OHJ August 2018

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Editor's Note: Tell me a story ...

Marketers and ministers know this: If you want your audience engaged and your point well made, if you hope they’ll remember, then tell a story. Don’t lecture or preach. Tell a good story.

To those who look and listen, houses tell stories about their builders and occupants. The oldest houses embody more stories. Then there are houses “right out of a storybook,” the eccentric ones widely known as Storybook Style houses, which spin a tale of Hollywood sets, American soldiers home from Europe, and medieval fantasies.

Not everything can be a fairytale, of course. A restoration article, for example, must get down to business: this material, this tool, this process. Tell me how to build a stoop or porch steps, though, and I’ll tell you why. Because when you sit on the stoop—a place between the private house and the public street—you see that Mrs. Wilson is back from Florida and the little boy across the street has a new puppy. Stoop-sitting is the social commitment that binds a neighborhood.

Salamovka house. 

Salamovka house. 

Wood porches, it’s true, need a fair amount of upkeep. We need instruction on carpentry, epoxy, and painting. But we do it all for the stories. Years ago, in the country, I lived in a house called Salamovka (above). It was a long-neglected house, managed reluctantly by a park service, and in bad repair. I have rich memories of those summers spent mostly on the porch. Its roof leaked buckets, of course, and balusters were missing by the running foot, but there was so much porch it didn’t matter. Family, kids, guests would sit to watch the weather gather in a valley over the river, sheltered from violent August thunderstorms. The porch smelled of honeysuckle. The side near the big farmhouse kitchen was the place to haul sweet corn to shuck it while sitting on the single step, while the screen door slammed behind.

Later I bought a shingled house that had been built with a big front porch and a kitchen porch, but they were long gone. I put them back. Not because it was cheap or easy, but because I wanted the stories.

~ Patricia Poore, Editorial Director of Old House Journal

Look below to see stories from this issue.

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