As we’re looking at houses (for now remotely) in a potential landing place, because we’ll have to wait till this house sells to buy what we really want, and because frankly, we’ve always made money out of houses (like, we usually — except for our very first house — double our investment, no matter how long we stay in it) there is the temptation to buy something small and distressed, put most of our stuff in storage, and clean/fix/improve a home, then when this one sells buy a better one, and sell that one.
The drawback is rather obvious, of course. Well, look…. I’ve spent 20 years of my life getting at least a day a week eaten away improving Victorians.
I can do it. I understand Victorians. I can’t do roofing, and I’d prefer not to do electrical. I can do plumbing, but it takes a lot of cursing, and I tend to…. ah, over build because I hate leaks (No, you don’t get it. I HATE leaks.) I probably could do electrical, but it would take learning.
However, provided I choose a house that is okay as to roofing, electrical and plumbing (or where those are relatively cheap to have done, and for a small house even rewiring is not that expensive) I can do everything else. Worse, or perhaps better, I’ve learned workarounds, so things look good and are sturdy but aren’t exactly…. conventional. Partly because I collect books on renovating like other people collect cute statuettes, and I’ve spent a substantial portion of my life walking around hardware stores, lumberyards, or those construction thriftstores where they send the bits and pieces of demolished century old homes.
So you know, I can look at a wall that is completely irregular because over the years people have put layers and layers of walpaper in it, without bothering to rip out the former layer….
You can sand it, so it’s smooth and you can paint it (though I advise a good coat of shellack under the paint, or it will bleed down into the paper and you’ll have another kind of mess. And if what you’re dealing with is a bathroom, and one that will be used by your kids…. well. I’d recommend that. But if it’s, say, your front hallway and you really don’t want to sand (you really don’t want to sand. Even with an electrical sander it takes forever, and I guarantee at some point a big patch of the plaster and horsehair underneath will fall down, and then you’ll have to patch. You really, really, really don’t want to sand. Actually, in retrospect, what I should have done in that bathroom was put up wood paneling, give it a white “pickled” finish (the rubbed on thing you do, very Swedish and stuff) and then several layers of polyurethane. But it never occurred to me, and I didn’t know most of what was holding the plaster together was wallpaper. Some of which, judging by the color, probably contained arsenic.) you buy anaglypta and put it over the mess, then paint it. It looks (depending on pattern chosen) very Victorian, and you never have to know what you hid under it. Oh, and it wears like iron. Actually we’ve had it in a bathroom (WE didn’t install it.) And it held fine even though it was again the boys’ bathroom.
You can hide a multitude of sins under plywood veneer, particularly if you’re even mildly handy and can make it resemble an inlaid pattern.
And if you’re saying “Why the emphasis on hiding. Shouldn’t you be making it over again, and sound?”
Well, yes. Some things you absolutely want to. Like, for instance, electrical. And in Victorians you also know no matter how well you have fixed it and/or replaced it, you’re still going to be living with hidden stuff you can’t even dream about.
If you really want to know how the past is another country, buy a distressed Victorian and fix it. Take the house two houses ago, in many ways my favorite house. When we moved in, it had a new roof, new electrical, etc. put in. The plumbing, we contracted to have redone, within a month of moving in. And because we had two very small kids, and when we moved in I’d just torn my ACL (don’t even ask) and was in a leg brace, while we had the handyman put in a new bathroom and tuck point the basement (where we found out one of the foundation walls…. wasn’t. It was just dirt. Yes, we had a wall built in front of the dirt and supporting the wall above it, because seriously) we said “get the washer and dryer out of the basement. Look, there’s this tiny room with a toilet under the stairs, where you can’t use the toilet without leaving the door open. Obviously, there’s plumbing there. So put a washer dryer there.” This was a brilliant idea. Except for some minor things. One of the, was that he needed to enlarge that space (and we could BARELY squeeze the washer and dryer in. Also the dryer was venting into an abandoned fireplace. Do not go there.) Anyway, when he enlarged the space, he knocked out the back wall. And there, amid a pile of 19th century newspapers, was a live/sparking wire. From the previous system that was supposedly completely disconnected. You know, one of the antique cloth-wrapped wires. It was somehow double-connected to the switch to the attic (my office) so that every time I turned on that light, the wire went live. Yes, we removed it, and traced connections, so we could to the best of our knowledge eliminate the old wiring. But could we be sure? Well, no. Not short of opening all the walls.
