We live in a house that was built in the 1880's. It has the original woodwork and windows. I grew up in an old Victorian house and it was huge. When my parents bought that house in the 1950's they set about renovating and "modernizing" it. This meant ripping out old marble fire places, pocket doors, marble vanity sinks and more. Then they installed knotty pine wood paneling in the living room and more. It was what you did back then.
Our house is a Victorian cottage style home. It is much smaller than the house I grew up in; but it has most of its character and charm left intact. The rest of its character and charm is waiting for me to find it.
We have a lot of work to do on this house. Most of it is cosmetic. When I was working full time it was impossible to get any renovation work done. My Saturdays were spent grocery shopping, cleaning and doing laundry. This was with my husband helping me. Sunday mornings were reserved for church and by the time Sunday afternoon rolled around, I was tired. I was able to have a few days off here and there to do some work on the house but for the most part much of the work awaits me. The living room has had its wallpaper stripped for several years. Okay, that is kind of embarrassing. But the 100 year old dried wallpaper paste on the plaster walls is golden and it is the color I am going to paint the room anyway.
I have a friend who color schemes Victorian houses for a living. He color schemed our house in historic colors and as it happens when we were scraping the paint off the exterior of the house the colors we were going to paint the house were on the house originally. It took a long time to paint the trim and at one point I was using a 1/4 inch artist paint brush to paint the colors on the porch spindles. That was back in 2002. We will need to repaint the house next year and at least when we go to do it, I will be home and can spend my days on this task. Actually I believe that deep down we would like to be able to afford siding but I doubt that is going to happen for a very, very long time if ever.
Last year we had enough money saved to do a 1 room hired renovation. I picked the downstairs bathroom. It had been renovated in 1982 and it looked like the year 1982. Aesthetics aside, the bathroom tub was cracked on one side, the walls were in terrible shape, the sink and toilet were starting to give us problems. I could have picked the kitchen but it had been renovated by the previous owners in the early 1990's and the cherry kitchen cabinets are beautiful. It does need a new sink, counter top and floor but I knew that we couldn't afford to do both the kitchen and the bathroom. The bathroom won out as it was in my opinion the neediest room. In keeping with the house we had cherry cabinets installed along with old lavatory style flooring in the bathroom.
All of this to say this: when we purchased this home back in 1997 many people could not believe we were buying an old house located just 4 blocks from our downtown square. People were buying lots and building new homes in a couple of new subdivisions. Our jobs dictated to those people that we were professionals that should be living in new homes to show that we were prospering. Those homes cost twice as much as our home. We made the decision to buy below our means as we knew we could afford this house and still be able to send our kids to college and to go on vacations. Also, deep down I knew that I didn't want to work forever and eventually I knew we would be able to afford this house on one income. Oh yes, and the taxes are lower along with the insurance. With the housing crisis of the past two years, I am feeling pretty smart that we did not give in to the pressure of buying new.
Friends and acquaintances were also surprised that the moment we moved in we didn't gut it and borrow the money to completely restore it all at once. (Remember we live in a small town and people talk.) The previous owners had installed new furnaces (one for upstairs and one for the downstairs), electrical and plumbing had been updated and although they had painted and papered, it was their style and not ours. We are doing everything as we get the money. Now that I am home we have very little money to spend on renovations; but I have the time to do the work. It is a balancing act.
I love my old house. I love its sometimes drafty windows, the old floor in one area of the house that slopes some, I love the old radiators that you can lean up against in the winter time to warm your back side. I love the curved window in our living room that faces the front of the house and the picket fence that goes around our backyard. I love that while I was working I could walk the 3 block "commute" to my office. I love that our youngest son could walk to school when he was in grade school, walk to my office to see me after school or walk to the library which is a mere 4 blocks from our house. I love that my husband works 4 blocks from home. I love being able to walk the short distance to our town square where we have a lot of community activities. Most of all I love the fact that we can afford this house on one income in this economy.