The Joy of Owning an Old House
I noticed this interesting article in New Hampshire Home, November/December 2009 issue. Since this website focuses a lot on renovating and remodeling and restoring an old house, sometimes the reasons for doing all this flurry of activity is lost.
There is pure joy in what we have and it just isn’t the buildings or the grounds, it is so much more. There is a distinction between “happiness” and “joy”. Something must be done to obtain happiness, an action must be taken and the happiness that results is an emotion that may not necessarily continue unless more stimulation is achieved. Joy is not dependent on emotions or something "happening". Joy comes from the inner soul and does not depend on stimuli to be sustained.
An artist feels it when they conceive a concept – a concept that may take months and years to be achieved. Their life is full of joy because they are filled with the ramifications of art itself. That joy is not robbed if they become a “starving artist”. It is immovable.
If you are most people in Newburyport, you have made a conscious choice to live in an old house. Even someone who is part of the Dark Side will often make the decision to remain in their ancient home. A dark sider will tend to seek out new housing so if they stick around, it’s because they truly want to.
And it is often motivated by joy. C.S. Lewis coined the phrase, “Deep Magic”. Here in Newburyport, it is “Deep Romance”. There is history and mystery that lies in every old house’s structure and a “presence” that gets in under your skin. It is hard to shake.
The first joy is the history. You find out that you don’t really own the house. Yes, your name is on the deed and City Hall certainly thinks you own the house as they demand their taxes, but in reality, you are a steward, a caretaker and someday, someone else will be filling your shoes and becoming a caretaker too just as the many before you. If you are lucky, you may even meet someone who is familiar with the anecdotal history of your home and that can be truly fascinating.
The second joy is the Deep Romance. The materials and age of the home are priceless. In my home, it’s the plaster walls, the wide-beam floors and the hewn oak ceiling beams. To others, it could be tin ceilings or beautiful molding. I love it when visitors come to my house and they let out a tiny gasp as they pick up on the DP. You can see the tiny delight in their eyes. I, in turn, pick up little reminders all over the home that makes me enwrapped inside a mood.
The third joy is the exploration. There are so many mysteries to discover that are hard to explain. They can cause unhappiness sometimes as you try to work around quirky construction but it can’t dampen the explorer within me. And the research and study about the home’s construction and history and the challenges to be conquered is joy itself. The first thing to do though so as not to destroy the “joy” is to avoid as much as possible replacing those things that are original to an ancient era. In other words, don’t rob your joy by replacing plaster walls with drywall or putting in plastic flooring in place of original wide-beams. Unfortunately, it is far too easy to destroy the DP with cheap, “modern” replacements.
Lastly, there is joy in community. To have an old house is to meet architects, carpenters, contractors, developers, restorers, neighbors, preservationists and restoration experts. It is absolute joy to rub shoulders with those who also understand that Deep Romance. Working with the Historical Commission, the Preservation Trust and larger organizations like Historic New England gives a joy that you can’t obtain in the “burbs”.
Through emotional highs and lows, challenges and tribulation, the joy of owning an old house will sustain you!