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Saturday, September 15, 2007

This old house, living in a historic home...

The Milford Home Tour is this weekend and it got me to thinking about how people lived back at the turn of the century - no, not in 1999, but in 1899 and earlier. I live in a house that was built in 1885, so I have some first hand experience with at least the base architecture. Of course, my house and most of the historic homes in Milford have been extensively updated over time, basically to accommodate living in them. I still have the remnants of the original cistern in the basement of my house, but I can’t imagine living off water that was collected from the run-off from the roof, as they did back then. I still have some knob and post electrical wiring in my house; although I think only one circuit actually still uses it. I still have one of the original rotary electrical switches in my home that gave rise to the term “turn on the lights” (you actually do turn it for both off and on and mine is still in operation).

The basic architecture of the larger historic homes was very practical for the time, but leaves one with somewhat confusing layouts these days. Most homes had two front doors, one leading right into a front parlor where the dead were most often laid out for viewing prior to burial. The other front doors often lead to a stairway to the second floor or to a hall or room that would allow the user to by-pass the “funeral parlor.” I also have two stairways in my old house – one in the front of the house and one in the rear that leads right into the kitchen. My rear stairway has been moved at least three times over the life of the house, as evidenced by the residual stairway races in evidence in various room ceilings in the house. That apparently wasn’t uncommon either. I’ve still got the original hardwood floors on most of the first floor, but the original broad board floors on the second floor were covered with linoleum sometime in the early 1900’s. I refinished the hardwood floors on the entry level myself after several companies refused the job – citing boards that were too thin for their commercial-grade sanders.

I had all original windows until recently. Even with storm windows on the exterior, it was costing an arm and a leg to heat in the winter and cool in the summer, so I bit the bullet and replaced all of the upper floor windows with modern thermal windows. I still have original, single pane, “wavy glass” windows on the first floor. The plumbing and electrical (with the exception of the one circuit noted above) have all been pretty well updated. I still heat with steam radiators, but the boiler is a newer model and so a bit more efficient.

One has to write off a whole bunch of odd or unusual things as “character” in these old houses, including uneven floors, small or missing closets and more, but smaller, rooms than one might find in a more modern house. We have a guest bedroom that drops about 3 inches as you walk from one side to the other. Our first guests told us that they felt like they were going to roll out of the bed, so we shimmed up the low side to level it. There are nooks and crannies everywhere, many of which have no apparent use –they’re just there. Of course, our grand kids love the place. There are more places to hide than they have at home and they love running up one staircase, across the upper floor and down the other staircase. Somehow it’s all very Normal Rockwell feeling and we wouldn’t trade it for all of the modern McMansions in the world.

I specialize in the historic homes of Milford and have been in all of the ones that are for sale there. I tell perspective historic home buyers that buying an old house is sort of like getting a home and hobby all in one. There’s always something to work on or upgrade or fix; but, you’ll never feel the way about a modern home as you can come to feel about one of these grand old homes of the last century. So give me a call if you’re looking to buy a historic home in Milford or anywhere around southeastern Michigan. I can help you look at it from the perspective of someone who’s living the dream and can help make sure that you don’t buy a nightmare instead.

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