The concept of purposeful preservation is to recognize that life isn’t static, and therefor a house, building, or landscape isn’t static, either. Preservation won’t work over the long haul if it’s not economically viable. The museum-quality restorations can be the standard for museums, but shouldn’t be for a house.
Years ago, at a symposium sponsored by Merrill Lynch realty’s Antique and Historic Properties division, we focused on the Colonial Revival period, with special emphasis on how older colonial houses were remodeled into a sort of fantasy vision of what colonial life was like. Often, they were “improved” with addition of porticos, picture windows, patios and landscape follies. Richard Nylander of the SPNEA (now Historic new England) gave a talk about the restoration of the Hamilton house in Maine. The association acquired the late 1700’s house and Mr. Nylander was given the task of restoring it back to its original state, as it had been transformed by the last owner who had used it as a summer home. After the work was done, the society decided it was actually more interesting in its altered state, as a testament to the early 20th century fascination with the roots of American culture.
Original isn’t always better. As in, bathrooms are good. So are kitchens. The key is to work the modern in with the old. For example, many times trying to use materials from the original date of construction are simply too expensive. They’re expensive to purchase, and are slow to install. They would look great, without argument, but are they an intelligent use of monetary resources.
In house preservation and restoration, as much as we’d like to keep everything as original as possible, location and market value have to be taken into consideration. Encouraging over-spending on a restoration an investing in a project that will never have a positive return might work for a vanity project, but for the average homeowner it’s reckless. It’s just wrong. If we’re ever to make the preservation of homes a priority for our modern culture, it needs to be done in a way that makes it both enticing and sustainable. Throwing money at things isn’t either of those.
Purposeful preservation, then, is finding that balance which maintained the aesthetics and ethos of the place or property while sensibly adapting it to a modern living or use. More simply put: from the outside, it looks like it always did.