And you don’t want to open all the walls. Why not? Well, same house, when we were getting ready to sell it. I’d done a half-assed job of laying in kitchen cabinets. Look, when we moved in, the kitchen had a small row of cabinets: sink and two cabinets on either side, and above it four small cabinets in bad shape. We were also broke which is kind of normal condition. Or rather, we had an extra 20k but it was going to new bathroom, new plumbing and remedying serious issues. Like no foundation on one side of the basement. Cabinets were not a structural issue. When I told my husband I had to go to re-store and buy cabinets he told me I could, if I could do the thing for under $100.
Now, this was probably okay if we were the type of family that just heats bought-food. We’re not. I’ve always cooked from scratch and we couldn’t even afford pre-prepared.
I could — have done it in other houses before — have built a moveable on-wheels island to help some with cabinets and counter top prep, but seriously, this kitchen needed a lot more than that.
So…I started scanning the free adds in the classified (like the free section in craigslist. Sometimes you strike gold. Most of the time not.)
Someone was remodeling their seventies vintage kitchen, and was giving the cabinets away for free to whoever removed them. Now, don’t get me wrong, okay? Most such deals are bad. This one was medium-bad. The cabinets were real wood, but I swear these people didn’t clean PERIOD. So there was a quarter inch coat of solidified grease on every surface. First step was taking the cabinets out — we looked it up in one of my do-it-yourself books — then I put them in the backyard, hosed them down with water and detergent, cleaned and bleached them, before bringing them indoors to install. After which I painted them white and called it good. But there were…. issues. Like the conformation required me to frankenstein two cabinets together to form a jumbo cabinet. On which the door was never quite right.
Also — this was not my doing — but the cabinet with the sink didn’t sit right and wasn’t level. Which was okay, when what I had on it was a formica counter, but before we sold we put in marble (because the formica was salvaged and in not great shape. And people don’t look past cosmetics.)
So I hired a handyman to come and fix those things and install the counters. Only he said the cabinet with the sink didn’t sit right (and movement had led to near-constant leaks under there) because the wall behind it was curved. And I — innocent that I was — said “Why don’t you pull the sink out and put something behind it that straightens that wall.” He looked at me like I was nuts and said “uh uh. No. I’ve measured behind it, and that curve is about two feet not accounted for. It could be a body.”
I thought he was insane but then he told me what he had found in other walls, and I decided, you know, that was cool. I don’t remember what we did, but it involved a lot of shims under that cabinet, and eventually floor bolts, until it was straight and didn’t move. We didn’t however open the walls.
Most of making a Victorian safe and livable, though, is covering surfaces. Hence, you know anaglypta. And if you must paint over old paint, do what you can to avoid sanding, because there was lead in old paint. And weirder stuff, to be honest.
The best you can do is make it so that stuff is not in contact with anyone. At least, you know, if it’s not structural. If it’s structural you sometimes do need to tear into the wall and make anew.
Our previous house, before this one, well… for instance there was the bathroom where you couldn’t use the shower without mushrooms growing in the corners. Yep, no venting. I think that bathroom was originally a not overlarge closet, and someone added a bathroom perhaps ten years before we bought.
That’s the other thing about buying a Victorian. You’re not just buying the house as it was built. You’re buying every mend, every patched-up do over over the century and a bit since it was erected.
And that means sometimes you get…. well…. there was a reason one of our bathrooms two houses ago was brown. Brown walls, brown tub, brown tiles, brown…. toilet. Which would be okay except for scaring the crap out of me to be in there for any length of time. There was this one TINY window. Yes, we changed those appliances out.
Anyway– given all that, I feel like I’m almost a lunatic for considering buying a small house in bad shape. (Well, smaller than we need.) But the price is right, and I KNOW how to deal with most of that stuff. So, it’s a matter of getting estimates on roof and electrical, and I’ll handle the rest. (Probably in a month upfront, at least for some them, because they’re not something I want to live with.) And honestly, the house that bit us in the ass hardest — the one before this one — was the one that looked move-in-ready, nothing to do. Actually that one and the one two before. Both had horrifying structural stuff that people had been hiding and patching and hiding, and which we HAD to deal with before we sold. (When we sell houses are mostly ready to live in, unless next person wants something drastically different. Because I’m neurotic, and can’t live with hidden rot or things that are unsafe.)
