In camping or hiking, the mantra of “leave no trace” is the rule. Once you’ve passed by, make sure that no evidence of your being there exists so that the next person coming through can experience the same sense of wildness and history as you. In preservation or building, it simply means that once the project is finished, it looks like everything that belongs there is there, and nothing more.
In this case above, al the crookedness and sway-back of the ridge were locked into place, insuring no further degradation, but preserving the look of a well-worn and comfortable home. Additions feature the same slightly crooked siding, the same gently sagging trim, but with modern insulation and air-tightness.
I’m of the sort that thinks that most new houses are pretty plain. If a new house wants to show the bling of creativity, it’s got to be really bold and contemporary. The vast majority are no better than a grossly outsized Levittown. 5000 square-foot boxes sit next to 5000 square foot boxes in an endless line of desperate attention-seeking tedium.
The environment that’s already built offers plenty of opportunity for re-use.
Here, the restoration in Essex, Ct. of a house built in 1810, and essentially totally falling apart, left the facade complete with the original windows. Strolling down Main Street, one would think the entire house is exactly the same as it was when first built, perhaps with some fresh paint. The interior, though had been removed and re-worked so many times that any sense of accuracy was long gone. The owners went for an open floor plan, and the interior is light, spacious, and relaxing. it’s the best of both worlds.
An addition in Weston used two different types of siding to give the impression of not one wing off the rear, but two different ones, done over time. While avoiding an addition would have been the most historically pure, the house was simply too small for even a small family. The addition, making it comfortable for a family of four, was a better option than the inevitable demolition.
We’re very proud of this addition in Weston. The owner’s friends all thought the connector from the house to the barn, and the conversion of the barn to a kitchen was a great idea. The only problem with that was that both the connector and the barn were new. That’s the best compliment we could ever get.
From an environmental standpoint, working with existing houses is far superior. Less waste, no added disturbance of open space, and if the builder knows what they’re doing, it’s much less costly. They can easily be brought up to modern energy-efficient standards as well.
The key is not to worry about trying to find that great old 18th century house. There aren’t many left. When you think creatively on what makes a worthy project, possibilities expand exponentially. Does a 1950’s ranch qualify as restoration-worthy? I think so. They’re easy to work on, don’t overwhelm the landscape, and are a bargain. One day, they’ll be the classics, just like mid-century modern has become. Old churches? Grange halls? Barns? Mills or factories? It’s an open book, and with a sensitive hand, can be the classics they are for years to come.