Editor's Letter: Old things tell a story
What people like about old houses is idiosyncrasy and surprise. How many children’s books feature the nooks and crannies of a Victorian house, or the dark dusty attic of forgotten treasures? (Okay, old houses are the backdrop for mystery and horror, too, but that’s not where I’m going today.) Old houses engage our imagination because they were built for life at a different time, when things like multiple fireplaces and servants’ stairs were assumed to be necessary. Old houses embody telltale signs of an era: The exuberant gingerbread on an 1880s Queen Anne celebrated an abundance of wood and the new industrial power to turn it into fretwork. Old houses become unique, too, as they age. The passage of time brings change, adds patina, and softens the edges.
New houses have their virtues, we restorers ruefully agree, but they are more predictable and often boring. That is, unless they are built in a new-old-house way, incorporating traditional materials and techniques—and salvaged bits. Salvage puts back idiosyncrasy and surprise. A vintage stained-glass window or an antique mantel is interesting of itself. And the old piece can make an addition or new construction look grounded and layered in history. If the piece is quirky, it becomes a conversation starter. Salvage adds depth during renovations, too. We see several examples of clever repurposing in this issue, in houses old and new.
The folks who monitor our website traffic tell me that “salvaged” and “using salvage” are in the top ten search terms—that is, how people both in our sphere and in the larger internet universe find our site. Clearly, it remains a popular topic, one reason why an issue theme this coming fall will be Salvage Projects. Besides case histories and an up-to-date dealers list, we’ll include a tutorial on how to plan for and use salvaged elements. Your photos are welcome—please send them and your informal notes to the email address below. Thank you!
~ Patricia Poore, Editorial Director of Old House Journal
Look below to see stories from this issue.