Part of restoring an older house is discovering its history. We have enjoyed learning the history of our 1929 Craftsman-style home, ranging from the people who have lived in it to the history of the local area. A house is much more than what meets the eye. This is true in its structure, design, and décor.
As we began to explore our house, we made many discoveries about which we were previously unaware. Beginning the first day we moved in, our son decided he wanted to explore every nook and cranny of the house. He climbed up in the attic, something which no one else had done in many years other than to install new insulation. Much to his chagrin, there were no hidden treasures, just a lot of dust that we surmised has been there since the Dust Bowl (https://texaspbs.org/dust-bowl). This part of the country was dealt a devastating blow in those days, remnants of which remain to this day. The dust, long settled in the attic, is but a reminder of the hardships and storms through which this house has stood.
He also wanted to examine the crawl space of the house. A large part of the home is built on a pier and beam foundation, all except the basements. Always the curious one, he found a way to squeeze his body through a small gap between air conditioning duct work in the basement into a tight crawl space of two-three feet. We could not even see the opening he discovered to get into that cavity between the house flooring and the ground below. Had he not made it out, we would have never known how to find him.
Much to our surprise, Colby emerged with several golf clubs, both irons and woods, whose age is likely close to that of the house. Near the golf clubs was an old Sunkist orange crate full of what we determined to be moonshine bottles – which were empty by the way.
Hidden Layers of Paint
As renovation began, we discovered other forms of beauty beneath the surface. One of our first days involved the removal of carpet which had been in place for an extended period. The upstairs carpets concealed padding made from cattle hair, a common type of carpet padding prior to World War II. The most striking discovery were the beautiful oak floors on the main and second levels. The aged stain color, the grain, and even the exposure of literally thousands of original nails driven to hold each oak strip in place were a testament to the age and striking appearance this home surely had in its birth.
When we purchased the home, much of the upstairs paint was what I like to refer to as institutional blue/green. You know the color; it is what hospitals used to be. As we began to renovate some areas of the main floor, we quickly discovered that had been a predominate color of the walls and much of the trim as well.
One such place we discovered that paint blue-green color was beneath several layers of shades of white on the kitchen door. I loved the style of the doors and had every intention of restoring them to the original wood grain. I purchased several different types of paint stripper, eventually finding Citristrip to be the most effective and easy to use. We now keep a bottle of it at the house at all times!
I do not know if you have ever tried to refinish a painted door. It proved to be more than I anticipated. But what I discovered actually was far better.
After numerous layers of paint were removed, a thought came to mind, “What if I just leave a portion of the old layers of paint to be exposed?” By doing so, it reveals the character and history of the door, and just simply gives that vintage look. Some people want everything to look sparkling new, right out of the showroom. To me, something with age and character is worth far more.
Layers of history can be difficult reminders of failures, mistakes, and even injustice. Sometimes it hurts to reveal the layers and look at the past. Rather than being reminded by it, some people quickly paint over the past in an effort to make it go away like it never happened.
But other times it is good to not remove all of the layers. We learn from the past, even the challenging times. It is important for us to learn from history, not try to erase it. History has no delete button. Maybe that is good. In a 1948 speech, Winston Churchill said, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
History is purposeful. Cherish the good; learn from the bad. There is a good life lesson in that.
Let me conclude with an honest word, from my heart to yours. I sure hope that old blue-green color never comes back in style!