Dickens' Remodel. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, . . ." Well, does that pretty much describe your last remodeling job (whether you were the remodeler or homeowner)?! Remodeling can often be agonizing, particularly if it is a significant addition or the down-to-the-studs type. Sometimes one of the toughest decisions for homeowner is whether to even stick with the remodel, or to just scrape it and start over. There are financial, time, structural, comfort, historical, architectural and emotional considerations that tear at us and pull us in different directions. It can have us wondering - what is wise and what is foolish?
“I’m tired of home maintenance, let’s just start over and build new!” But there is just something special about those old houses - we still love 'em! Drafty, creaky, low ceilings and demanding, but oh are they filled with character, warmth and memories. They become part of us, an extension of who we are. Even knowing the history of families that once celebrated holidays there together adds layers of depth and substance to the place we now call home.
The Cottages. The Fin and Feather Club of Dallas was established in 1893 as a hunting and fishing retreat just 10 miles down the Trinity River from Dallas. The original "clubhouse" dates to the 1860's and most of the members' cottages were built between 1915 and 1950. Driving through its gates is a stress-relieving time warp. Our cottage was built by Woodall Rogers in 1940, but by the time we got it, she was hunched over the old Bois D'Arc posts, suffocated by 7-8 layers of various roofing materials. Her box framing (basically two layers of 1x12's, no studs) was bowing under the weight. My wife started sniffling the moment she'd walk through the door and the fireplace just couldn't keep up with those cold winter nights. Something had to be done, or I'd never get her back out there! Most friends said to just start over - it would be cheaper, more energy efficient, faster, easier, etc. But what about the history, I thought, the character, the uniqueness, the legacy? I just couldn't give that up. At the end of the day, we were able to save the old pine floors, fireplace, sash windows, lake-side boards and battens, and pink 1960 GE stove (as well as every salvageable board), and we rebuilt that period cottage from the inside out. Of course, I was able to utilize great old wood out of some of our dustier lumber bins – heart Pine beams and boards, sinker and pecky Cypress, Doug Fir sidings and clear Cedar patterns as well. It is still an authentic step back to 1940 (with a few modern comforts - like central AC) and we love it! Come hang out on the porch with us sometime and you’ll feel the peace and love it too. One that Got Away. Two doors down, our neighbors began the restoration and addition to the oldest private cottage at the Club, the 1915 one-room board and batten with tremendous Creole style French doors on three sides. They hired a talented classical architect to seamlessly blend the old with the new, and construction began in earnest a few weeks ago. So why was I now standing on that empty new slab? What happened!? A hundred years of history, gone, just like that?
Well, not completely. As they began to deconstruct and got down to the floor joists and studs, the damage was undeniable. More insect holes, sawdust and mold than actual wood - amazing it was still standing. They were able to save the Creole doors and as much salvage wood as they could, and now are building new off of those same remodel blueprints. I was a little saddened, but I can't say that I blame their decision. Oftentimes it is a real close call on whether to save or demolish, and I had the advantage of owning a historical lumberyard and architectural millwork shop for my project.
In addition to old-fashioned craftsmanship, it seems to me that some of the necessary ingredients for preservation are patience, a bit of nostalgia, and a lot of perseverance (that’s a nicer word than stubbornness, I suppose). I think it also helps just being somewhat of an “old soul,” and recognizing that our future is always tied to our past.
All that said, I know I’ll enjoy that sparkling iced tea this Spring on my neighbors’ new front porch overlooking the lake (they’ll be using their cottage more, now that it will keep the critters out). But I’ll still miss their old one.
Build to Last,
Dave Reichert and the Davis-Hawn Team