Appreciating a very special home

#484 in a series of true experiences in real estate
March 2005, Hills Newspapers

Among the few houses available for sale currently is an occasional special one, like one we saw recently in Albany, a beautifully designed house built in the late 1920s.

It’s not a large house, only two bedrooms and one bath, but it’s a generously sized two-bedroom, not the smaller version. And it’s the “better model.” Extra money was spent for the double wide lot on which it stands, also to provide both formal dining and breakfast rooms, a sitting room adjacent to one bedroom, and not just one, but two garages.

The exterior is similar to a number of houses in Albany, the design a style referred to as Mediterranean. The roof is edged with red clay tiles, the front porch and steps are also tiled, and over the front, largest window is a wide and handsome wooden lintel.

Most of the wooden floors, window and door casings in the house are unpainted and stained dark, and in this house, all of the wood looks to be well cared for. Plus — a fabulous bonus — most of the original light fixtures are still there. They are treasures.

I got to the breakfast room first and called to Anet, “Come, see this one!” The overhead light is covered by an especially pretty piece of round glass brightly painted with — never seen one like it — parrots! How has this glass survived intact all these years? No one had accidentally broken it, nor had anyone replaced it as part of a decorating update.

The house isn’t completely unchanged. The stove and refrigerator are newer, the cabinets and countertops redone perhaps 50 years ago, and not awful. I thought it fortunate that the kitchen cabinetry was not replaced, say, 20 years ago in walnut or maple with scalloped insets popular then.

While all of the wooden windows in the living and dining rooms are still in place, most others in the house have been replaced with aluminum. They really should be changed back, and they could be, but it will be expensive.

There is, of course, a great deal of interest in this house from people wanting to make it their own. First, it’s in Albany, and in a very good location off Solano Avenue. The lot is large for Albany and the house is well laid out. And — truly the makings of love — much is original and in good condition.

I was very appreciative of the kind stewardship provided to this house. I began to think of other houses I’ve seen that have survived largely untouched. If water has been kept from them by tight roof and good drainage, better still. But even in bad shape, houses in original condition sometimes sell for a premium.

I remember a particular house, in a sought after Berkeley location, in the same family for several generations. It was broken and dirty, but also nothing had been altered, and it sold for a huge price. I thought it was unfair that the reward was so great for doing nothing at all to, or for, that house.

Visiting the house in Albany caused me to wonder if I have been a thoughtful homeowner and remodeler. I’ve owned a few houses and have been responsible for changes to them. I do not remember committing any specific remodeling sin, but maybe I did. I do hope not. I hope that I have not replaced or thrown out anything I should have left alone.

The house in which my ex-husband and I lived the longest, and changed most extensively, was not of high quality when built around the turn of the century. There was no hardwood used in the floors or trims, no unpainted, multi-lite windows.

By the time we bought it, it had been reworked into an awkward duplex which shared the same front and back doors. The lower floor, containing the main living room and kitchen, was a series of small, cheaply constructed rooms.

We returned the house to a single dwelling and we brought to it better things — old, reclaimed, solid wood doors; antique, rewired lighting; new, good stairs to the third floor attic; a thick pine slab counter for the kitchen.

I did send to the dump quite a few old, wide-slat Venetian blinds and the cornice boxes that covered their tops. Those blinds might come back into style, I suppose, and I might be sorry. Maybe even I will be looking for Venetian blinds someday, but I doubt it.

I’ve stripped acres of paint from wood, a horribly tedious job. Removing paint is probably a good thing although I know that most redwood and Douglas fir was never intended to be unpainted. Instead, these woods were used because they were plentiful and inexpensive, and they were painted immediately upon installation.

True, too, of floors constructed of soft woods: they were meant to be carpeted or covered with linoleum. I am not a purist. I have taken the covering off of softwood floors, had them refinished, and enjoyed them bare.

However, although I love the look of painted plank floors, I have never been able to bring myself to paint bare wood. I guess I spent too much time taking paint off of wood.

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