t close completely
or close and won’t re-open. Tired of the plumber and other repairmen having to go to extra lengths to find parts for my house where everything is non-standard in size and shape and, thus, more expensive. Tired of the shortage of electrical outlets in every room. Tired of having to shut down the computer for the duration of thunderstorms—even the most advanced surge protectors can’t prevent the power outages and spikes we get in this old neighborhood. Tired of all the juryrigged construction, electrical, and plumbing workarounds that come back to haunt the modern owner. Tired of paying a fortune for tuckpointing on that brick first floor.
I still love my house—when I regard it with unbiased eyes—and consider myself lucky to have it. But when I visit people who live in new places without so many of these problems, places they’ve often had a hand in designing to meet the needs of their lives, I indulge in daydreams of leaving my old house behind and living somewhere with a kitchen designed for pleasurable cooking, somewhere that doesn’t always have 25 various repairs needed at any one time.
Sometimes for fun, my husband and I drive through neighborhoods in the city looking at houses. Kansas City’s good for this because it has so many distinct neighborhoods and great housing stock. We’ll drive through the wealthier neighborhoods, and I’ll point to a house I really like and say, “Someday we’ll live there.” Without fail, it’s an old house, probably even older than mine.
So the new living spaces with great kitchens and all-new wiring and plumbing and electrical outlets in abundance will stay in my dreams, and I’ll remain in my big old house with its gracious proportions and gorgeous fireplaces and cranky doors and iffy plumbing. For better or worse, I’m just an old-house girl.