||[Jan. 30th, 2008|05:33 pm]
Funky Midatlantic Rowhouse
Two things have gotten me through the past week of fevers, vomiting, runny noses and general flu related misery:|
1 - Obsessively re-reading Jane Austen and obsessively watching the ITV/BBC/Masterpiece Theater adaptations on Youtube.
2 - Drooling over real estate, reading about real estate and dreaming about real estate.
But what I realized after reading numerous blogs about What To Look For When Buying A House or How We Found Our Dream House is that what most people value and look for when buying a house is not what interests me.
Of course I'm not talking about things like structural soundness or a new roof (of course I would want those things). What I mean is that as a resident of a large mid-Atlantic city with old housing stock and a rich and varied vernacular architecture, the things which most (suburban) home buyers look for do not apply to me.
I love row homes and semi-detached houses. High density housing. Small, compact, old, well loved and well worn. I am not looking for a master bath and a two car garage. I am not looking for a brand new kitchen with a granite counter top. I don't need the finest, fashionable stainless steel appliances. Hell I lived without that necessity of necessities - a dishwasher - for 12 years! And walk-in closets? Heavens! I'd be happy for any closets at all.
The charms of row homes are not immediately apparent to most people. Their charm is subtle and is not tied to flashy external materialism. My own row home has uneven floors, old drafty windows, painted wallpaper, steep staircases pulling away from the sides of the house. But it also has gorgeous old, red pine floors (never mind that they are mostly painted over), original solid wood panel doors, intricate cast iron steeple tipped hinges, beautiful vintage tiled bathrooms. And the plaster walls muffle sound in a way that drywall can never hope to.
The charm of a row home is its history. Renovation turns up old newspapers (from the 30s) stuffed into walls, original bills of sale from when the circa 1950 Youngstown kitchen was installed. Digging in the garden turns up broken pottery and 90 year old glass bottles from a now-defunct local soda manufacturer.
Row homes are part of a neighborhood. As we slowly renovate our old row home (two, actually, which we have combined into one) we enjoy the occasional ring of the doorbell announcing the ancient, retired plumber from up the street who first installed a bathroom in our house (our houses did not get a real bathrooms with flushing toilets until 1945 or so). Or the son of the family who lived here 40 years ago.
Living in a row home means you live in close proximity with your neighbors and you get to know them well - warts and all. One neighbor is a left-wing, old school IWW member who dislikes the gays. One neighbor is an 86 year old widow who has lived in her house for 60+ years and raised four children in it. One neighbor has two little dogs whom she dotes on and who was instrumental in ridding the block of a drug dealer. One neighbor uses every minor holiday as an excuse to set off fireworks. The neighbors next door are friendly, agreeable people but are slobs and always have overflowing trash cans. They're better than their predecessors, though, meticulous homeowners who swept the street and grew tomatoes, but who threatened to poison one of our cats and complained about niggers when an inter-racial couple moved in two houses down.
From the vantage of my row home's corner I can keep on top of everything in the neighborhood. I know who walks by, heading downhill, at the same time everyday. I know which squirrels are nesting in which trees. I know who takes the bus to work and who takes the train. I can help delivery drivers bewildered by the maze of one-way streets and dead ends find their way around. I know that if my car ever needs a jump there are five people within half a block whom I can ask for help. When I was pregnant I never had to carry in my own groceries or shovel my own sidewalk.
These are the things I look for and which most people think I am crazy to value. An old house with character and which has stood the test of time, a close knit community with people I can rely on? That is what I want and what I will always be interested in. Granite counter tops be damned.