History Buff

Jay Johnson -- Buildings reflect the rich history of their occupants. That's what makes each a time capsule. You can see who worked or lived there, scrape through the layers of clues, and gain insight into the past.

Many high-end homeowners want brand-new construction. McMansions, double-volume entryways, great rooms, media centers, open-plan kitchens, and lots of extras fit the bill for many who are looking at real estate in the stratosphere.

Historic%20House.bmpBut consider older properties. They have history on their side, and sometimes there are treasures waiting to be discovered, restored, and lived in. If you look at where you and your family live as a major event on history's timeline, you will better appreciate how you can become a part of history.

We wrote recently about loving designer Rose Tarlow's insistence on comfortable and natural surroundings, taking reproduction 18th Century Chinese wallpaper and going over it with sandpaper and fine steel wool until it felt soft and "old." There are many historic, or just plain lived-in and older properties in the high end of the market that can deliver comfort, warmth, and the glowing patina of historical significance.

There are, of course, old homes like the one featured in the hilarious movie The Money Pit. Disaster after disaster awaited the intrepid homeowners as they tried to lovingly restore Their Old House, only to uncover bad secrets galore, from rotten timbers to infestations. It's no wonder that many prospective homeowners yearn for the new.

But if you're looking for history, character, and a rich past in a property, there are many out there to choose from. Go to the comprehensive website for the National Register of Historic Places, as I just did, and you will find historic districts and individual properties of distinction (all older than 50 years old). You can search by state and county to find fascinating information about homes, churches, and other buildings that you might want to visit or even purchase. Each listing indicates whether the property is privately or government owned. The original names and uses for buildings are given, as well as the original architects, if known.

I found the most fascinating section on the National Register site to be the "Vacant/Not In Use" listings, which are also indexed by state and county. These could be great business opportunities for the savvy entrepreneur. Some of these locations need restoration -- hopefully not like something out of The Money Pit. And perhaps you might locate your next home in this intriguing section of the Register's website.

In the over 200 home videos contained in my Design2Share Video Diary on YouTube, you will see examples where I have taken my video camera -- a sturdy palm-sized Radio Shack $99 camtastic Sanyo special -- and captured many historic buildings. I'm a history buff, but also I'm an admirer of where we've come from in architecture and design. We're caught up in today's mileau, but it's good every now and then to allow the past to inform us of what's good and right about design. Frankly, you won't find antique versions of the McMansion on the National Registry. Instead, you'll find some rewarding and fascinating places you can visit, admire, and/or consider for purchase. 

This week's featured video takes you on one of my morning jogs, and I admire a private residence and its adjacent shady, gated, gravel-and-stone-paved garden. The fountain was the clincher for me. Give me bubbling water, shade, lush foliage, and history any day! I hope you enjoy watching National Registry Townhouse.

Consider older properties in the high-end market. They may not have all the luxury conveniences many families on the luxe side are hoping for immediately, but why let immediate move-in gratification stop you? You can remodel, add on, or retool old spaces to create your dream home. You will wind up living with the rich past that these properties bring to you and your family, a provenance that new construction can't offer. Be a new homeowner or businessowner to an older property. You'll be adding exciting chapters to the history of a venerable place.

Be open to the adventure.

Would you consider moving into an historic or older property versus new construction? Thank you for posting your comments here . . . . 


Photo Credit: postcard of the Marion Castle residence in the Shippan Point neighborhood of Stamford, CT, from Answers.com

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