Monday, December 5, 2016

When Your House Is As Old As You Are

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published December 7, 2016] ©2016
Olof and I and our home all came into existence in 1947.  As the three of us slowly deteriorate, we can only see this as a sign of inanimate solidarity on the part of the house.  
While the house still has the same footprint it did in 1947, the interior  has been substantially upgraded.  But there are still remnants of 1947 lurking within. 
When the previous owners’ wallpaper installations were removed, we couldn’t help but notice that all the interior walls were originally painted either Prison Green or Pepto Bismol Pink.  No, really. Apparently these were the hot colors of 1947 -  a bold new post-War escape from boring white? Or else that paint was army surplus, leftover from the conflict. Plenty of houses had it.
But the one remnant that still attracts the most attention, especially from people who grew up in San Diego, is the yellow tile in our hallway bathroom. A guest will walk in there and all of a sudden I see him stop dead and stare at it.  “We had that same tile in my house when I was growing up,” he’ll say. He gets a misty far-away look in his eyes and I realize that his mind has gone to The Land of Showers Past. There’s some serious local nostalgia going on with that yellow tile. (It apparently had an equally-popular turquoise cousin.)
The other original-to-1947 feature are the red oak floors. They were covered in green shag carpet when we bought the house in 1973 and only saw light again in 1999 when we remodeled, which included adding actual outlets to the bathrooms. In 1947 electrical outlets in bathrooms were against code but once there were enough appliances that required outlets, the powers-that-be decided that if people want to risk electrocuting themselves by dropping a hair dryer in the tub, then it was their constitutional right. Of course, the advent of ground fault detectors probably played a big part in this as well. 
I’ve written before about how I grew up with hard wood floors and always coveted wall to wall carpeting. Of course, the hard wood floors of my youth were a different breed: cold, ugly, and high maintenance.  So it was a hard sell when Olof wanted to replace the embarrassingly ratty carpeting with refinished floors once he discovered the oak was under there. (I tried to keep it a secret.)  
When the floor refinisher ripped up the carpeting in one of the bedrooms, he inquired (sincerely), “Did this place used to be a barn?”  Turns out there were a LOT of animal urine stains in there that couldn’t be sanded out. Since we never had any pets other than fish and birds, they obviously predated us. It was clear some previous owner had NOT been walking the dog (or maybe the cow.)  Much of that floor needed to be replaced.
As most home improvers know, these projects have a domino effect.  As soon as the carpet was gone and the floors refinished, the temperature in the house dropped 20 degrees. This was because we had also dispensed with the 1947 floor furnace – an inefficient fume-spewing device that was alleged to heat the whole house but in fact just made the place smell really bad while raising the temperature some two degrees. (We don’t even want to speculate about C02.) Plug-in floor heaters would blow our 50 amp circuit breaker box within 20 seconds. So we were used to just wearing sweaters a lot in the colder months not realizing just how much floor insulation we were getting from the ratty carpet. But without it, it was suddenly downright cold.  So we had to have central heat put in. (Best investment ever.)
I confess that Olof and I have been slow to upgrade.  Olof hates chaos, I hate change, and we both hate to shop. Other than that, we were ideal remodelers. But the first thing that happened when we married in 1995 and Olof moved in was that our 50 amp circuit breaker box had to be upgraded when the kids kept microwaving Pop Tarts and blowing Olof off his computer. This marriage could not have been saved.
Our last existing 1947 anachronism is double-hung windows with counterweights. Every year I promise myself that this will be the year we replace them with casement windows that don’t incite bad words when you try to open them. OK, I’ll admit that those counterweights weren’t meant to last 69 years. But then we think of the construction mess and annoyance (see “not ideal remodelers” above) and go for Plan B (die first). 
And frankly, what really needs to be done to this house is to be razed and rebuilt. It – and we – weren’t meant to last forever.  But it’s not going to be by us. Have at it kids.

This yellow tile was a classic feature of “mid-century” homes
(a.k.a 1950s tract houses) in our area

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