If you think about it, this here republic is like that. Part of the problem, as has been pointed out, is that we didn’t build new. We kind of did, but it mostly involved replacing the foundations, patching up the walls and maybe redoing the plumbing.
Because when it comes to human society, you can’t build new. This is where the communists and other arrant idiots routinely go wrong. It’s not that they look at the house they inherited all askew walls, twisted foundation, not enough cabinets and possibly leaky plumbing and go “this has to be fixed.” Well, of course it has to be fixed. The things people in the past lived with and thought were fine are not good enough for us, their descendants, mostly because through their efforts and their living in horrible conditions, we’re wealthy enough not to put up with that stuff.
But communists and other idiots faced with the idea that there might be a body behind the sink or that the wall surface is made mostly of wallpaper, don’t go “Well, okay. I don’t buy it on the body. It’s more likely to be someone’s silver someone hid against robbers, but okay fine. I can see where we’re already moving out, and if someone finds a skeleton (it would, by now, be a skeleton) it would cause a big problem.” They don’t go “Well, this is not a structural support wall, and it’s just the surface that’s a mess, because plaster and horsehair rot and crack in extremely dry climates.” They don’t go “How can I clean and retrofit these gross cabinets?” No. They go “There is a flaw in this house and it’s not exactly like the house of my dreams, so I’m going to tear down every wall and every support beam. And then I’m going to live in the ruins till something perfect automagically emerges.”
Which is why mostly they live in ruins and grub in dirt and talk about their great purpose and congratulate themselves on no longer having any of that icky stuff in the walls. Because they no longer have walls.
Human society doesn’t work like that. Mostly what human society is built on is other human society. And I know I joke — a lot — about how Rome never fell, it just exported itself.
But it’s not just Rome, it’s everything, going back to bands of vaguely human apes walking around the Savannah, and making the best of what they had. Something, btw, that the utopians of the left want to take us back to, so they can build perfectly this time.
Only they can’t because the flaw is in the ape. The only only to eliminate the flaw is to eliminate our corporeal form. Which of course the left is all for, btw. I think at bottom their hatred of everything human is because they know we can’t be retrofitted into perfect form. I still think when it comes to hating your own species, you should have the honestly of killing yourself FIRST.
Our republic wasn’t built like that. It was built to self-correct and fix, but most of all it was built on that one, basic fact. “Na kings, na queens, na lords na ladies. We won’t be fooled again.”
Of course the ape has been trying to “fix” that since it was built. And the republic, honestly, has been in serious trouble since before most of us were born, even the older ones.
None of which means that it should be demolished, despite all the crazy left running around with their little bulldozers and screaming “Build back better”. Sure, they’ve captured some important systems, and you really don’t wand to know what they’re doing to the plumbing.
They’re also living the doors open, in the hopes that different people will claim ownership and give them more power. (That’s not how any of that works.)
But you know what? We are still here. And the house is still ours. Yes, there is one, or several bodies in the walls, and the way the previous generations hid them weren’t very good. At least the holes the left has punched have shown that they have over time, termite-like destroyed most of the support structure of the republic.
You know what? It can be rebuilt. Now that we know where the problems are. And boy, do we know where the problems are.
Is it something we want to do? Well no. This is not the project I’d planned for my last twenty or thirty years. But it will have to be done.
We’re still here. We still don’t recognize their right to a boot on our neck. We certainly don’t recognize their right to run around with bulldozers. And you know what, most of the people who own this house know that if you knock down the walls a glittering, amazingly perfect building doesn’t emerge.
So — So.
We have this here property. It’s in bad shape. But it’s time to rebuild. As for the idiots who want to pull it down, it’s time they were recognized as pests and nuisances and sidelined. Maybe they can go back to wandering the Savannah until they figure out that mother nature is a bitch, not a goddess. Or considering most of them are paler than milk, maybe we can find a suitable arctic island where they can worry about global warming.
We have more dire concerns. The renovations of the late 19th century were iffy, but dear Lord, what were they thinking in the forties, the fifties, the sixties and the seventies.
And never again let anyone who believes Rousseau or his retarded disciple, Marx, had a point, near the plumbing. ever again. I think we’ve been dumping sewage in the cultural basement for almost a hundred years.
It’s going to be a mess to clean, right enough.
Fortunately we have experience with broken cultures. Humans have never had any other kind.
Even more fortunately, all the rot is exposed. Let’s rebuild.